I've spent a lot of time in my career as a professional voice student :) studying vowel shapes and forward and back and laryngeal positions and tongue flexibility and support, et al. And maybe all of those things are ways of getting good resonance and efficient phonation, but I never thought of it in that way. I thought of each issue addressed by my teachers as a different rung on the ladder of vocal technique that I had to master. That when all things came together: Pow. I would be amazing. When I look back I realize that they were all right. Each teacher gave me something invaluable to carry in my vocal bag of tricks, ways of hearing myself, musicianship, sensitivity, self-confidence, and the list could really go on forever.
Maybe it is because of all this coming together in my brain (finally, I am a bit of a late bloomer) that I am starting to realize that all of these things come together perfectly with efficient phonation, and what results is resonant singing. I never knew how to consistently resonate on each note until very recently. What I was doing to get the sound I wanted on one note threw another note off, and I had what sounded like a person going on and off their sound multiple times in a single phrase. It was a painful lesson to learn, and to be confronted with this reality, (again I sometimes wonder why I am compelled to keep writing this stuff on the internet, but maybe my abject honesty will help somebody sometime beside myself), but when the light turned on, it really turned on, and I realized I had the muscle coordination already in place to do this consistently—I just hadn’t known how to use it! I was singing in a way that made me feel like I could control each note, and I manipulated them to sound like what I wanted them to sound like to me inside my own head, which we all know, is not what we really sound like! But outside of a boomy church, bathroom, or stairwell, I wouldn’t have been consistently heard. I think people could hear that maybe the innate quality of my voice, when it came through on the odd note or phrase that was efficiently produced, by accident, really, was attractive, and that was why I got some gigs.
I had gotten really really good at manipulating consistently. I had taken all of the wonderful lessons I’d learned from each teacher and all the different parts had never come together to make a whole voice. This teacher’s E vowel, this teacher’s concept of an AH vowel, this idea of support, this idea of how to navigate the passagio, how to strengthen this part of my range, this idea of what singing soft means, this idea of coloratura, or what rep I should sing, of what rep I shouldn’t sing. And rep choices especially were completely irrelevant in light of the fact that whether a voice sounds large, small, broad, slender, if you can’t hear them in the hall, if they don’t have squillo or core, it doesn’t matter what rep they bring to auditions.
I now know how to work towards having that efficiency of phonation on every note in my range. I now also know that my voice isn’t in parts. It’s not the low, the middle, the passaggi, the high. It’s all one thing, and that sound does not have to change to accommodate each section of my voice—I don’t have to be afraid of singing too intensely in my low or my high, and I don’t have to take monster breaths to prepare for what scares me: aka my passagio! When I am singing with efficient phonation, I don’t need to over-stuff with breath, everything automatically does what it is supposed to do. It is almost as if my passagio as I know it no longer exists.
When I am practicing in this way, it doesn’t always sound so mellifluous inside my head as I listen to myself. But I realize that what I thought I liked before inside my head wasn’t working. It didn’t sound right to the people listening to me, and when the overtones are all vibrating in there, it can be downright intense. It also turned on another light: when I stop manipulating and start phonating properly, I am no longer presenting to an audience only what I want them to hear.
They are hearing what I really sound like.
This is both horrifying and liberating all at once.