Friday, December 22, 2006

revelations: on technique, swimsuits (and men who wear them), and buccal articulations

Ok, I'm going to drive high-school English teachers batty (like I haven't already with my contorted sentence construction? oh crap, there I go again) and write about things completely out of order with respect to the subject line. I dunno, it just seemed silly to put hawt men first in the series, like it'd make me shallow or something (hee hee), but it's such a pleasurable topic that I'm going to talk about it first anyway. Yeah, so see that guy on the left? Yeah. Him. I have no idea who he is aside from the main model featured at N2Bodywear, which, according to fleshbot (NESFW = "not exactly safe for work"), is becoming the gay man's destination for wear, or something. Of that I don't really know, since I hate shopping for clothing, but this guy is some serious dreaminess. At least according to all of the physical quirky characteristics that I seem drawn to (muscles don't really fall into this, though I really don't mind them, saint that I am). I won't list them here because, well, it would serve no real purpose -- I don't need to be reminded of them and I doubt you (all like one of you, not including me) would want to know anyway.

I used to play water polo with a great group of guys (and girls, but they were fewer when I was there) on the Upper East Side when I lived in the NYC area. And I wasn't a slouch in a swimsuit (although there was another player who was seriously a walking wet dream -- my voice completely died whenever he was within 5 feet. hehe, when I first met him out poolside and he shook my hand, giving me the single-most beautiful smile I've seen, I have to admit that although it had been some time since I was in high school, my inner monologue was hyperventilating and deliriously shrieking "he's smiling and touching my hand and saying hi and talking to me and omg omg omg omg omg SAY SOMETHING" like that one friend we all had in high school who would *not* shut up about being asked out by X), this guy is some serious hawtness going on. wow.

Ok, moving on (though I'd rather stay), vocal bootcamp has officially begun. After a morning kuchipudi warmup (if you follow the link, you'll see a great example of the distinctive head swivel movements and accompanying eye gestures that are really fun to practice:

  1. pose your upper body as if you were doing a bodybuilding pose flexing your biceps

  2. bring your hands down to grip your shoulders, right hand gripping right shoulder and left gripping left

  3. extend the index finger of each hand toward your neck about an inch from touching on either side

  4. without tilting the head, and keeping the rest of your body as motionless as possible, touch your neck to one index finger, hold, then touch your neck to the other finger -- you should feel the back of your neck working)

and then additional "breathing exercises" to wake-up the inter-costal muscles and practice their gentle suspension (this and ACB's post about unconditional gentleness as applied to singing have been big breakthroughs for me, technically, which have been lurking just below the surface for some time) before starting to vocalize.

I might have mentioned this yesterday (wow, so tired can't even remember and am too lazy to go look), but inter-costal suspension as described by my mother was finally clarified. Originally, when we first started working, me as a rank beginner singer (I take comfort in Franco Corelli's interview with Jerome Hines as transcribed in Great Singers on Great Singing wherein he states that he didn't even begin to sing until age 18. Good lord, I'm not Corelli, but it's always nice to know that it's not an automatic strike-out, starting that late. Just almost an automatic one, heh, esp. for us non-Corellis), my mom would try to get me to suspend the inter-costals by loosely tying a robe sash (or a scarf or what not) around the torso. It doesn't work perfectly, since it'll still slip because breathing requires compression of the torso to some extent or another -- so I always thought the idea was to keep this ring of suspension constant, which turns out to not be the case. New conception - the inter-costals just need to be kept out in the left and right directions. Forward and back can be distended and expanded per the needs of breathing.

Gentleness has definitely helped me go beyond the limited comprehension of resonance. Since pretty early on in my singing development, I've likened the process of creating the "unusual volume" necessary for classical singing not unlike maximizing the amount of sound from an empty glass bottle by blowing on it. Like all athletics, a certain degree of muscle strength and stamina is required, but there are pretty severe diminishing returns on additional such traits. More effective is the technique employed: blowing really hard on a bottleneck will create only a thin sound, if it creates any kind of tone at all. Rather, a steady stream of air applied just so will afford a room-filling radiance. So this I knew -- it just required the additional idea of unconditional gentleness in singing. High notes are not "relaxed" but they are gentle, a far cry from most beginning singers' approach to them: with a lot of constrictor tensions and useless stowaway force. So once having spent the time to go through multiple vowels on multiple pitches and figuring out which things are *necessary* to create a gentle sound and which things just come along for the ride just because has helped because I know have more variables to adjust in finding that perfect bottle resonance.

This whole thing about gentleness giving rise to great volume also brings up an interesting hurdle I'll have to deal with later: that of conveying forceful and tension-inducing sentiments/emotions in manners which don't produce tensions. Anger, for example. I imagine that most people, when angry, clench *something*: the jaw, the throat, fists, something (the jaw and throat seem pretty common, instinctual responses), some of which doesn't matter to sound production (fists), but others are pretty vital (jaw, throat) -- so how to feel anger, display anger in such a way that doesn't trigger these reactions. It's been an interesting experience in conditioning, this singing thing.

The results are pretty nice though - a much more uniform sound that is far more rich (it's missing some of the upper partials still, but I'm confident that I'll fill them in) and imposing than before. Verily, with gentleness, the upper voice is starting to come into line -- high Gs and high As were not only relaxed, but had noticeably more spin and body to them than previous (good signs) without showing signs that this is at all the limit of the voice (also good).

In any event, here is a short playlist from Bizet's Pecheurs de Perles with arias sung by Annick Massis (lovely! see if you agree that towards the end of her aria, Comme autrefois, she looks like Ana Gasteyer) and young and handsome Alfredo Kraus.

This leads fairly nicely into my last topic: buccal articulations! If you watch Massis in the final trill of the aria, there definitely are buccal articulations there as she warms up the trill. The most visible singer who uses these articulations constantly is, of course, Vivica Genaux. I had recently purchased the short dvd-special on VG from fanfaire (see the excerpt below linked from fanfaire) and she talks about them. It's true that she looks very free of tension in singing them. Indeed, a tight movement like that would make singing nigh impossible. The crazy thing is I think buccally articulated coloratura mightn't be difficult to practice, exactly. I had this thought whilst watching Mari Lyn on youtube (if you haven't seen her, do yourself a favor and go watch for a laugh) and obviously, her singing is not really to be taken as a paragon of technique or anything aside from delusions of grandeur. However, there might be something to thinking wa-wa-wa as the "text" for coloratura singing and then just muddy up the enunciation, so it just sounds like weirdly articulated coloratura. This may be a plausible explanation for what's going on with Genaux's singing.

Buccal articulations aside, Genaux seems a puzzling singer, to me, anyway. Everything is scrupulously prepared. The text is beautifully enunciated and very idiomatically accented (the dvd also shows Genaux rehearsing a pretty great rendition of Eliza Doolittle), the voice strong and vibrant, particularly in its low register. There's still something missing though, and I'm not really sure what it is. Perhaps I'll figure it out, but until then it's somewhat a puzzle to me still what exactly it is that is magnetic about certain performances. This realization itself isn't that surprising -- I just wish I understood well enough to describe it more specifically. Hehe, I think I'll stop here, but I need to remind myself to write about Varvara in Janacek's Katya at some point. And now, it is time to eat cookies!

Edited to add:
Bah, I can't seem to get the WMP to stop auto-starting. And since I hate it when webpages autoplay crap like that, I'll just send you to the excerpt itself so you can decide if you want to see it or not! clicky!

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