Timbre

I have just had an article on singer’s timbre published by Taylor and Francis in Contemporary Music Review so for those who are interested you can click on the link below!

 

https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/AFgJ5htIm2xGFQrQuuUP/full

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New approaches to singing

I have always wondered whether I would write a book on singing. The trouble is there are so many books on singing and voice, would another one be worth all the effort. And if I did  what kind of things would it include.

A part of me would like to be revolutionary and try and find new things to say, unconventional perspectives that would get singers to think in new ways about their instrument. And being a teacher it would have to include educational approaches I suppose.

I suppose what has interested me has been the relationship with other forms of creativity and expression, like sculpture, or dance or needlepoint, winter sports and tennis. Or at least how I can see the making of sound with one’s body reflected and reimagined through other mediums. It is interesting that the earth itself makes so much noise, wind, rain, ice, volcanoes, and when we sing we connect somehow to a deeper level of expression.

So if I imagine how my book would look, what would the chapter headings be!

1. Sound as a soul: an examination of vocal identity

2. Singing and movement : the physical imagery of sport, dance and sound

3. Singing into space: acoustics and the  sculpture of song and sound

4. Singing and textures: weaving threads of timbre

5. Singing and colour: painting and pointillism

6. Singing and words: the crunch of consonants and the halo of vowels

7. Conclusion or just more questions?

Would that make an interesting book? I think so but would anyone else?

Play Music

It has all been a bit busy lately but this morning I started a tots and toddler group for our three churches to encourage and bless our young families. And I found myself saying well 30 years ago I was running music groups for young children called ‘Play Music’ and I can do so again.

So here I am more than 30 years on (with my own grandchildren now living too far away) starting up a “Play Music” group for the tots and toddlers in our Parish. And now I will have to find all the games and songs that I used to do and make some more instruments for them to play.

I used to do a game where they beat out on the chime bars the time on the clock which had a chocolate finger pointing to the hour and if they got it right they could eat the chocolate finger. Now I shall probably have to do it with a carrot stick so it is healthy. Not sure about that!

I have a treasure store of songs about trains, clocks, pussy willows, apples and bananas, as well as all the nursery rhymes which I shall have to dig out and remember. It is funny, on the one hand I have my talented B. Mus Vocal performance singers at Chichester University and then the up and coming singers of the next generation!

Meanwhile I am preparing to go to Ghent to have our EVTA board meeting next week in preparation of our Eurovox Congress at the end of August in Ghent. Life is certainly abundant.

Tennis and Singing

Each year during Wimbledon I am reminded how so much of tennis performance is parallel to the singing world. So here are some of the tips I have picked up from hearing the commentators on the tennis.

I loved Billie-Jean King’s comments on the ‘intensity button’ that all great athletes seem to have, the control over the emotional intelligence of a performer, being able to calm down when the emotions are running high, and then when things are getting dull and dry in performance to be able to turn up the intensity button. I shall use that when I am teaching voice!

Then I heard how the speed of the serve really surprises players when they play at club level and then play with a Grand slam champion. It reminded me of a concert I did for my teacher Mollie Petrie and the wonderful Susan Chilcott, also her student, sang and I heard that sound, how huge and resonant and loud it all was and then I realised how much I had to learn about singing at a professional level.

Watching Andy Murray play with his hip injury, how the upper body was weakened because of the weakness in the lower body and how he couldn’t get any speed in the serve, and how the core muscles need the strength from the pelvis. So do singers, so many ignore the whole body awareness which is fundamental to producing a great performance.

Acoustics of air is something tennis players know, and they feel when the ball is fast or slow depending on humidity, heat etc and singers need to be sensitive to the air and how acoustics affect the sound we make. I have also been reading “Sound” by Bella Bathurst describing hearing loss and gain and how she learnt the particularly qualities of air for sound. We still do not know enough about the ear and acoustics for singing.

So apart from singers becoming athletes and learning from sports psychology, I also learn a lot about Singing when watching Wimbledon, crazy but true!

Metaphors Matter

We need to encourage more timbre words. Metaphors are really useful and they can and should act as intensifiers rather than comparators. Teachers who used images and metaphorical language were deemed to be ‘old-fashioned’ and un-scientific, when the voice scientists came along and told us what was happening in the throat! That was all good in its way and we have to thank Sundberg and Titze and Sataloff and many others who have opened our eyes and ears to the complexities of singing.

But there has been a flattening out of vocal colours in singers of all genres, partly due to recording digitally, though that is changing, with the return of analogue.

We have to learn to encourage our students to play with their voices and develop more colours, appropriate to the text of course.

It is coming to the end of semester at University and the singers are getting nervous about their final dissertations. I never know how they will perform under pressure until it actually happens. Last week I had a very promising first year singer who appeared for a lesson 24 hours before her assessment singing with a tight jaw and bent neck! I had never seen this before. Stress she said, so I said “You’re stressed, so am I!? why are you suddenly tightening everything up just before you sing!!”

These are moments you have to think quickly to help them break out of a dangerous physical cycle where they could sing badly or worse do some damage. So in this instance I made her sing with her back against the wall so we got the head balanced again and the jaw loose and I made her promise not to tighten up in her recital. I think the surprise and the energy with which I spoke made her realise how dangerous the stress had become, especially when she is usually such a good performer. Exams do strange things to singers!

If the singer can overcome stress and use nervous energy to their advantage they can concentrate on the colours and the vibrancy of their sound, using the acoustic to explore the space for sound. But if they have no idea how to begin, because they haven’t been taught to ‘imagine’ and ‘intensify’, and their sound palette is limited to just a few descriptors like, sob, sigh, cry, belt, moan, they will only be able to draw with primary colours instead of blends and shades of colour.

Movement and sound

Just watching the Young dancer competition 2017 on BBC is making me think about how we need as singers to think about our performing space, movement pathways, using our vocal technique in challenging ways. It is so exciting seeing the different genres, ballet, contemporary, Asian and street dance and how they convey the music in dynamic ways.

As singers and teachers we must always be thinking of extending our boundaries. Learning from other genres is such an important lesson for us all.

 

We can do it with modern musics but the challenge is to take our pre-conceived ideas about ‘classical’ performance and refresh and renew. We can certainly use movement and visual space but we can also use our timbre, to change weight, to feel the sound in our bones, phrasing with the acoustic colours. However how do we teach that to our singers who feel so insecure at the best of times!

Make a sound out of the piece of crumpled paper.  Use colours and textures of mixed media, torch lights, pottery and clay vessels and of course dance movements.

The next difficult task is to create something as community singing, getting a group of singers to perform in an adventurous way.

Reaching out with singing

We live in a world where people feel isolated and alone as we seem to have lost much of our sense of community, looking after our neighbours. Singing together in choirs can be a wonderful way of feeling part of a group, and that group can be very diverse with folk of all levels of musical ability and background.

EVTA, with some wonderful partners from our LeoSings project are planning to co-host a new concept called Singing Roadshow which will involve a communal creative project which will use singers, choral directors, singing teachers, artists and other creative people to develop a vocal performance that will encourage singers to work in new and refreshing ways,  at higher levels of competence with diverse audience experience. EVTA hopes that local teachers will offer vocal technique opportunities as well as engaging in the sharing of creative ideas.