Why study vocal acoustics
in the theater? Why is it important to practice singing in a larger space? Many
singers sound very "big" in the studio; however, on stage the situation can
be different. True resonance is often overlooked in the studio because a singer
can get away without the "open throat" which creates "ring" in the voice.
It has been my experience that in certain circumstances some "smaller-voiced"
singers can sound "larger in the theater" than the "larger-voiced" singers.
How could this be and what can be done to correct this vocal defect? When Kirsten
Flagstad first sang an audition at the Metropolitan Opera in 1935, it was questionable
as to whether or not she would have her services employed. Her voice sounded
ugly in a small room. It was not until she was given an "on stage" audition,
that the staff could hear the actual beauty of her voice. The story is that
all the cleaning staff came into to the Old Metropolitan Opera Stage area when
they heard the special warmth and resonance of FlagstadÕs voice. When a singer
creates true "resonance" in a smaller room, the voice can sound harsh and unattractive.
(This is not to say the voice should ever be "placed" frontally without proper
acoustical space in the pharynx.) However, when one sings with this sound in
the theater, the space welcomes the high overtones and the greatness of the
vocal sound can be realized.
These high overtones are achieved with the Flagstad "ng" accompanied by the
"open pharynx". Dr. BrattÕs "ahning" exercise is useful in helping to create
this acoustical element. However, most of the time, when a singer comes into
my studio, the pharynx is too closed for true "ring" to occur within their vocal
production. The singer is producing sound with what I call "mouth vowels" or
a "closed throat". True correct vocal production occurs when a singer uses pharyngeal
space, mouth space, and nasal resonance or the "ng". This combination creates
the beauty and power of the voice without pushing through the cords with too
much breath pressure. Alan Lindquest used to say to me, "You are pushing too
much wild air through your cords". Of course, one has to achieve an open body
to stop "pushing" the voice, and I did not have that important mind-body connection.
I was 28 years old and he was 90 years old at the time of my study with him,
and he could vocalize somewhat better than I could. When I later found my "body-connection"
I could then realize the importance of this factor of singing. (See articles
on breath and breath management.)
had a first-hand experience with vocal acoustics in Berlin in l989; three
days after the Berlin Wall came down. Eleven of my singers were singing at Philharmonie
Hall, and after the concert the conductor of the Hanover Opera came up to me.
He asked, "Which were the large voices and which were the small voices?" It
was true that all the singers carried equally well in the theater. His next
statement was that they must all "come from the same school of training". I
understand his statement. It was easy to hear that the singers sang with both
"space and ring" simultaneously. There was a consistency in their sound and
each singer kept his/her individual vocal quality as well.
In addition to the concepts discussed heretofore, it seems only appropriate
to mention the alteration of the vowels. When I studied with Alan Lindquest,
he would tell me to "round and darken the vowels" toward the passaggio. I now
understand that he was trying to help me to achieve an "open throated ring"
accompanied with "color" in my voice. When a singer hears his/her own voice
too well, the production is incorrect or "too spread". However, this sound may
be familiar to the singerÕs vocal history and may sound beautiful to them. What
is beautiful to us in our "inside hearing", is usually not beautiful to the
audience. The production is often thin and colorless if the "mouth opening"
is too "spread". This is why we must learn to sing by feel and not sound. It
is important that any rounding or darkening or the vowels is done only with
space and not tongue depression. If the tongue assumes the "ng" position with
the tongue tip at the gum-line, "ring" will occur in the voice. The vowels will
alter on their own when the throat space is kept the same on the way up an ascending
scale and through the passaggio. I find that there are two ways to train the
singerÕs open throat, (1) through alteration of the vowels which creates the
opening in the back of the throat, and (2) by constantly reminding the singer
of the pharyngeal space in the back of the throat. Usually one of these two
approaches will help the singer to realize the "open throated" feeling.
Another major factor which effects vocal acoustics in the theatre is the "shape
of the mouth opening". The corners of the mouth must form a "rounded opening";
otherwise a "spread tone" will occur. Most excellent classical singers use a
"rounded embouchure" which creates more acoustical space in the "pharyngeal
chamber". These singers will "open wider" only when above the staff in the highest
register. One can observe this especially in the videos of BjoerlingÕs singing.
He never spreads his mouth position until in the highest register and the result
is a "rounded tonal quality" with much control. A "spread production" creates
"shrillness" in a voice. A "rounded tone" will create authentic color and resonance
simultaneously. However, this resonance may sound "too sharp" to the singerÕs
inner hearing. We simply cannot hear our own sound and we must learn the correct
"feel" for singing.
In 1993, I held a master class on "vocal acoustics in the theatre" at Lincoln
Center in New York. I had each singer deliberately "spread their embouchure"
to make their sound "bright". The result sounded wonderful to the singer, however,
it did not carry in the theatre. Then I had each singer "round the embouchure".
The result was that they did not get much of their own sound, however, the audience
was enjoying a "ringing" sound which carried much larger in the house. This
experiment received a major reaction from the participating audience. The voices
sounded "twice as big" using the rounded mouth position than the "spread" mouth
position. I taught the "rounded position" in conjunction with the "ng" tongue
position. This creates "pure resonance" which can sound "harsh" in a small studio.
This "ringing sound" is a direct result of the "open pharynx" along with the
"ng" tongue position.