Who Decides?

How do you know that you aren’t any good if all you do is stay at home and sing for your students? How do you know if you never sounded any good in the first place, especially if you didn’t really have much of a career? How do you know you sound good if you have never actually given the topic any thought at all? How do you know if the reason you don’t sound good is that your throat is tied in a knot that you don’t feel and you think you are just fine? I’m talking ALL kinds of singing styles here, not just CCM.

I recently attended a conference at which one on the attendees mentioned that she was a chair of a voice department in a college. That would have been fine but her speaking voice sounded like something between Yogi Bear and Bart Simpson. Can this person sing freely? Can Superman land on your roof? I can only cringe to think how this effects not only the other teachers in her department under her, but all of her students and theirs. Your perception of how you sound is affected by how you feel what you hear or, said in reverse: BY HOW YOU HEAR WHAT YOU FEEL. If squashed sound is what you do, and you have sung in front of others that way, and you are oblivious, you will hear really free singing as being “wrong”. Yikes!!!!

No kidding. A colleague of mine, now deceased, once told me Leontyne Price “couldn’t sing”. Yikes and Yikes!!!!! I never heard this colleague sing, but I can only imagine.

I also know of someone else who is in charge of a voice department at a college who tried out working with CCM techniques on her own, interpreting information she had obtained in a workshop, and got into trouble. Instead of concluding that perhaps she had misunderstood what she heard and seen at the course, or that she had applied it incorrectly working alone, she decided the information was at fault, it was dangerous, and therefore, every single student in her department would absolutely be in danger if they tried to sing in a belt sound. She found support from her classical colleagues (all of whom are teaching music theater) who agreed that their students were BABIES and had to handled with kid gloves. It couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with HER, of course.

I have encountered wobbling jaws, rigid head positions, singers with over-straightened necks, tightly squeezed throats, heavy pressed phonation, depressed larynges, and all manner of other abberations in teachers who are at a college somewhere. These are classical singers who often have masters degrees in voice and some of them have doctoral degrees. They sound BAD. BAD. Did I say BAD? Yes, BAD. You cannot have a sound that is out of balance function freely or with emotional authenticity, and that is what beautiful singing demands. You must conclude, then, that the singers don’t know they are stuck, or they think being stuck is correct and good, or they think that it is BETTER technically, for some specific reason. They probably think that free singing is just a metaphor. (I have actually been asked by someone who has taught at a college for 20 years, “How do you know if the sound is free?”) Are you surprised when I tell you that she had lots of vocal problems? Didn’t think so.

A free sound MOVES. The vocal organs move (the larynx is a sinoval joint that has to be able to rock back and forth). And, although in classical singing the idea that the larynx MUST remain low at all times has gained in popularity, in fact, the larynx needs to be “dynamic” [William Vennard] or “engaged” [Cornelius Reid] in order for the mechanism to work properly. Garcia and Lamperti knew that, way back in the 1800s. A freely produced sound is neither breathy nor tight but there is a range of both that is acceptable and still healthy. A free voice produces undistorted vowels, allows for clear articulation, dynamic (intensity) variation, steady vibrato (or control over a straight tone), and is EXPRESSIVE (assuming the artist has something to say………a big assumption.)

The same holds true for classical and CCM vocal production, but the dominant register behavior is opposite, and other parameters adjust accordingly.

If it is dangerous to have scientists who think they know what a belt sound is researching it, when in point of fact they have a skewed auditory picture of it, and can’t sing it, then it is twice as dangerous to have people who are LOUSY singers writing vocal pedagogy articles and making decisions about voice training anywhere. We can’t stop that or do anything about it, but at least it can be stated here that these conditions exist and that they have an impact on singers. Perhaps knowing that is enough to give moral support to those on the receiving end of the behavior, opinions, ideals and decisions of such individuals. If so, then this was worth the writing.

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One thought on “Who Decides?”

  1. Jeannie,

    It’s ALWAYS worth the writing! This is exactly the prod I need to get moving with a couple of my former students who are extremely unhappy with their college voice teachers. Thanks for being such an inspiration!


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