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Sometimes some amazingly good singers sound amazingly bad after a few years in the job, even if they didn’t sing too difficult repertoire too early. What is the reason?
Maintaining one’s own quality is THE great challenge of our profession. And we, the singers ourselves, are first and foremost responsible for not „degenerating“ in the daily theatre circus. ’
The ears are firmly attached to the resonance chamber, i.e. one can only hear oneself to a very limited extent. The daily theatre business is very tempting to stop warming up properly, to stop doing technical exercises (nope, that’s not the same thing!) and to think that you can get away with less demand gradually. In addition: we are dealing with „living materials“. When I thought I had finally „understood“ my instrument, I usually woke up the next morning thinking „I don’t know you two“.
If we are not careful with our voice and ourselves, we’re going down!
During our studies we have regular lessons with the main teacher at least twice a week, we are in constant exchange with the (hopefully!) person we trust in terms of singing technique. And perhaps we attend helpful master classes on the side.
When we subsequently work in an opera studio, the task is to filter out of the wealth of technical guidance from different people, those that work well for us and leave the others alone – not easy, but it helps to define our own technical parameters.
Once you join an ensemble or start a freelance career, the time when technical vocal work is organized (and paid for) by the institution is over. As an ensemble member, I have the luxury of not paying for repetition lessons myself, but sometimes we singers forget that repetiteurs are trained in piano and (usually) not in vocal technique. It is not the répétiteurs‘ job to help us out of our vocal predicaments. They are our most important musical partners and should/must point out to us when something sounds strange, or when the voice starts to wobble, the intonation is unstable, or the voice seems unbalanced. BUT they are not our vocal pedagogical experts. Their job is to perfect our musical skills and, if possible, to improve our pronunciation in different languages.
What can you do to maintain and improve your quality?
- Be honest with yourself: if something doesn’t feel good, it usually doesn’t sound good – even if no one from the theatre makes a comment to you.
- Check before the first repetition lesson if everything is executed as written in the score, and don’t wait for someone to find the mistakes. (Pronunciation / Dynamics / Phrasing / Articulation)
- Ask the répétiteur you trust to tell you when something doesn’t sound ok – and don’t be offended if you get an honest answer 😉
- Warm up before rehearsals (sic!)
- Once a week, practice some technical things like chromatic scales, messa di voce, diminished chords, trills etc
- Before the next performance, go through your score and look for improvements (a more beautiful line, better intonation, a smooth high note, go over the page that felt uncomfortable last time – there is always something to do).
- Record your orchestra rehearsals and listen to the recording critically and/or send it to the person you trust. A clip-on mic on the phone is sufficient for checking.
- If your partner is a musician, ask for honest feedback. (Sometimes, however, love is not only blind but also deaf;).
- Seek vocal technical coaching with someone you trust for a check-up several times a year. We need technical control until we stop singing.
- Ask yourself occasionally if your repertoire is still „right“. An experienced accompanist, in collaboration with your „singing person“, can give you good advice.
We have chosen a demanding profession that requires at least six years of study. But if it is to remain a profession that we practice for decades, we must, like other people in other jobs, continue to invest and be diligent!
All the best!
See you soon,