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What Do I Sound Like..?

By Janice Chapman, June 2000



One of the British Voice Association's most important functions to date seems to me to be the sharing of terminology, expertise and experience between the disciplines. The format which has made this easiest to assimilate for me has been the 'case studies' presented at meetings or written about in letters and journals. Here the common factor is the person behind the voice whether they be the patient, the professional voice user, or just the man in the street.

With this in mind, I would like to suggest that we share some of our knowledge with each other which comes more under the category of 'peculiarities of the profession', or 'tricks of the trade'. Now to start the ball rolling, under the title:


What Do I Sound Like...?

I was working with a new student last week who had been in training to be an opera singer for about 10 years. Although it was obviously an excellent instrument, her voice sounded old, wobbly and with a highly variable vibrato. I put a pair of earphones on her and asked her to sing her aria "as though she were a feisty 8 year old" and I taped the singing, playing it back to her immediately. She was 'gob-smacked'. While singing without earphones, she perceived her operatic mode to be 'rich, warm, interesting and right', and the 8-year old to be 'ridiculous'. What she heard back from the tape changed her perceptions of operatic as being 'over-dark, hooty, wobbly etc.' and 8-year old as 'still operatic, steady, warm and honest sounding'. She also remarked that it had been suspiciously easy to do.

So we then repeated the exercise with her using her hands over her ears on alternating phrases (still singing as an 8-year old) so that she could monitor for herself what she should aim to be hearing in order to produce her 'honest' tone. She also expressed surprise that no previous teacher had ever mentioned the subject of how singers hear themselves while singing. Within the British Voice Association, I recall excellent presentations from Peter Harrison and from Dr. David Howard on the ear and how we listen.

Developing singers in the 19th century were not permitted to practise unsupervised for many years and I imagine one of the main reasons was that the teachers were training their students' ears in how to listen as much as they were training their voices. In this day and age we have access to many types of recording equipment which can be used to make the singers more independent. Just as well - can you imagine your students having a daily lesson and not being allowed to practise in between sessions? Or maybe in the 21st century we could develop a genetically-modified singer with ears out on stalks facing the mouth? Just kidding!



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