The Extremes of Singing

There are many people who are interested in the extremes of singing. It is, actually, a fascinating topic. If you do a little searching, you will find vocal artists of all kinds who are exploring all manner of vocal sound in all pitch ranges and all volume levels. They do not want to be limited, they want it all.

Contrast that to those who specialize in one kind of singing. Early music, Balkan music, Folk music of various eras or cultures, opera, recital, church music, mainstream jazz, experimental jazz, pop, rock, country. There are artists who sing in a certain style and have no interest in or desire for any other style.

What about the folks who don’t fall into one of these categories? There are quite a few of them, I would say. There are people who get very well-known for being in a certain style who long to look at other styles. Certainly, YoYo Ma has ventured outside of traditional classical music in his collaborations. Wynton Marsalis has gone outside of jazz to look at classical music, as did Andre Previn in reverse years ago. Many singers can easily go between rock, R&B, jazz, blues, and pop, and might even include music theater of some particular composers. A very few can also manage classical music. There haven’t been too many classical singers who ventured successfully into other styles but Eileen Farrell did so nicely. Many classical singers have taken their more or less classical vocal production into “non-classical” styles, but not too many of them have been comfortable enough to have been taken seriously by aficionados of the style who are specialists in that style.

Yet, we are still quite stuck as a society. “Mainstream” music as found on American Idol, X Factor, Glee and such shows features only pop, R&B and country with an occasional brave soul trying something else. Mostly, though, they are mocked if they try to sing outside what the shows producers consider acceptable. There is enormous ignorance on the part of the “judges” who know so very little about what they presume to judge. Still, the shows go on…..and on…….and on…….

At the level of university training we are still operating under “classical vocal training” is the best and most important thing, regardless of what people are asked to sing. This is nonsense, but it is deeply ingrained as a kind of “group mindset”.  Seeing it change has been very slow, although it is beginning to open up.

The world is going to mix and match sung sounds and music over the next 50+ years. That is what there is now to do. The blending of styles, vocal qualities and human expression including but not limited to both acoustic and electronic production, is going to expand and push both the vocal boundaries and the auditory perception of those boundaries further and further. The questions then become, who gets to do this and how do they make it work from both a career perspective as well as one of vocal health? You don’t know what’s healthy when you are pushing singing to extremes until and unless you do that and then you discover what’s possible by life experience alone. If you blow out your voice and do it permanent harm, then I guess you do. You deal with it or you don’t, after the fact.

It’s very easy to become insulated if you are only in a certain environment all the time. Even the extremes of singing become predictable after a while. In the end, mastery over something is only possible when there is something to master. What that something is, is changing.

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One thought on “The Extremes of Singing”

  1. I enjoyed the article but wondering if you mean to come off a bit non challant about the possibility of “blowing” your voice. I can see a professional taking certain calculated risks (like professional sports players) but still feel pretty responsible to have my younger students take things more cautiously.

    Also, just love coaching CCM styles since these are the styles of music I grew up listening to.

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