Recently two of my students asked me questions around the same topic, so I figured I would post here my response to one of them, that maybe it will start a dialogue. Also, I want to announce that soon I will be changing the set up of this site so as to introduce a social network/forum aspect to it, so as to allow for discussions and questions to be fleshed out by participants.
So here is my response to a soprano I am currently helping with the development of her voice. Particularly we are focusing on keeping a deep OO, as we hear in Ponselle, Callas, Muzio, and many other “old school” great sopranos – which is developed fundamentally by keeping the chords closed (or the EE position embedded within the vowel). Here I will talk about how this thing edge is linked to breath support. So here is the communication.
Yes this is correct. Developing the deep OO is essential because it is an indicator of the connection between your voice and breath, and also of the depth of the larynx, all essential elements for your developing a full sound. What you need to always keep in mind is that even though the deep OO requires a deep larynx and a widened lower pharynx, it is not those. The deep OO is A SOUND. It is the result of absolutely beautiful closure of the chords. So when you have the right closure, as you seek the edge, you will also consequently have the right OO. You cannot get the right OO by creating physical space in the throat. It is only through the correct working of the chords within the context of the widened throat.
It is REALLy important to keep the tongue forward because you want to make sure the larynx is never lowered by the tongue, but solely through the power of the breath connection with the muscles that engage in lowering the larynx. Basically, a good image would be to think of a region right behind the sternum that acts as a fulcrum, a place where 10-20 elastic bands are attached. Then these little elastic bands are each attached to the lowest of your ribs, all around, forming a sort of cone in your torso. Nothing is rigid, just elastic. When you breathe in, these elastics are stretched and the ribs expand. As you sing, these elastics want to pull those bottom ribs (diaphragm) upwards, but they can’t do it that simply… there is a balance and a resistance. The diaphragm says “ok, I will ascend, but you are going to have to wait because I will come up very very slowly” – but up it should go, and this elastic strength is not insignificant. At the same time, the area of the abdomen around the navel and below did not move out upon breathing in. That is actually how the ribs expand because the lower abs wont release outward upon inhalation. In a way, the feeling is that they too (the abs) are being tugged upward by the sternum, but it is kind of like they are being tugged up from a point right at the center of your gut… so instead of pulling the outside abs up, it is as though the outside were connected to this point at the center of your abdomen, and when this central point is tugged upwards by the elastic force linking it to the sternum, the external abs receive an elastic tension. The lower abs actually feel tugged in, and the upped abs feel somewhat elastically compressed and somewhat tugged upwards as though they are following the path of this central abdominal node connected to the sternum.
Why all this reference to support? Because keeping the tongue forward means that it is the support action that will trigger the lowering of the larynx. As long as that elastic tension continues, so does the set up of your phonation. So, keeping the deep and tall OO is fundamentally not possible without this support. So, my invitation to keep the tongue forward is also an invitation to not depress the larynx with the root of the tongue.
The Callas position of the tongue should not rigid. The tongue should be very very flexible. Only in this scenario will the harmonics become velvety, which is what the OO is supposed to confer in the first place.
Listen to the great master of harmonics – Maria Callas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJif0tVu2G8
This is the type of OO with embedded EE sound. You can hear two distinct sounds very often – the deep and tall OO, and the forward, young girl EE sound striking forward. It is such a complex sound that it almost feels alien. You will see that as she ascend higher, up until about a Bflat, the EE sound carries in a totally light way, the voice… the depth of the OO is NEVER weight. Then above the Bflat, the voice takes on more of an open AH/EH position (kind of the like the word CAT but not that shallow) and heads toward the back of the head with no weight.
All these things are accomplished primarily by just tuning harmonics and keeping constant this sense of connection to the breath and the deep OO. The deep OO flows, it is never pushed. Sure it can get louder or softer, but its integrity is the same always. That is why Callas sounded the same loud or piano, the essential composition of the sound remained unchanged.
You are right on track, just remember that the perfection of the deep and tall OO is not given by lessening the chords closure but by keeping it, because it is a sound.
Let me know if this triggers questions.