Many female classical singers do not get the employment opportunities they wish for or deserve. Unfortunately, classical vocal music is a niche market. Did you know there are more major league baseball players than American opera singers that make more than 25k a year according to census figures? What is the unemployed or underemployed singer to do? Many times crossing over into Musical Theater is a real option.
With the standard Bel Canto approach to the female voice (head voice dominated) there are roles available. However, many times that aesthetic in the theater world is not acceptable. Why? Because the vocal production in many Musical Theater roles requires something much more connected to the speaking voice or some kind of belt. This requires the female singer to rethink issues concerning registration and vowel modification.
To do so, the female must consider the voice much more like the male voice in that there is a much longer chest register connecting to a mix and then a head voice that absolutely is in line with the chest register. Because the declamation of text is so important in this genre, vowels also have to be utterly intelligible. For the heavier, beltier roles, the singer needs to learn to sing with a longer closed phase (the amount of time the vocal folds are closed, as opposed to open in a vocal cycle) than they are used to.
When it comes to the registration, the standard soprano voice needs to be able to sing to a4 in chest. The mix occurs between bflat4 and eflat5. Connected head comes in at e5, and superhead happens at b5-eflat6. One exercise that can get the voice to quickly hook up like this is the pharyngeal voice, which is derived from the Old Italian voce faringea training. It creates a unique coupling of the vocal folds and vocal tract to create the registration needed to crossover into the theater world and gives it the firmness of chest even when accessing head resonance. It is also a wonderful starting place in establishing the high brassy belt. It also gets the singer used to a longer closed phase in the vocal cycle.
To assist in connecting the registers to chest and keeping the words intelligible, vowel modification needs to be addressed. The majority of female classical singers understand vowel modification going somewhere towards schwa as the pitch ascends. While this helps for that aesthetic, it can make it difficult to understand the text. For the Musical Theatre sound, and understanding text is everything, the vowel will narrow as one approaches the mixed voice. For example /o/ will take on a hint of /u/ and end up sounding more like you would hear /o/ pronounced in Minnesota. The words end up sounding very natural and speech like in the higher pitches and assist in accessing connected mixed and head resonance.
I do encourage all female classical singers to explore these approaches because it can open up employment opportunities that otherwise would be closed. It will only enhance your ability to earn a living, and if you teach voice will make it easier for you to teach a wider variety of students.
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About the Author
Randy Buescher is an internationally recognized expert in non-classical vocal technique. He is also well known as a clinician, author, vocal therapist, and researcher. His clients include stars of major Broadway productions, touring companies, and high profile Chicago companies. He has also worked with artists from virtually every major record label and stars of various network television shows. His clients have won Tony Awards, Dove Awards, Emmys, have been nominated for Grammies, and been American Idol finalists. Based out of Chicago, Randy works a large number of clients and is not only degreed in Music and Mass Media Communications (from DePaul University), but also degreed in Communication Disorders from Governor State University. He has presented, or been a speaker for the Voice Foundation, NATS, Naras, and the Broadway Theatre Project, along with various universities, high schools and other institutions. Randy was recently recruited to be the Singing Voice Specialist at the Chicago Institute for Voice Care at the UIC Medical Center in Chicago. You can learn more about him at www.yourtruevoicestudio.com.