If I had a euro for every time a student asked me this question, I’d be a millionaire: “how can I sound like that?” Happened again in a lesson yesterday. A young singer listens to Freni and wants to sing like that. We all recognize this. Either we’ve heard it over and over or we’ve done it ourselves in earlier years or both. We fall so in love with a sound, that it feels almost impossible not to try and imitate. After all, not only is imitation the sincerest form of flattery, it’s the way we all learn as small children.
I can remember falling in love with Franco Corelli’s sound. One of my coaches would even say: “Ah, you’ve been listening to Corelli again.” Not that anyone would ever confuse my voice with his, (as much as I might have liked that back then), it’s just that many of the mannerisms and some of the formants and overtones were possible to approximate. I even remember my first lesson with the great Nicolai Gedda. When he asked me with whom I’ve been studying, I told him “with you”.
“How can that be, this our first lesson.”
“I’ve been listening and learning from your recordings.”
“AHA…let me tell you; not everything you can hear is what’s REALLY going on!”
Can’t say it better than that! We can learn a lot by listening to other singers, but too much is too much. The graveyard is full of tenors, for example, who tried to sound like Caruso. So where is the optimum here? What is the process of incorporating what we learn from the greats and making it our own? Teachers who spend a lot of time in their lessons singing for their students are encouraging this “Parrot Effect”. But as we know, it cannot stop at mere imitation. At some point the student incorporates the auditory and kinesthetic habits in such a way that it becomes their own. The voice finds its authenticity, its uniqueness and its freedom.
Much of this optimization has to do, in my experience, with a precisely felt balance between auditory and kinesthetic. In other words, when imitating, the sound impressions are more in focus, more in consciousness than the felt sense. It’s not that this is wrong, at all. It might even be for some a necessary step in the learning process. When it’s integrated, however, the sensations involved in singing have a higher focus than the sound itself. What are these sensations and how can we accelerate the integration process in our students?
First of all, sensations in singing can be divided into two categories; primary and secondary. Secondary sensations are MUCH easier to feel. They are the basis of our HeadVoice/ChestVoice metaphor. We feel resonance in those areas and refer to it as ‘voice’, even though we know it’s not the source. It’s reliable and easy to find. Primary sensations are more in the area of vocal tract tuning and M. Vocalis movements. They are more the functional and muscular fine-tuning of the mechanism itself. The optimum combination of these sensations, different for each singer, is the definition of integration.
This is just as true for speakers. As soon as a speaker tries to imitate another speaker (with some rare exceptions, of course), she sounds affected. Yet this is just what happens in voice training. The client tries out different modes of producing sound over and over again, until that moment when it gets integrated and authentic. Here too, the sensations of resonance and vocal function, solidly anchored in consciousness, make this authenticity repeatable for the speaker.
Another very important factor in speaking and in singing, a little more difficult to describe or evoke, is emotional expression. The physical sensations which signal to us our own emotions have a profound effect on our voice. As a singer or speaker, and especially as an actor, the fine modulation of vocal tone is what gives our voice its emotional impact. The fine tuning of our physical sensations, from the most to the least subtle, allows us an optimal regulation of our voice.
This could be a fine definition of emotional maturity; the desire and ability to fine tune our emotional responses to appropriately fit each of our life’s contexts……the consciousness of subtle sensations within our body, spirit and soul to such an extent that they become optimally regulated…..the evocation of intellect, emotion and instinct that allows growth and learning in each life domain. Getting close….but still not there. How would you word it?
Evan Bortnick www.musa-vocalis.de Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden