The EH vowel is an incredibly important tool in the tenor’s arsenal. My dad always used to tell me “follow the EH vowel” – in other words, listen, feel, understand, intend to get the ringing or resonance of the EH and the EE vowel, and then bring those VOWEL QUALITIES or VOWEL COMPONENTS into your other vowels.
My training was this “vowels are made up of many layers and parts.” This is very old concept. You can read about this stuff in Delle Sedie’s writings, where he talks about learning how to hear specific harmonics in the voice, etc.
The great tenors were incredible masters at selecting very specific harmonics to enhance. Their care was equivalent to crafting the voice with a laser rather than with a sledgehammer. They were very specific about which harmonics to enhance.
This is what I want to convey to you. But you know what… I know that “harmonics” are not cool… they don’t translate into anything useful for 95% of us… so let’s forget about the harmonics and talk about them in their practical interpretation – voice.
When you cover, you must approach the switch in registers with the “cry,” or voce magra that I talked about in previous posts. By doing so you prepare your voice to thin out appropriately as you ascend. You will feel a change in the actual way you produce the voice… its whimpier… its ridiculous… you must be joking… that is the way I should sing? This whiny crying stupid sound? This can’t be right… where is the warmth and beauty and depth of the voice?
You will have a lot of thoughts while developing this that will challenge your faith. The voice MUST squeeze itself, or in other words become slim, thin, etc. The reason why we feel that is because the lower harmonics (fundamental and first) are no longer domineering. That big expansive wannabe bass is on a serious diet!
Practical stuff now……
To learn how to cover the voice you must learn how to sing with a relaxed low-range larynx. I didn’t say depressed… low range. You do this by taking a seriously energetic breath. I am not saying to explode… it’s not about quantity. It’s about intention. You must breathe like you REALLY need to replenish the oxygen in your blood. You are going to be needing this breath under water for about a minute…. but you’re only allowed to fill up 3/4 of the way..
When done right, your lower ribs should feel like they are in an elastic tension, expanded outward. That is the ITALIAN TRADITION – Respirazione Costo-Diaframmatica.
According to Giacomo Lauri Volpi, Cotogni taught him that:
If one wants not the sound to fall into the chasm of the tracheal or pharyngeal cavity, or that it come to a stop between neck and palate, or that it introduce itself into sinus cavities where resonance excludes fundamental harmonics…
With the domination of the soft palate – who’s opportune lowering brings about the resonance of the frontal mask in the passaggio and high note regions of the voice… into the nasal cavities and expand toward the maxillary and frontal sinuses – these would avoid the forcing and consequent swelling of neck and face.
(Giacomo Lauri Volpi – Voci Parallele page 189 & 200-201)
My dad studied in Rome initially with a teacher from Santa Caecilia, where Cotogni reigned. The idea is this, take note:
When you get to the passaggio, with the “alleggerimento della voce magra” with the lightening through the cry phonation, you slightly lower the soft palate. The tongue moves forward, with the tip on the bottom teeth, and the forward body of the tongue moves slightly upward, with the back remaining relatively down. The lips protruded with the corners as if you were smiling.
Talor dal mio forziere… the A flats in Che Gelida Manina. I start the notes with an EH vowel and then migrate to an OH vowel, for you to hear that it’s a slight change.
I also sing the “Io Vivo Quasi in ciel” – the G at the end of Lunge da Lei, Traviata. On this note I sing it with an OH/EH mix, which makes the vowel a mix of the two… toward the end, I actually bring it to an EH briefly to highlight the difference.
This is what it looks like as far as harmonics go
The EH vowel with ring and depth selects, as you can see, the singer’s formant AND the 4th harmonic within the region being tracked by the 2nd formant.
Then here is the graph for when I migrate the vowel from EH to OH, while keeping the EH ringing quality.
So the OH made the 2nd formant switch its tracking to the lower harmonic, the 3rd. This happened because of a slight lowering of the body of the tongue away from the roof of the mouth, while keeping the tip on the lower teeth.
Here is Bjoerling doing the same thing, but of course a million times better (I am only human – to quote Pavarotti). He is singing the first Aflat in the famous Pearl Fishers duet.
And here is the graph
So, go ahead and think about this… think that covering the sound is about getting the sound to go up into the right “sinus cavities” to quote Lauri Volpi. You do that by migrating the EH qualities into the OH, so you have both the ring, and the depth. It’s about slight movements in the tongue once you have the EH right.