Who Really Cares?

Singing teachers forget that in the music industry, very few people care about vocal categories. Outside of classical music, and it could be argued that it is true there in some cases as well, the only criteria are: how well do you sing and how captivating are you when you do? The vocal categories that teachers fret about (soprano, dramatic soprano, lyrico spinto, light lyric, soubrette, coloratura, etc. etc.) and the music that goes with them (from Pre-Baroque to Modern) matter not so much in the real world where people have careers as singers as it does in the minds of those who teach. There are a great many examples of people who do not fit into any traditional box in terms of a specific vocal category and have done very well anyway.

The one place where things are unique and where it can matter is on Broadway. There, and only there, in some casting notices, it still states: must belt to X pitch, must mix to X pitch, must sing “legit” to X pitch. Whether or not you use or understand these terms, they have not disappeared and the expectation that the vocalist knows the difference between them in terms of the sounds requested, is a given. If you can’t distinguish between a belt and a mix-belt, or a mix-belt and head register, you could get into trouble, singing music that isn’t meant for the sound you are using without even knowing that’s what you are doing. If you are making a recording, you can do anything you want, but if you are auditioning for a role on Broadway and they want a belter, you had better be one. Elphaba is never going to be a “legit” role, so if you are a classically trained mezzo who can wail away on the high pitch but it’s not a belty sound, please stay home. They don’t want you on Broadway.

In this one realm, vocal classification really matters………except now, obviously, not so much. With Deborah Voigt singing a “legit-ish” Annie Oakley and Carrie Underwood singing a belty Maria, even Broadway isn’t so sure of what it wants in a vocalist. Maybe one of these days anyone will be able to sing any song in any style and any vocal quality and not have it matter. That would make life easier for many folks. The audiences, for the most part, don’t really care since they don’t know the difference.

If you are a female who has been singing Carmen maybe you could do a decent Aldonza, or not. Nothing is guaranteed. If you are a good Aldonza, however, you probably won’t be able to do Carmen, even if you have a good strong and comfortable voice. There are too many vocal production differences. But if we throw those differences out the window, are we are surely headed there, then who knows? If a rock singer can go to the Met and get hired in La Boheme (ask Michael Bolton about that) or if a legit soprano can make a rock record and appear with her rock band at Madison Square Garden (ask Renee Fleming about that), then everything is equal and everyone can sing whatever, however they want. If that’s not true, yet, then some of us still have to know the difference, know what makes that difference, and know what’s involved in getting there.

Just some food for thought.


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