IN THE CHOIR . . .
Expressive, unified, free, potent: these are the paramount qualities I seek in a choral ensemble.
The only thing that separates instrumental music from vocal music is a text. Understanding the cultural, poetic, symbolic, spiritual, and historical aspects of a text is fundamental to the approach of a work. Only from here can one determine vocal color, tempo, articulation and, of course, emotional connection (i.e. ~ subtext).
Unified & Free
Unifying the sound of an ensemble is integral to a fulfilling musical aesthetic. Without this, the ensemble is merely a group of singers making sounds at the same time. Creating an ensemble sound that is totally unified, but without any tension or lack of complete release of each individual’s voice, is the core of my philosophy of choral sound. Aspects of vibrato and tone (bright versus dark) are secondary to tuning, style and balance. A heavy production and dark color, for example, are out of place in an early music work in which the musical sounds of the time (as indicated by the instruments of the day) were clearer, lighter and more “pure.” Works that contain a lot of clusters require less vibrato since the close pitches create a “vibrato” effect of their own as the out of phase pitch frequencies “beat” against one another. But all of these attributes can be achieved through a free, spinning tone that is “equalized” and balanced across the section and the choir. Interestingly, the more fully produced the tone, the easier it is to unify. The result is a sound that is at once complete and satisfying to hear, but never disturbed by individual voices.
When the ensemble truly understands what they are singing, why they are singing it, and how to sing it, the result is a performance experience that totally resonates physically and spiritually with the listener. In a Jungian sense, the listener is hearing the message through the “collective conscious,” the universal meanings of the words and music transcending time and space.
WITH THE SOLO VOICE . . .
When working with the solo voice, I attempt to help the singer discover their true sound, without artificial or “muscled” production. Finding the even balance between breath-release and laryngeal phonation makes for an efficient, full, free and natural sound. The focus of my teaching lies in process, not product. When the singer can truly understand that the sound generated is a by-product of a series of muscular gestures in the body, then they can start to understand how to coordinate their instrument. I attempt to help the singer make these discoveries though:
- negotiating the difference between the breathing system (which muscle groups draw the air in and out) and the support system (which muscles are used for support)
- posture correction
- vowel production (specifically how one shapes each vowel)
- simplification of breathing (for singers often over-breathe)
- identifying and developing strength and flexibility of the support muscle groups (lower abdominals and obliques)
- maintaining a loose jaw
- keeping the shoulders and neck muscles loose
- keeping the epigastrium region (from the solar-plexus to the belly button) unclenched
Freeing the instrument’s technique is only a means to an end. Ultimately, the expression of the work, the drama, the character, and the subtext all need to be there as well, else the performance is flat and one-dimensional. Often, freeing the dramatic considerations of a piece can help a singer free their voice. A block such as this usually stems from a performer’s fear, paralyzing them from singing more freely and prohibiting them from dramatically connecting to the work.
While there is a basic process I follow when I teach, each person is unique, with their own vocal issues and fears. Working through these fears and re-directing the bad vocal habits is as extraordinary a journey as each person. Whether the piece requires a classical or “legit” sound, or a musical theatre belt, or a “smoky” jazz sound, the technical process for the singer is fundamentally the same.
My greatest joy comes from helping a person discover their voice — their means of expression — relinquishing their fears and empowering their instrument.