Modern ideas of vocal training are too heavily weighted with sophistication. They lose sight of the fact that singing is a purely natural function of the voice, and that Nature is a reliable guide in the performance of every natural act. Owing to this sophisticated view of the voice, present systems have opposed themselves to that which is natural and instinctive. A feeling of distrust is exhibited toward Nature, and this feeling can be removed only when the purely instinctive scheme of vocal control is under stood. Along with the problem of vocal management Nature has furnished us with a complete solution of the problem.
Taylor, David C. “New Light on the Old Italian Method.” (1916).
The ‘unspoken’ theme for the month of September in my studio has been ‘Finding Your Authentic Voice.’
What is an authentic voice?
An authentic voice is a voice that is free to express itself in music, unfettered by ideas of how the voice should sound, or patterning itself after a style or another artist. It is a voice that is liberated to be what it is, not for the sake of winning an award, or an audition, or a teacher or audience’s approval.
It is an instrument that is facile, built around human responses such as laughter, sobs, joy, and despair, and can easily access those responses because of its freedom. It is a vulnerable voice, a voice that is open to crack, or break, in order to find a greater sense of strength in itself. It is a voice that can accept that simplicity is beautiful, that all sense of ‘work’ in the tone does not lead to a joy of singing for the singer or the audience. It is a voice that accepts itself and continues to improve taking into account those limitations.
Two male students entered my studio this fall with what could be considered an ‘over-cultured’ sound. This approach is the combined action of an overly depressed larynx and pharyngeal wall constriction in an attempt to sound a certain way (in this case classical). These younger men both sounded at least 20-30 years older than their age. One has very little head voice function in the sound from having over-darkened the lower chest voice to such an extreme that all the muscles of the throat were compensating together to manipulate the larynx.
This is a phenomenon that I have begun to refer to as “fake voice.” This vocal sound can even be recognized by young children as unnatural and incongruent with normal voice production. Children might find the sound ‘silly,’ or ‘hoity toity,’ and the first reaction to this type of sound is often laughter, because of the impression of a joke being played. It is pretentious, postured, and affected.
So much of our human experience is striving to be something that we are not.
Whether we buy things we can’t afford to impress people we don’t even like, or make people believe we are something that we are not (brave, stalwart, courageous, unflappable). It is this yearning for something we are not that causes so much suffering and severs the cord of connection that we all share. It prevents a type of singing that is heart-felt, vulnerable and truly beautiful.
When I think about the schooling of the Bel Canto, the operative word here is ‘Bel.’ To find a visual parallel, consider the arts of the time in sculpture, painting. What can one feel in the presence of a Titian or a Botticelli but awe, and an overwhelming sense of beauty? Look at the subjects of these artists: humans and nature in the fullness of their beauty and expression. The lovingly depicted fold of a velvet dress, a shock of light on a darkened upturned face. Beauty has an expansive and exhilarating effect on the human being, not a constrictive one. Beauty opens us, adjusts us to her teaching, leads us, and cajoles us to trust that she can lead the way. But we must listen to her voice and her dictates. (See the quote above).
When I hear a voice become unfettered, it is a similar experience of beauty. It is beautiful because it has NEVER existed before in time, and it is free, open, soaring. And it will never exist again once the singer leaves this earth. This experience is similar to watching something nascent begin to bloom and grow before your eyes (and ears). The experience can often move me to tears.
The struggle to be who we are, and to sing from our deepest core self is a revolutionary act. We live in a world of conformity and corporatism. The human voice, in all its glory and splendor, hearkens us to accept something else: something different, unique, free, and yes, beautiful. It takes us back to a time of pure expression, unbound by strictures of social codes, and ‘proper’ behavior.
YOUR voice is YOUR own and it is ENOUGH. Refuse to straitjacket your voice into a way of singing that you think is adhering to a certain style, or what you hear on the radio, concert stage, or opera house. Trust the simple, the clean, the easy, the beautiful. It will never lead you astray.
Individuality in art and life MATTERS. ONLY YOU have your voice, and your song.
Now what will you sing today?