Tuesday, December 12, 2006

registration and piercings

Sutherland was one of the first singers that I listened to seriously back when I was a wee beteen (having a singer mother had its fair share of perks). I suspect that my reaction was probably similar to others first hearing her: a jolt to the sheer beauty of sound: purling and cooly radiant; and then the sheer visceral excitement as this sound rippled through scales and trippingly dispatched decorations; followed only much later by a keen yet vague sense of something missing, at least in my case.

Interestingly enough, upon hearing Callas, I appreciated Sutherland even more (haha, not that way). Hearing how Callas welded together this music allowed me to fill in the details that other singers might not have fully emphasized, which was a curious development in my listening habits. Regardless, it wasn't until recently that I've had more insight as to technique -- one of the big subjects: registration.

Currently, it's one of the biggest issues I'm grappling with. The range in and of itself is serviceable -- it's just an issue of being able to produce musically expressive tones in a consistent way, and that's been somewhat elusive. On a tip whilst reading trrill, I came across the triptych of Cornelius Reid. I'm still studying them, but the question of registration is still undergoing small, but repeated, clarifications as time goes on.

I was (and to a large extent am still) unable to really tell much about a finished singer's registration. A poor technique/singer, sure. But I wasn't exactly keen on trying to glean ways in which to improve my singing by studying poor examples of it. So I stumbled upon a treasure: aging singers. As their voices age, most often, the gear changes/registration/other technical matters are more visible while still falling under the category of 'good singing.' For instance, I would never have been able to tell as much about Sutherland's technique if the below youtube had been taken from her prime:

But having seen and heard the visible differences and changes in registration (particularly on the many sustained high A's), it's clear that there is no muscled force (at least not in the throat or mouth or neck, etc.) that creates that immensely penetrating, yet beautiful, sound. Having noticed this, it becomes much easier to see through the technique of Sutherland in her prime, which is, of course, stunning. In this same vein, although it's not quite so aurally satisfying, I have purchased and study a recording of one of Alfredo Kraus' recitals from quite late in his career. And to think that I've found a very specific purpose for performers to continue performing quite late in their careers, even though their voices are quite changes and perhaps more different than alike to that of their primes! (Perhaps I should try and catch as many Sam Ramey shows as possible?)

Another technical breakthrough occurred recently when I was trying to figure out how to sing the italian [i] vowel ("feeeeet"), which always produced a lot of constrictor tension in the throat. What's interesting is that I found help in a brace of websites that I had visited several years ago when I was interested in this thing called cuperto, as this website touted it as some sort of "magic bullet." (It of course sent me to look for Vennard's book in the school library and then subsequent and absolute non-comprehension of its use as I had even begun to know anything about the voice, much less my own.) Regardless, it's interesting (and this has been repeated in the past) that material revisited often yields additional insights. And that in and of itself isn't all that insightful, but I can say it know as having experienced it rather than just voicing an empty platitude.

And sometimes, a new way of visualizing the whole problem makes a lot more sense, both mentally and viscerally. For example, it's been helping me a lot recently to imagine that I have a barbell pierced through my tongue instead of to explicitly think about focusing sound diagonally forward through the center of the roof of my mouth. (The vividness of this image is no doubt attributable to the 9 piercings of my own I had at one point.) Another helpful visualization seems to consist of first holding the front upper incisors between thumb and forefinger (the thumb actually inside the mouth) and singing into that area as if it were a microphone (and then, removing fingers yet maintaining the same direction). We'll see. I've made my peace with how I seem to improve: that is, rapid improvements interspersed with periods of plateau/gentle improvements. I think I've come quite far in a year. We'll see if that's good enough to net auditions from schools.

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