The recent interview with Maestro Nicola Martinucci opened a very important technical discussion that needs to be continued. I would strongly advise anyone, spinto or leggero tenor, or any other voice type, to click on the 2UArts link to the side of this page and indicate your willingness to participate in the Martinucci masterclass summer 2011. These are occasions any tenor should fight to participate in. If you can make it to New York, this is something you should not miss.
Martinucci suggested that in order for the voice to become rich in resonance and volume one must find “morbidezza” or suppleness in the voice. One could translate the word “morbido” as “soft”, but to do so would undoubtedly cause some to erroneously assume a reference to the voice were being made. This is not the case.
It was interesting to discuss these concepts because Martinucci spoke about these ideas so very much like my father used to. It is on occasions like these that I realize how much of a Melocchi imprint was really left on my father. Morbidezza was a concept Salvatore Li Vigni talked about constantly.
Suppleness refers to the releasing of tensions within the vocal tract; a sense of almost passivity and elasticity dominating the process. Movements are slow and tissues of the pharynx feel viscous like molasses, and the voice slides through like on oil.
This cannot occur without a keen understanding of breath support. Breath support in the lower ribs is the key – respirazione costo-diaframmatica!! It is in the energetic inhalation and subsequent suspension of the diaphragmatic system (diaphragm, intercostals, abs, and lumbar) that the larynx descends as though it were being pulled down by the breath. Even the slightest mental impulse to imitate the beginning of a yawn is usually sufficient to open the throat and trigger a descent of the larynx. The tongue can easily orient itself forward with no negative impact on laryngeal position.
Often tenors are able to train their throat to do these things while quiet, but seemingly lose all agency when the larynx starts working. Why? Because of preconceived notions of what they should sound like. The mind goes to the status quo, and sets up the conditions to produce the sound envisioned within the mind. The intention becomes your enemy.
Training the throat to accept morbidezza, or suppleness, is a way to reprogram the intention so that one of its three aspects – memory of physical sensation – is aligned correctly. There are very effective exercises that help find suppleness. They focus on support, and on an initial “affondo” or “sinking” of the resonance cloud. If you think of your resonance as a cloud, there is a mask component and a pharyngeal component. The pharyngeal resonance cloud is what in Italy we call “cavità” – which I translate as “cavernous sound.” Exercises meant to find the cavernous sound are purpose-driven and do not represent the final product of your singing, but rather usually emphasize a general looseness in phonation. When the larynx is relaxed low, closing the cords with voce magra, or the boyish cry sound, becomes very effective, and doesn’t raise the larynx.
My students know that I use the “Gwuaw” sound to train this function. The goal is not to produce a fully resonant sound, but rather is the deactivation of activity that lifts your larynx. A high range larynx limits signficantly the cavita’. Aiming for resonance may bring you back to your old intention; and may cause you to do things that limit the cavita’ because of your preconceived patterns for finding resonance work against you because you may have associated producing resonance with a high or neutral position of the larynx.
Many teachers introduce tensions by insisting on having students stretch the soft palate to the maximum while singing… stretching the rubber band, as I like to say… the soft palate going up and the larynx going down. This can easily occur without tensions. Any suggestion to stretch without an even greater focus on suppleness brings about sub-par singing. All great singers who claim to lift the soft palate energetically also have learned to do so with morbidezza, whether they tell you that or not.
Morbidezza, or suppleness, is essential in order for you to really understand and feel appoggio. The sensations of appoggio are like a wave produced by a small rock in a pond. What happens to that small wave if 20 hyperactive kids jump into the pond to have some fun? I doubt you will be seeing the wave created by the small stone!
Similarly, appoggio is a sensation that requires the turbulence of unnecessary vocal tract activities to cease in order to be perceived. Think of a hurricane. It has raging winds rotating around a center of higher pressure called the eye of the storm. The eye is calm while everything around it is turbulent. Take that mental picture and create a negative. All of the sudden the center is turbulent and the surrounding is calm when intuitively it should be just as turbulent. The surrounding space should be just as turbulent given the volume at which you are singing. That would be “natural” given our typical speaking patterns. But through efforts to maintain suppleness you were able to calm the storm and feel the appoggio at the center. The turbulence is vibration, not muscular effort. It’s a sense that the cords are closing and producing resonance, or as Italians say “mordere la voce” – biting the voice.
Let me take this a step further, in fact, out of necessity. There will be no correct appoggio without morbidezza. It’s not just that you can’t sense it, but also that it is being impeded. Appoggio sensations come because of significantly energized vibration. The cords are harnessing the air pressure in very efficient ways. You feel like you are singing on a very thin sound that somehow grabs this air pressure coming from below the cords and runs with it… getting loud without all the weight you would expect. The sound has a presence in the cavita’, this feeling of width in the back of the throat, but also has a dominant attracting vibration in the mask. It feels almost as if a magical force in the mask is grabbing the weight of the sound and lifting it out of the throat and putting it in the mask. However, it is very clear that the sound in the mask comes from the connection between sound and air pressure right in the larynx. Hence, appoggio del suono, or leaning of the sound in the cords. As you go up, the position stays the same.
Singing with morbidezza, or suppleness, makes the membranes in the laryngeal area very pliable, but must not open the cords. You have to still phonate with exactness. The cry is voce di punta… or pointed voice. It is voce magra… thin voice; voce di pianto… cry voice; voce da bambino… boyish voice.
When this type of voice harnesses the breath pressure effectively within the calm of suppleness, you feel appoggio.