Support – Revisited

It seems that whenever there is lack of continuity or weakness in a singer’s tone or line it is put down to ‘lack of support’. Most people would be hard put to say what they mean by this. The usual reference is to some aspect of breathing. ‘Support the breath’, ‘Support with the diaphragm’, ‘Support with the abdomen’ are common exhortations. Singers are bidden to support the tone, or the line or the column of air or the larynx. ‘How’ is never explained in any intelligible way. It cannot be. If the problem is anything to do with lack of integration attempts to manipulate breathing will be to no avail. Whereas if the voice is integrated, ‘supporting the voice’ is a contradiction in terms.

A fully integrated voice feels integrated, not something ‘apart’. It does not need holding onto, or holding up, or pushing along. It moves and travels with you, not because you make it do so but because it is you. Like a river, the voice negotiates ‘obstacles’ (primarily intervals) with ease, because in the main they don’t have to be negotiated. We don’t have a keyboard – the notes are differentiated by the very mechanism which forms tone, dynamics and colours. I sometimes find myself saying to a singer ‘You can’t push the river!’ The ability to sustain tone, if that is what is intended by ‘support’, is first a matter of integration and then of intention – but never of coercion.

Achieving integration is one of the two basic aims in training. It results in ease. Then, a singer also needs to build stamina so that the ‘ease’ continues. Stamina in muscles means their ability to sustain their activity. This second basic aim must apply to the whole balanced organ, large and small muscles alike.

Harrison, Peter T. Singing: Personal and performance values in training. Dunedin Academic Press Ltd. 2013.