Friday, April 21, 2017

Classical vs Pop

Today while teaching a voice lesson I found it necessary to deliver a short homily on the differences in the way one sings various types of songs.

My student, a young woman with a very pretty voice, brought to me some works she was singing in her chorus. We went over several solo parts that she was interested in performing.

She sings in a very good chorus of young people with a fine conductor. However, I have a few bones to pick with him on some of his ideas. 

Image result for herbert burtis photos

For one thing, the idea that he has, as do many choral conductors of the present era, that women, especially sopranos, must sing without a trace of vibrato. This idea is apparently based on the singing of men and boys choirs, which is fine when one is dealing with men and boys choirs. But not when one is dealing with mature female voices. Even with young female voices!

Vibrato is a naturally occurring phenomenon in ALL voices, male and female. Even very young voices, when left to sing naturally, have a slight vibrato. This is caused by the air passing through the vocal chords as the involuntary muscles of the larynx produce the pitch. Trying to eliminate this action means one is holding one's larynx.

This is not a very good idea.  

Any holding of the larynx, or any other part of the singing body, means one is creating tension. Tension is the enemy of good singing.

We discussed this idea today.

We also discussed some of the differences in solo singing and choral singing. When one is singing in a chorus, one must do what the conductor asks, however good or bad.

When singing a solo, one must follow the best possible use of the voice to produce beautiful sound, clear diction, and effortless singing.

ça va sans dire,

As the French would say.

We also talked about the differences one must be aware of when singing classical music or pop music. Differences in rhythm: in a Schubert song, sing it like he wrote it; in Rodgers and Hammerstein, you can play around with the rhythms and even the tune.

Diction is another changeable  part of the equation. In a classical song or aria, one should use more formal, accurate diction than is needed in a pop or show tune.

In every case one must sing freely and clearly to communicate the emotion to one's audience.

But don't trill or flip 'r's' in a pop song. Don't put a schwa after an 'n', 'm' or, 'ng' in any song. This seems to be a favorite of some conductors, even at the Met. 

Image result for lorraine hunt lieberson

When I attended a dress rehearsal of John Harbison's
Gatsby at the Met, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, singing the role of Myrtle, had been instructed to sing her opening line as 'It's hell, but it's Home-muh'. I was sitting in the audience during a dress rehearsal, taking notes for her. Next to me was her husband, Peter Lieberson. We went backstage during the break and I asked her about this. She said that the Met diction coach want everyone to add the vowel sound after an 'n' or 'm'.

I told her the line came across as 'It's hell, but it's Homer'!

I suggested that when they repeated the scene she sing it once with an 'm-uh' and the next time with a correctly pronounced m- which is a sustained hum.

Image result for peter lieberson

When Peter and I went back the next time, we both told her to just sing a beautiful 'm' on the word and it would sing to the back of the hall.

And that's how she did it! 

I realize that I am very picky about things like diction. I was a student and later a colleague of Madeleine Marshall, and have used her wise advice during my entire teaching career. Madeleine used to say 'I don't care how you speak, but when you sing, it must be clear and natural sounding.

That has been one of my mottos for all my teaching years.

I have covered all of these idea in my various books, I think there are six of them now, but it never hurts to rip off a special blog about wonderful singing!