Friday, August 15, 2008

Pedagogy 101 - I figured it out and it only took me a decade!

I have a confession to make: Sometimes when it comes to singing, I have absolutely NO idea what I'm doing. I realized this week that I have been studying with my voice teacher for 10 years now. I began with her while I was a student, and even though I haven't taken weekly lessons since I finished school (I'm out of town all the time) I still feel like I learn quite a bit from her every time I see her, even after all these years. Now that I'm actually a voice teacher myself, I find myself listening to what she tells me in a completely different way. I've never been a big "practicer" or thinker about vocal production, but now that I'm teaching, I kinda have to know what the hell I'm doing so that I may impart some of that wisdom to the poor impressionable youths in my charge. And guess what - it's sort of about time that I'm finally figuring out the mystery of what's happening in there.

In my lesson today, I was working on those treacherous high B naturals in both Musetta (I leave to start rehearsals next week) and Rosina (which I will sing directly following Musetta and again in December). She was noticing what was going on technically when the notes were not their best (my larynx was riding up, I wasn't getting a good breath, my shoulders were collapsing, and I was trying to do the work with my jaw instead of with my breath) and we were trying all sorts of ways to get my body to remember to do all the right things to produce the best sounds every time, not just sometimes. We then got into a discussion about something she talks about a lot, which is hearing the phrase in your mind before you actually sing it. It's not like this was the first time she has told me to do this, but today I was feeling a little argumentative, so I whined, "but how can you hear the whole phrase when you only have a nano second to breathe???" Her idea is that you have to integrate the thought of every phrase into the breath before you sing, so your body will be mentally AND physically prepared for everything it has to do to make the phrase have all the depth, height, and body it is capable of having vocally WHILE also possessing the meaning and intention of the words. Phew!! That's a lot. But isn't it true that when you hear a singer who is effective in every element of their singing, their voice is produced in a way that sounds like the optimum sounds they are meant to make, AND you are able to feel the emotion of what they are communicating from the inside of their every vowel? Their vowels have emotion inside their very cores. I'm not a philosopher, but that's deep, dude.

When I got home, I thought about what she had said, and I actually kind of got it. Then I saw that she had sent me an email, which further clarified her thoughts on the matter:

"The other thing is to put the emotion into the vowel line and not into a physical contraction of the rib cage or shoulder area, or jaw, for that matter. When that happens it inhibits your ability to stay open physically and keep your larynx relaxed and easily down. Keep your neck relaxed so that the emotion can go down with your breath and be released with the vowels. I think we have worked with your having your hand around the back of your neck and breathing into that. I think hearing ahead really helps with all of this because it gives you those "nanno seconds" to execute well and with some poise. The breath itself has a "Life force energy' and if it is bathed in thought and that lower feeling of emotion and support things should really work. It's just a different way of feeling emotion--the thought is inspiring the emtion. Thought, breath, speech."

After a decade of work with her, I am still having "aha" moments, and I had one today. And it wasn't just that singing is freaking hard.

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