Since you (the two of you that read this blog) know almost everything about me, which is scary, you know that I’ve been doing a lot of hard vocal work lately. Not that this is really that different than any other time—I practice everyday—but right now my focus is a little different than it’s been.
Being able to sing over an orchestra requires a very specific kind of training, as I’m discovering more and more everyday. The muscles have to be worked daily to support the vocal folds for this highly athletic thing we do called creating intense resonance. It’s not something you just don’t have or just do have, period, although some people have easier access naturally. It’s something you can work to build, and I’m working on it.
As a lover of choral music and the Anglican tradition specifically, I am in awe of those singers who have devoted their musical lives to developing the technique to sing this genre of music well. While I believe that what I am best suited for is probably opera, I think that I, like most singers, if we focused on developing our voices for the requirements of the music of this era/genre, we could be at least not horrible/even proficient at it. The reverse is also probably true—the people who chose high-level ensemble singing/early music could have chosen to train differently and build voices to sing opera in big houses. Often, these singers have the natural resonance to sing over orchestras without doing the muscle building but find it difficult to sustain without doing damage. The difference is not who is more resonant, it’s who can sustain it in large houses over large orchestras in a healthy way, something that even “small” voices can do if the foundation is there. If you are singing a capella, or with smaller forces almost exclusively, it makes more sense to spend time on other aspects of technique more relevant to the repertoire. I think of operatic technique as being about making very primal sound, not about blending at all, really. Many may disagree with me, but I guess what I’m getting at is that we make decisions to train in specific ways to do different things, from pop, to opera to choral and early music, and Broadway.
The thing is, for those of us with slightly larger voices, singing in choirs without being obnoxious requires a lot of off-the-voice singing. Resulting in me, of course, wearing my voice out in half the usual time and undoing all the practice I’d done working to build my musculature earlier in the day. Essentially, I am reinforcing the opposite of what I am working on in voice lessons every time I sing in my choral gigs. It would be the same if I were singing in the chorus of Cats, or as back up for Celine Dion. Even if I ever get the elusive choral job where you are encouraged to sing with your full-voiced operatic technique, I still don’t think I really would—there is something about choir-singing (deeply ingrained from college, I’m sure) that makes me feel like I need to blend.
I struggle with this continually.
I enjoy singing in choirs, and I love the repertoire, both for the Jewish and Anglican liturgies. It is really fantastic stuff. I like the social aspect, and the camaraderie, and the fact that, well, it’s just less stressful singing with a whole section of sopranos than by yourself! Also—the most important reason of them all: it pays the bills. Each job I have is for a very specific reason—one is my car payment, one is my voice lessons and coachings, etc. I can’t really spare them.
You’ve heard it said: Leap and the net will appear. But at what point is leaping out of your choral gigs to continue solidifying your operatic technique a really bad financial decision?