Point 4 on my list of things needed to develop squillo was the ability to keep the cords energetically adducted without getting pressed but also without getting inefficient and airy. As an intro to this point, I would like to continue my mention about the health of vocal cords.
Often we hear some incredible voices with great technique who suddenly disappear from the scene or who suddenly start singing really bad. Ask yourself – is it reasonable that a tenor suddenly doesn’t know how to sing anymore? Can a talented young man who has built up his career over years suddenly unlearn how to sing in just a few months?
My answer to you is a very firm “NO.” I have heard enough doomsday prophecies about tenors to last me a lifetime. I can think of some tenors who sang the same way for a decade, and then suddenly had problems. What happened? Answer: bad advice on repertoire. That is the true answer to the dilemma.
Some great tenors from the past have been so well technically prepared that they always sang perfectly well any rep and never pushed; always had tremendous balance in their phonation. Many tenors today sing with excessive levels of pressure in their range. They exaggerate the volumes thinking that they are making their voices bigger. We have all done it. We all will at some point. Understanding our limits is crucial. Some tenors have had bad advice and accepted roles they should never have and found themselves singing. If your voice is well produced but not loud enough for Puccini and you end up singing Manon Lescaut you are almost sure to push. Once you feel the wall of sound the orchestra produces you will instinctively think you need to push through it to be heard. If you exceed your balance you run the risk of doing damage to your voice if done repeatedly. You may get hoarse, and then decide to sing anyway.
Real life scenario… for those of you who haven’t sung professionally you may not understand this yet… but you go out to a city somewhere… you have a contract to sing. You rehearse for a month living and eating at your expense. Then you get sick and have to cancel the first show. All of the sudden the General Manager comes to you and says “Uhm sorry Mr. Tenor but because you cancelled your first show your contract is null and void, and we have replaced you.” Your substitute’s manager arranged for your substitute to take over all your shows and the General Manager accepted because otherwise the manager was going to pull your sub and there would have been no one to replace you for that first show. So suddenly you are out that whole month of rehearsal and living expenses and they give you a whole whopping ZERO to compensate you. That will happen the first time, and then the second time you will go on even if you are carried off on a darn stretcher. This is real life. You can’t afford to be out all those expenses and get nothing… that is unless you are in the narrow percentile of people who are making significant amounts and are booked up for a few years.
So, its easy to do things you shouldn’t. If your vocal folds get injured you coud suddenly find that your voice doesn’t work anymore. What in the world happened to the technique?
And we are back to the initial point. If the edges of your cords are not straight because of reflux, scarring, hemorrhaging, cysts, etc, then you will not be able to sing correctly. The careful technique that allowed you to balance the breath pressure with the thin edge work of your vocal folds is gone because now there is something on the edge of the vocal fold that won’t allow it to close correctly. Learning how to sing the upper range of the tenor voice with squillo requires that you know how to resist the breath pressure with thin and adducted vocal folds. If those edges are irregular you have to adduct more to overcome the irregularity and that means saying goodbye to the pure harmonic squillo you could have.