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Giovanni Battista Lamperti (1839 – 1910), one of the first great vocal pedagogues, is quoted as saying in his Maxims that the breath is the basis of good singing.
”What is your approach to breath?” is a simple question, but the answers to this question are anything but simple. Master singers have varying ideas about breath control.
Breathing may be natural or unnatural, free or controlled, depending on the singer. Lawrence Brownlee speaks of “naturalness” and Nicole Cabell warns against it because “what seems natural could be incorrect.” Joyce DiDonato speaks of “freedom” of breath and Stephanie Blythe of “release”. Thomas Hampson advocates a conscious control of the breath.
Moreover, there are also various vocalizing techniques to command the flow of breath. Denyce Graves suggests using a hiss to control the breath flow. Another idea is the use of sirens, which helps to give a seamless sound throughout the range. An interesting suggestion from Eric Owens is to think of the inhalation as a note, an unwritten note, but a note. When the singer thinks of the inhalation as a note in the phrase, it becomes more natural and legato.
Indeed, singers may find lessons from many other areas of music. Although we are admonished that there is a difference in the more rigid support needed for the instrumentalist as opposed to the vocalist, Christine Goerke and Gerhard Siegel were thankful for their instrumental training because it helped them with their breath support. They reiterated that the singer needs flexibility in breathing or, as many say, a feeling of release, which is different from the instrumental breath support.
One recurring idea for breathing is that the breath is felt low in the body. According to Ana María Martínez, there “…is nothing high about the breath,” the breath fills the lower back with air while keeping the “…diaphragm low.” Joyce DiDnato says that one lets the air “drop like a weight”. With a certain amount of humor some suggest that the breathing is down and low, in the “bikinis,” or the belly gets “fluffy.”
But the true lesson from these masters is that each approach must be unique as each potential singer’s voice is unique. As Lamperti reminds us: “as a swimmer doesn’t fight the water, so should a singer not fight the breath.”
Throughout the month, we’ve been examining the myriad aspects of the human voice. But who better to discuss it than a singer herself? We asked Jenny Forsyth, member of the Sospiri choir in Oxford, what it takes to be part of a successful choir.
Which vocal part do you sing in the choir?
I sing soprano – usually first soprano if the parts split, but I’ll sing second if I need to.
For how long have you been singing?
I started singing in the training choir of the Farnham Youth Choir, in Surrey, when I was seven. Then I moved up through the junior choir when I was about 10 years old and then auditioned and moved up to the main performance choir at the age of 12 and stayed with them until I was 18. After this I studied for a Bachelors in Music, then did a Masters degree in Choral Studies (Conducting).
What first made you want to join a choir?
I had recently started having piano lessons and my dad, a musician himself, thought it would be good for my musical education to join a choir. We went to a concert given by the Farnham Youth Choir and after that I was hooked!
What is your favourite piece or song to perform?
That’s a really difficult question – there is so much great music around! I enjoy singing Renaissance music so I might choose Taverner’s Dum Transsiset. I also love Byrd’s Ne Irascaris Domine and Bogoroditse Devo from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers.
I also sing with an ensemble called the Lacock Scholars, and we sing a lot of plainsong chant, a lot of which is just so beautiful. Reading from historical notation – neumes – can give you so much musical information through such simple notation; it’s really exciting!
I’ve recently recorded an album of new commissions for the centenary of World War I with a choir from Oxford called Sospiri, directed by Chris Watson. The disk is called A Multitude of Voices and all the commissions are settings of war poems and texts. The composers were asked to look outside the poetical canon and consider texts by women, neglected poets and writers in languages other than English. I love all the music on the disk and it’s a thrilling feeling to be the first choir ever to sing a work. I really love Standing as I do before God by Cecilia McDowall and Three Songs of Remembrance by David Bednall. Two completely different works but both incredibly moving to perform.
However I think my all-time favourite has to be Las Amarillas by Stephen Hatfield – an arrangement of Mexican playground songs. It’s in Spanish and has some complicated cross rhythms, clapping, and other body percussion. It’s a hard piece to learn but when it comes together it just clicks into place and is one of the most rewarding pieces of music!
How do you keep your voice in peak condition?
These are the five things I find really help me. (Though a busy schedule means the early nights are often a little elusive!)
Keeping hydrated. It is vital to drink enough water to keep your whole system hydrated (ie., the internal hydration of the entire body that keeps the skin, eyes, and all other mucosal tissue healthy), and to make sure the vocal chords themselves are hydrated. When you drink water the water doesn’t actually touch the vocal chords so I find the best way to keep them hydrated is to steam, either over a bowl of hot water or with a purpose-built steam inhaler. The topical, or surface, hydration is the moisture level that keeps the epithelial surface of the vocal folds slippery enough to vibrate. Steaming is incredibly good for a tired voice!
I’m not sure what the science behind this is but I find eating an apple just before I sing makes my voice feel more flexible and resonant.
Hot drinks. A warm tea or coffee helps to relax my voice when it’s feeling a bit tired.
Regular singing lessons. Having regular singing lessons with a teacher who is up to date on research into singing techniques is crucial to keeping your voice in peak condition. Often you won’t notice the development of bad habits, which could potentially be damaging to your voice, but your singing teacher will be able to correct you and keep you in check.
Keeping physically fit and getting early nights. Singing is a really physical activity. When you’ve been working hard in a rehearsal or lesson you can end up feeling physically exhausted. Even though singers usually make singing look easy, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes with lots of different sets of muscles working incredibly hard to support their sound. It’s essential to keep your body fit and well-rested to allow you to create the music you want to without damaging your voice.
Do you play any other musical instruments?
When I was younger I played the piano, flute and violin but I had to give up piano and flute as I didn’t have enough time to do enough practice to make my lessons worthwhile. I continued playing violin and took up viola in my gap year and then at university studied violin as my first study instrument for my first two years before swapping to voice in my final year.
Do you have a favourite place to perform?
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all around the world with the Farnham Youth Choir, with tours around Europe and trips to both China and Australia. So, even before I decided to take my singing more seriously, I had had the chance to sing in some of the best venues in the world. It’s hard to choose a favourite as some venues lend themselves better to certain types of repertoire. Anywhere with a nice acoustic where you can hear both what you are singing and what others around you are singing is lovely. It can be very disconcerting to feel as though you’re singing completely by yourself when you know you’re in a choir of 20! I’m currently doing a lot of singing with the Lacock Scholars at Saint Cuthbert’s Church, Earl’s Court, so I think that’s my favourite at the moment. Having said that, I would absolutely love to sing at the building where I work as a music administrator – Westminster Cathedral! It’s got the most glorious acoustics and is absolutely stunning.
What is the most rewarding thing about being in a choir?
There are so many great things about singing in a choir. You get a sense of working as part of a team, which you rarely get to the same extent outside of choral singing. I think this is because your voice is so personal to you can find yourself feeling quite vulnerable. I sometimes think that to sing well you have to take that vulnerability and use it; to really put yourself ‘out there’ to give the music a sense of vitality. You have to really trust your fellow singers. You have to know that when you come in on a loud entry (or a quiet one, for that matter!) that you won’t be left high and dry singing on your own.
What’s the most challenging thing about singing in a choir?
I think this is similar to the things that are rewarding about being part of a choir. That sense of vulnerability can be unnerving and can sow seeds of doubt in your mind. “Do I sound ok? Is the audience enjoying the performance? Was that what the conductor wanted?” But you have to put some of these thoughts out of your mind and focus on the job in hand. If you’ve been rehearsing the repertoire for a long time you can sometimes find your mind wandering, and then you’re singing on autopilot. So it can be a challenge to keep trying to find new and interesting things in the music itself.
Also, personality differences between members of the choir or singers and conductors can cause friction. It’s important to strike the right balance so that everyone’s time is used effectively. The dynamic between a conductor and their choir is important in creating a finely tuned machine, and it is different with each conductor and each choir. Sometimes in a small ensemble a “Choirocracy” can work with the singers being able to give opinions but it can make rehearsals tedious and in a choral society of over a hundred singers it would be a nightmare.
Do you have any advice for someone thinking about joining a choir?
Do it! I think singing in a choir as I grew up really helped my confidence; I used to be very shy but the responsibility my youth choir gave me really brought me out of myself. You get a great feeling of achievement when singing in a choir. I don’t think that changes whether you’re an amateur singing for fun or in a church choir once a week or whether you’re a professional doing it to make a living. I’ve recently spent time working with an “Office Choir”. All of the members work in the same building for large banking corporation, and they meet up once a week for a rehearsal and perform a couple of concerts a year. It’s great because people who wouldn’t usually talk to each other are engaging over a common interest. So it doesn’t matter whether you’re a CEO, secretary, manager, or an intern; you’re all in the same boat when learning a new piece of music! They all say the same thing: they look forward to Wednesdays now because of their lunchtime rehearsals, and they find themselves feeling a lot more invigorated when they return to their desks afterwards.
Lastly, singing in a choir is a great way to make new friends. Some of my closest friends are people I met at choir aged 7!
Header image credit: St John’s College Chapel by Ed Webster, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr
In late 2014, one particular video of a singer became immensely popular on Facebook. At first I thought my perception of its popularity might be skewed; I’m a singer, and have many friends who are singers, so there’s probably some selection bias in my sampling of popular posts on social media. But eventually I actually clicked on one of the many postings of the video on my feed, and with its 7.4 million views, it seemed likely that it was more than just my singer friends who had been watching it:
Overtone singing, defined in Grove Music Online as “A vocal style in which a single performer produces more than one clearly audible note simultaneously”, has been in existence for thousands of years, most famously in east central Asia. But I had never seen this much attention focused on it at once. The video is jaw-droppingly cool, in part because what’s happening doesn’t seem possible. But then, not that many people understand how singing just one note at a time actually works.
Simply trying to explain everything that happens when we breathe and phonate (i.e., make a vocal sound) requires discussion of various complex, unconscious physical phenomena. As the Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments article “Voice” puts it:
Phonation takes place during exhalation as the respiratory system supplies air through the vibrating vocal folds, which interrupt and break the air stream into smaller units or puffs of air. The resulting sounds are filtered through a resonator system and then transmitted outside the mouth. Singing, speaking, humming, and other vocal sounds usually involve practised regulation of air pressure and breath-stream mechanics, and balanced control of the inspiratory (chiefly the diaphragm) and expiratory muscles (chiefly the abdominal and intercostal muscles).
Even after understanding all that, it’s clear that what’s happening in the video above is not a typical vocal performance. So when you hear those overtones coming from Anna-Maria Hefele, just what exactly is happening?
Fortunately for all of us, Hefele also made another video which addresses the physics of this phenomenon:
When you sing different vowels, your mouth changes shape to form those vowels. You pull your lips to the side to make an “eee” sound, and your tongue arches up in your mouth; when you make an “ooo” sound, you purse your lips and your tongue flattens out. When you do this, you’re actually changing the shape of your instrument, which in turn changes the harmonics that are stressed above the fundamental frequency (the pitch at which you’re speaking or singing). This is why the vowels sound different from one another. This is clear in Hefele’s training video, where the loudest overtones change from vowel to vowel.
Stress of different overtones is one of the ingredients of timbre, or the quality of a sound beyond its pitch and amplitude. Timbre is what allows us to distinguish between, say, a flute and an oboe playing the same pitch. They simply sound different. This is partially (no pun intended) dependent on the stress of different overtones due to the varying shapes and materials of each instrument.
The neat thing about the voice is that, while we don’t usually change the material, the shape is very flexible, and we can manipulate it to change our timbre. Overtone singing like Hefele’s takes an element of vocal sound and turns it into a new sort of instrument, inverting the typical relationship between instrument and timbre.
Anyone who’s listened to master impressionists or Bobby McFerrin (beyond “Don’t worry, be happy”) can attest to the versatility of the human voice. Vocalists are the shape-shifters of the instrument world. But comparing the 52,251 views of Hefele’s visualization video with the 7.4 million views of her performance video, it seems like we also appreciate the masters of timbre-bending the same way we appreciate magicians; most of us would rather watch the trick than see it explained.
In the newly published second edition of the Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, the voice is called “The quintessential human instrument.” But while almost all of us have voices, very few of us understand what is happening when we use them. Every once in a while I think it’s beneficial to see something extraordinary, if only so we remember to look at what seems ordinary a little more closely.
Headline image credit: A Sennheiser Microphone. Photo by ChrisEngelsma. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
If you are a singer who has a degree in vocal performance, then you are ready to stop doubting your greatness and start living an awesome life by singing in the world now. If you are a voice teacher or coach, you will recognize the need for your students to make a difference in the world with their singing and even make some money. Singing gigs and projects for classical singers are not just in opera, symphony orchestras, and churches anymore. In fact, most of the more meaningful (and lucrative) destinations for the vocal arts are not on the traditional stage, but out in the world helping people.
The key is to sing for people who want to hear you for their own reasons, and who value what you have to offer. If you are willing to gain new skills that you may not have acquired in school, you can find meaningful and lucrative places to sing. There is plenty of work out there for everyone.
Here are the top five tips to get you started:
Get familiar with what is already working in the world. Peruse the arts news and blogs daily to see what is happening with classical singers all over the world. You’ll be surprised to see how classical singers are making a living these days as teaching artists, wellness performers, cultural ambassadors, corporate consultants, independent artists, etc.
Learn how to market yourself as a performer and your products. Marketing just means having the ability to interview well, pitch your ideas, audition well, create great materials, and get them to your target audiences, fans, and employers. Take a class.
Create products that you can offer to both employers and fans. You’ll need videos, CDs, MP3s, streaming events, download cards, or anything you can hand to a prospective fan or employer to introduce yourself and your art.
Tailor your repertoire for a specific purpose. We all know that different repertoires evoke different types of responses in the listener. Offer a repertoire that is calming, joyous, enthusiastic, or patriotic, etc. and the audience will choose whatever he or she needs.
Know yourself. Every singer is an artist but may not know it. To develop your own “voice” so to speak, you’ll need to turn inward. If you know why you are singing you can develop your own authentic vocal art that will have tremendous power to transform your listeners. I recommend meditation.
Accomplished, hard-working artists capture the hearts and imaginations of their audiences. Sing for the spirit of the song. As a singer, you can put your voice to good use making the world a better place. Sing out in the world for a specific and meaningful purpose, and a simple evening of entertainment can turn into a pathway for enlightenment.
Headline Image: Microphone, Music. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.
This is one of many hidden picture puzzles I did this past year for Highlights. What a challenge, to hide 30 objects in a spread! Some are hard to find, others… obvious (Can you find some…?). But this is a fun story to tell in one picture–a children’s choir/production underway with parents, siblings and teachers helping and enjoying the show! There are little stories within the story so I hope that makes it much more enjoyable for kids to linger over as they try to find the hidden objects!
That’s a long title, but it says it all…kinda. This is one of many hidden picture puzzles I did this past year for Highlights. What a challenge, to hide 30 objects in a spread! Some are hard to find, others… obvious (Can you find some…?). But this is a fun story to tell in one picture–a children’s choir/production underway with parents, siblings and teachers helping and enjoying the show! There are little stories within the story so I hope that makes it much more enjoyable for kids to linger over as they try to find the hidden objects!
The internet is an amazing tool. It brings the world to your finger tips and it affords you the opportunity to met people you would never have met.
Recently, an enterprising young woman namedAmy Robbins-Wilson contacted me. She has a Google alert for the word lullaby. Since my bedtime picture book is titled Day's End Lullaby, Amy found my site.
Here is a short description of Lullaby Link:
Lullabylink.com is dedicated to serving parents who would like to incorporate music into their lives with their children. At Lullabylink.com we believe in the power of music to link generations. We further believe that lullabies and baby music are crucial in the development of the arts in our culture. If our children learn that music comes only from “professionals” or from the t.v or radio box then they will learn to be consumers. If they learn that it comes from all people, they will learn to be creators.
Lullabylink.com provides parents with lyrics and melodies to over 40 lullabies and ideas as to how to use music with their infant, their toddler and even with babies in the neonatal intensive care unit. Studies report that there is a decrease in the number of parents singing to their children. We hope to be a part of reversing that trend by encouraging parents and giving them the tools they need to interact with their children musically.
We invite you to Lullaby Link. Come get your free lullaby lyrics songbook and mp3’s! If you have any comments or suggestions for our site we would love to hear from you.
What a wonderful and unique idea.
I'm not going to give everything away now though, Amy will be our guest soon and we'll learn a lot more about her and Lullaby Link. Be sure to come back!
Sully’s Topsy Tale is a wonderful rhyming story about a solo singing snake with laryngitis. Children will be thrilled as Sully’s friends all try to help him with his problem. In the end Sully recovers and discovers in the process that it is good to have friends as they make beautiful music together..
Donna J. Shepherd’s rhymes are delightful and have a wonderful message about friendship. Kevin Collier’s illustrations are colorful and humorous, and will definitely make children giggle. Donna and Kevin are a winning partnership.
This is the third book in the Topsy Tales series. This book is suitable for children ages 3 to 7. The back cover includes definitions of musical terms used in the book. The book is endorsed by a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist for use in articulation therapy for the letter “s”.
I’ve recently read a few new books that aim to teach our children Spanish the old-fashioned way: with songs and nursery rhymes. There are a plethora of computer programs that can be used to learn foreign languages but many language teachers will tell you that vocabulary and practice are the only real ways to learn a foreign language. What better way to learn new words and practice them over and over again, but by learning catchy songs and nursery rhymes?
Following are some recently published books that caught my eye:
by Heide “Pina” Madera (Author), Christina Spangler (Illustrator)
Reading level: Ages 0-3
Paperback: 14 pages
Publisher: Sing-A-Lingo (2009)
Source of book: Publisher
Buenas Noches, Amigos by Heide “Pina” Madera is a “singable” book that can be incorporated into a child’s bedtime routine easily since it follows a little boy, his cat, and a mouse on their journey from bath to bed to sleep. The book comes with printed music and words for two songs and–in a more modern twist–these can be downloaded from the publisher’s website to accompany the bedtime routine.
by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy (Authors), Rosalma Zubizarreta (English versions) and Vivi Escriva (Illustrator)
Reading level: Ages 2-7
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (2010)
Source of book: Publisher
Muu, Muu! Animal Nursery Rhymes by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy is a collection of traditional Spanish nursery rhymes and their English translations. The book is full of beautiful Latin American-inspired illustrations with lots of colorful images.
Just got this note: "Congratulations! Your ebook has been declared a finalist in Dan Poynter's Global eBook Awards."
This is my favorite of the Topsy Tales. I'm so glad Sully's Topsy Tale received this recognition!
Have you read this book? Rate it:
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Video courtesy of MacmillanChildrens: “Watch this book trailer video and see The Babies on the Bus sing la la la! The Babies on the Bus is a picture book for children by best-selling author and illustrator Karen Katz. Follow along as this adorable children’s picture book comes alive in this video!”
Platform: iOS 4.0 or later, Also available in the Android Market.
Launched on January 12th of this year, SoundCloud is not the first sound recording app, but I would argue that it is certainly the most polished. SoundCloud gives users the ability to record sounds, with the choice to then share them publically with friends and followers or keep them private. When you first employ the app, you will be prompted to create a free account by designating yourself a username and password along with the option of adding a photo to your profile. The next step is to choose sounds or people to follow. By searching for people, you can find your favorite music artists and the new sound bites they record. Just like with Twitter, real bands have the “Official” seal of approval on their account so users know that it is, in fact, the actual artist or band behind the account. This is a great way to hear new music that hasn’t even been released yet. Fans can get a sneak peak of what is coming down the pike and musicians have the ability to get their music out before the album is released.
Not only does this app have excellent features for music fans, but it’s also, ideal for aspiring musicians. SoundCloud is the perfect way for budding teen artists to record their sounds and share them with the world. The sharing featuring links to Facebook to help the user locate friends who also use the app as well as to post sound recordings, for others to hear. Within the app there is a tab called “stream,” where you can look at recent activity within your follower community. From there, you can also listen to new sounds complete with timestamps noting when they were originally posted
The app is not even a month old, but I can foresee this being a very useful tool for teens who are into GarageBand, YouTube, and many of the other music-inclined apps available for mobile devices. The social networking angle will be most appealing for teens who wish to get “discovered”. For tweens and teens who may not have a Facebook account, the option to keep your sounds private is most appealing. Recording your sounds and keeping them private is like a new spin on journal writing for teens. Instead of writing down lyrics or poetry in a diary, they can now be recorded with or without instruments. Youth librarians may find this app inspiring in creating a variety of programs with children and teens. I’m personally anxious to find out if and how teens are using SoundCloud.
Someone sent me a link yesterday in my email and I opened it but didn't take the time to watch the video because I was tired or busy--doesn't matter. What does matter is that while my life would have been enriched last night, it wasn't until this afternoon that I felt the rush of excitement and empathy during the watching of this video. All I could think was: Never judge a book by its cover or a person by their appearance. OMG! What a gem the world has finally uncovered. Continue reading →
The Illustration Friday prompt this week, vocal, and the CBIG prompt for this month, friends, worked well with an old color sketch I did of a moose and girl. I made a few changes and polished up the art, and here it is.
The girl and her moose friend love to sing and dance!
From inside jacket: Little Crow loves to sing, and Papa Crow loves his song. But when Little Crow shares his crow songs with the other birds at the big old tree, they laugh and scatter. Maybe the Amazing Mockingbird can teach him to sing songs with the finches, flycatchers, and cardinals—and help him make some friends. But Little Crow should be careful what he wishes for . . .
Using Mockingbird’s tip, Little Crow becomes the most popular bird on the block. But, in a moment of danger, he learns that singing someone else’s song can have terrible consequences and that his own voice—and his father’s love—is of the greatest value.
Little Crow so desperately wants a friend he will do most anything to get one, even if that means fitting in to the point of losing his own identity. When he begins to sing like the other birds, he is welcomed, becomes part of the group. What Little Crow does not realize is the cost one incurs when making a major change to fit in with the crowd.
For Little Crow, singing the other bird’s songs to fit in and have friends could cost him his life when a hawk appears overhead. Little Crow is in danger and sings out, Papa Crow does not understand it is his son singing out—he no longer recognizes Little Crow’s singing.
Little Crow said, “Per-CHIC-o-ree!”—Heelllllp!
“Poor Finch,” said Papa Crow.
Little Crow sings out, “Fee-beeee!”—Help me!
“Poor Phoebe Flycatcher!” said Papa Crow.
Like Little Crow, kids do not like being different, they want to fit in with the crowd and be accepted. Those that do not dress as the others dress, speak as the others speak, or act as the other act are often shunned and ridiculed by those that do meld into one. But the group looks, speech, and actions often do not have room for individuality, originality, or creativity. That can be hard for a kid to understand when all they want to do is fit in, have friends, and not be teased.
Little Crow had lost his identity. His Papa no longer connected Little Crow’s singing to Little Crow. In a time of need, Papa Crow could not reach out. As a social worker, I love these types of books. Kids need to know it is okay to be themselves; to act, speak, dress like themselves and not anyone else. Fitting in with the crowd is not always the best idea. I have seen smart kids trade their intelligence to fit in and lose much more than they ever gained. Kids who are different for any reason will lose what may be the best part of themselves simply to fit in.
I like Song for Papa Crow because it can open up a dialogue between parent and kids. The story can help kids understand that fitting in may not always be the best thing to do.
The illustrations, also created by the author, are beautiful collages. There are many birds, depicted in their wonderfully layered shades of color, on every page. On Papa Crow’s head, the feathers are short and look soft. The feathers making up his tail are long and smooth. You can see the strength in the hawk and the sudden fear in Little Crow.
In addition to a good story about preserving one’s identity, there is a short primer on North American birds. I really like this book. Song for Papa Crow is a beautiful book, with thick pages for the younger kids, interesting bird facts, and a good story that can teach kids to stay true to themselves.
Teachers, school social workers, and others who regularly work with kids will find this book immensely helpful. Parents can use the story to open a dialogue about fitting in and being true to one’s self. Kids will like the illustrations of the birds and can use the book as a guide to the birds in their neighborhood.
Song for Papa Crow is a good story for any time or reason. For collectors, the illustrations are beautiful and this is the first complete book by now author and illustrator Marit Menzin.
5 Stars Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie Laurie A, Jacobs Anne Jewett Flashlight Press 32 Pages Ages: 5 and up Inside Jacket: Sophie and Chloe are lucky that their Grandma Tillie knows how to be royally silly. To their delight, whenever Grandma Tillie babysits she seems to disappear, only to be replaced by a parade of [...]
You know that stress dream that everyone has at one time or another? The one where you’re standing up in front of a giant group of people and something goes horribly wrong? You forget your speech, your voice cracks, you’re not wearing pants. Well that dream became a recurring reality for me my senior year of college (not the pants part thankfully). Mine was the singer’s nightmare. The one where you open your mouth to sing and the voice that comes out is not your own.
As a child and an adolescent I loved to perform. Singing wasn’t something I thought about; it was something I just did and as a result I was totally fearless. When I got to college the concept of thinking about singing as a science was entirely new to me. My teachers taught me to release my jaw and tongue, to inhale into my back and belly, to use muscular antagonism of the inspiratory and expiratory muscles, to keep my larynx low and stable, to lift my palate, and many other mechanics of singing. At first this new focus on technique was interesting, but eventually all of the technical language resulted in confusion. Every time I opened my mouth to sing I was afraid I would do something wrong. The result was a voice that was only a shadow of the one I used to call my own.
What happens when we’re afraid? In his article “The Anatomy of Fear,” John A. Call discusses the body’s reaction to fear: the heart-rate speeds up, our muscles tense, and the breath becomes fast and shallow.
The implications of this for a singer are huge. In singing the first rule of the inhale is release low. When a singer releases and expands through the lower body (belly, low back, and intercostals), it allows these muscles to work in tandem on the exhale. This gives the singer the ability to manage the air much more efficiently than if he/she had begun by expanding through the chest and clavicles. If a person is experiencing fear, the ability to take a low and relaxed or released breath becomes quite difficult.
Certainly singers need to learn proper singing technique, but sometimes I wonder, what is all of this focus on the physical costing us as artists? There was a time in my life when I operated solely on musical intuition. But as I learned more and more about the mechanics of singing I began attempting to operate on facts and science instead of artistic impulse. I don’t mean to suggest that I didn’t need to learn the mechanics—I had plenty of technical issues. But perhaps there is a more holistic approach to teaching singing that could facilitate proper technique without the loss of instinct.
After I graduated from college I took some time off from singing. When I decided to return to it I knew I needed a different approach. I had been practicing yoga as a form of exercise for a few years, but I felt confident that with the right guidance it could really help me as a singer. So I sought out a voice/yoga teacher.
Yoga session at sunrise in Joshua Tree National Park – Warrior I pose. Photo by Jarek Tuszynski. Creative Commons License via Wikimedia Commons
My new teacher, Mark Moliterno, taught me that yoga recognizes that tension in the body is often a result of physical or psychological blockages to the breath. The practice of yoga seeks to release tension and free the breath. When properly implemented in the voice studio, yoga can be a pathway to efficient vocal technique and artistic freedom.
Mark pointed out that all of the confusion and fear that had built up during my college studies had caused me to physically disengage from the lower half of my body. So we set to work using yoga to reconnect me with my lower body and help me feel more secure in my singing.
We used postures like Tādāsana or Mountain Pose and Vìrabhadrāsana One or Warrior One to release tension in the body and connect me with the ground. Feeling my leg muscles engaged and my feet planted firmly on the floor helped me to feel more secure. We used pranayama or breath exercises to release tension within the muscles of the respiratory system. We used hip openers to release the tension in my jaw, and shoulder openers to release the tension in my tongue.
We did yoga and made music. Not once in this entire process did I think about any of the mechanics of singing. My technique improved because my body was open and the breath could function naturally and efficiently. Yoga was like this miracle that freed my voice and allowed me to trust myself again. But it isn’t a miracle, it’s a science that takes into account all parts of the person, and not just the anatomical.
Carrie -Yoga shoot #002. Photo by Joel Nilsson. Creative Commons License via Wikimedia Commons
When singers start trying to function as anatomical machines, seeking after flawless technique, we can lose the ability to sing authentically. Yoga helped me to learn to sing with good technique without focusing on it, and dissolved the fear that kept me from trusting my musical instincts. It released the tension in my body and mind, unleashing the breath, and offering me a pathway to artistic freedom.
Mezzo-soprano, Laura Davis, is a singer, conductor, and voice teacher. She holds a Master of Music degree in Voice Pedagogy and Performance from the Catholic University of America and a Bachelor of Music degree in Sacred Music from Westminster Choir College. Recent performances include Suzuki in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Dina in Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, and Third Lady in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. After spending 10 years on the east coast conducting, performing, and teaching, Ms. Davis has returned to her home state of Colorado where she is in the process of opening a voice studio based on a holistic approach to singing.
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Soul’s latest incarnation comes in the guise of St. Paul and the Broken Bones. St. Paul is not really a saint. He is Paul Janeway of a new band that is hot on the rise. When you listen to him sing it evokes memories of a time past. But the most impressive part is that he does not look the part. People wonder how someone who looks nothing like Otis Redding can sound just like him. So how is it that this Drew Carey look-a-like ended up sounding so soulful? The answer comes from his early childhood.
Janeway grew up hearing gospel music and went to church on Sundays. His parents made a conscious decision to not allow him to hear anything but gospel and soul music. Church also contained quite a bit of gospel. He sung to a number of records and was immersed in this genre of music. He continued in his life and was actually almost ready to graduate from college when the opportunity to sing appeared once again. His band began to receive praise for their singing and the rest is history.
Like Paul Janeway, I also grew up with a childhood music that I would come to rediscover many years later. During my childhood summer trips to Mexico, I would often listen to music. One of the most famous pop singers in Mexico was Roberto Carlos, a native from the northeastern part of Brazil. He had some success in Brazil but nothing like the huge following he had in Latin America, where his accent sounded exotic in Spanish sung songs.
On one of our record hunting excursions in the Mission District in San Francisco my dad found a record that looked just like the one I had at home, except that the cover was white not pink — Portuguese version of the record I already had. My curiosity piqued, I began to listen to these songs and soon enough I was singing them with a very thick Spanish accent. I probably sung to the record for about a year or two before I grew older and took on other musical interests.
That very thick Spanish accent remained for me when I took Portuguese as a college student and it did not go away during my first few months in Brazil. However, over time the thick accent disappeared entirely and I came to speak with the accent of a Paulista, as those from Sao Paulo, Brazil’s economic capital are called.
Many years later I decided to sing a Brazilian lullaby from that Roberto Carlos album to my son Nikolas. And the day I sung it my accent in Portuguese stood in strong contrast to the Paulista that I had grown accustomed to as an adult. I realized that I sounded like a northeastern Brazilian, the same accent that Roberto Carlos had sung with in my childhood. All those years later, the early memory of that song had persisted and it surprised me when it came out. Like Paul Janeway, my exposure to an early set of sounds had created a vocal imprint that reappeared many years later.
People often ask if earlier is better. Well, there is one case where this is almost always true and it has to do with our accent in a language. So if you want to sound like Otis Redding or Roberto Carlos it is better to start working on it earlier in life.
Arturo Hernandez is currently Professor of Psychology and Director of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience graduate program at the University of Houston. He is the author of The Bilingual Brain. His major research interest is in the neural underpinnings of bilingual language processing and second language acquisition in children and adults. He has used a variety of neuroimaging methods as well as behavioral techniques to investigate these phenomena which have been published in a number of peer reviewed journal articles. His research is currently funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development. You can follow him on Twitter @DrAEHernandez.
This Upcoming Tuesday - June 10th - - 8PM ET– Mary Jo Huff speaks about early literacy begins with rhythm rhyme & story time on the Art of Storytelling with Children.
Mary Jo writes…
Language is critical for literacy development and storytelling creates an interactive bridge. Music, repeated phrases, and actions provide connections and invite participation by children when they become part of the storytelling event.
Working in schools demands that the storyteller is tuned into the state literacy standards. Storytelling connects many types of standards but I am only concentrating on the literacy connection. A good story challenges a child’s auditory, visual, and kinesthetic skills along with a phonemic awareness.
Performing in schools as a storyteller gives a teller the opportunity to address some reading readiness components such as repetition, retelling, rhyming and sequencing. When teachers are aware of what the stories have to offer they are amazed at the children’s reaction. Children develop their oral language skills by learning to tell and retell stories. They learn about their world, other cultures, visual imagery, moral and social issues and they increase listening skills.
Literacy standards connections to look for when telling stories for children:
• Phonological Awareness
• Understanding Stories
• Book Awareness
• Word Awareness
• Story Enjoyment
Mountains of information are available for review and it can be mind boggling. Check out these organizations for documentation of literacy standards and review for connections to your type of storytelling.
• International Reading Association
• National Council of Teachers of English
• National Association for the Education of Young Children
Play with the sounds of language using songs, rhymes, chants and stories. Get excited about what you do. This life of mine is a passion and I work at it everyday in one way or another. Over the years I have been successful because I spent 35 years in the trenches with young children and also attended numerous conferences and developed a love for my life. I rely on my experiences to connect my storytelling to the world I live in and to share my experiences with anyone who will listen!
More about Mary Jo
I have 35 years as an Early Childhood Educator and 20 years as a storyteller. I believe in my heart that children who listen to stories develop a great vocabulary and understanding of their world. I used storytelling in the classroom and began visiting schools, libraries and doing workshops for teachers and librarians. In this period of time I have been in all but 7 states and visited with thousands of children and adults. Children need excitement, music, props and I like puppets with my storytelling. I am not a puppeteer I just play with puppets and I play with story.
Today I work as an author, storyteller, consultant, teaching artist and granny-on-the-go! I am a good traveler and my fluff goes with me wherever I go to tell stories. Children are hungry to hear a good told story and they connect especially when there is a little rhythm and rhyme. I have 7 books published and working on a couple at this moment along with 3 CDs and my favorite a new DVD called “Fairy Tales, Fantasy, and Storytellin’ Fun!.
Batman's eyebrows expert Carrie Harris has tagged me. Careful I don't tag you (evil laugh, which isn't really that evil at all).
Four goals I have in the next five years:
1. Sign with an agent. 2. Buy agent lots of pressies. 3. Make agent very rich. 4. Perfect evil laugh.
Four places I will visit someday:
1. New York 2. San Francisco - probably around the time the earthquake hits. 3. Pompeii 4. Hawaii
Four of my favourite foods:
1. Chocolate 2. Tuna Salad 3. Scouse 4. Pancakes with heaps of sugar and lemon juice. YUM!
Four jobs I've had:
1. Croupier - until the wee ball flew off the roulette wheel and travelled down a 'not-very-happy' man's arm. 2. Encouraged people to gamble in a betting shop - until a knife incident. 3. Scraped food off plates in a restaurant - never ate in that restaurant again. 4. Filed HIV reports.
Two places I've lived:
1. Morden Street :) Where I grew up 2. Radnor Place :) Where there were ghosts
Two places I'd like to live:
1. The unadventurous answer - Southport 2. The slightly more adventurous answer - San Francisco
Four things I'd do with my spare time, if I had any:
1. Learn to fly a plane (a small one not a jumbo jet). Though I can't drive a car!!! 2. Watch DVDs, read books, veg out. 3. Spend more time with my nephews and niece. 4. Learn to sing!!! (okay, why did the room just empty)
So who do I tag, EVERYONE!!! Only kidding - do it if you want to and don't if you don't.
This video was made in the Antwerp, Belgium Central Train Station on March 23, 2009. With no warning to the passengers passing through the station, at 8:00 AM., a recording of Julie Andrews singing 'Do, Re, Mi' begins to play on the public address system. As the bemused passengers watch in amazement, some 200 dancers begin to appear from the crowd and station entrances. They created this amazing stunt with just two rehearsals! Turn up the volume & Enjoy!