Recently I worked with one of the most talented tenors on the planet. He raised some interesting questions that helped me gain some insight into how people may understand what I write on this blog. I am going to write about two of his questions which, in my estimation, are some of the most important.
The OO Position
It was brought to my attention that many singers who have taken choir for any significant amount of time have learned to make a hooty OO sound by pressing the larynx down energetically with the root of the tongue, and that some may continue to do so when they read about the OO tube, or the OO position. Please do not confuse what I am writing next with the first layer of the vowel – the OO sound of the first layer of the vowel (embedded head tone), felt like a flowing dark kernel of sound right where you would cough.
The OO position is a position in the throat. To achieve this correctly you must lower the larynx through deep energetic inhalation, expanding the lower ribs and upper abs. You don’t get rigid in the torso, but rather are suspended in this position. Thanks to this inhalation the lowering of the larynx is incredibly aided. To monitor that the larynx is not descending thanks to the tongue, just place the tongue firmly against the top of the mouth and then breathe in and cause the larynx to lower. You will notice a space right above the thyroid cartilage (Adam’s apple). If you then lower the tongue into the throat to push the larynx down you will see how the root of the tongue presses down on the larynx and closes this space. You must not let that downward pressure of the root of the tongue happen. The larynx must descend without this pressure. When you press the tongue against the top of the mouth and then just release it without pressing down with it, you will notice that the larynx will drop further but the tongue won’t press against it (even though it lowers too… unavoidable since they are connected). This is crucial.
The next important thing is to achieve a feeling of narrowness and length in the larynx. Often tenors open the larynx as they seek the open throat. The yawn position often causes tenors to open the larynx. This is not old school singing, but rather a more modern approach. If you relax the larynx completely as if you were breathing at rest you will have a neutral larynx. This is not what you need. You need to activate the functions that lower the larynx and keep it narrow. This is why the tube is an OO tube, because the mental intention of saying an Italian OO almost spontaneously creates the narrow larynx. I personally feel this as a narrowing above the cords and a lengthening of the larynx below them, almost as if my trachea were being somewhat very gently tugged down, like an elastic. To achieve real tuning of harmonics, the larynx has to be thought of as narrow within the open throat.
So this sets up a tube, or a position. How do we keep this tube functional throughout the range? Well first of all, NEVER think of all this as a rigid structure, but a very flexible while firm one. As you ascend above a middle B or C and below F you will notice that if you think of widening vowels laterally too much you will spread this tube and lose it. You cannot maintain morbidezza and spread the vowels too much. They have to be open but yet feel like they are not opening the tube.
In this range (B-F) the larynx begins to tilt forward. This is where the OO layer (first layer, embedded head tone), a dark core of sound felt right at the center of the cords, begins to emerge. So we have the OO tube (a physical structure), and the OO component in the vowel sound (a sound) now. If you do not balance chest and head voice, this medium range will not emerge correctly. When done correctly it will feel natural to begin to turn the voice on E. If you listen to Bjoerling or Caruso for example, you will note how often, even though they sing open (not covered, still first formant dominant) they introduce a velvety dark core in the sound, an increased head tone function. You can hear this often on the E or F in this Ah Si Ben Mio by Bjoerling, but even more masterfully in the same aria by the great master Enrico Caruso! The bright turn of the voice, or even the squillo of the top NEVER crushes that dark core. Why? Because the chest component is never so strong as to shorten the OO tube. This literally feels like the tube of sound, when done correctly, is really long, even down into the trachea, and when there is too much chest, or the vowel spreads, or the larynx climbs, etc., the tube feels like it collapsed and got short.
When the tube is intact the sense is that somehow the pressure bypasses the larynx and the sound pours out very resonant, but almost like a sigh would. This is an important concept.
The Sigh or Boyish Sound
I often talk about the boyish sound and the sigh. Some it seems think that this is about lifting the voice. It is exactly the opposite. The sigh roots the voice deeply into the body. It lightens the way the voice works, but darkens the voice itself because it introduces more head tone. The sigh is NOT a flow of air, but rather a flow of voice. Why does it feel like a sigh if there is no air movement? Because you are not stuck. When the voice is very resonant often the tenor will feel like there is a bit of pressure right against the cords. Un po’ di fibbra… singing in the meat of the cords. When the voice is correctly “alleggerita” or lightened (think 80% instead of 180% of volume) the voice finds its correct flow. It actually begins to have power without pressure. This feels as though somehow the air is now moving freely and the sound is flowing… hence it feels like a sigh, though completely efficient and resonant.
Singing boyish rather than inflating the middle voice is about not letting the vowels open the larynx. It is also about reducing the amount of chest so that the larynx can tilt more easily. This is when the dark core emerges without pushing. You can sing dark and push. This is a heightened antagonism between chest and head voice, where everything is just MORE… and ends up mixing the registers and making the voice wobble, and sound loose and horrible. The larynx has to be able to tilt, and this means you have to think of a bright squillo around the dark core. The squillo cannot crush the dark core. If it does, then your tube has collapsed for sure. The sigh helps the diaphragm to keep correctly on the move. A lack of this often results in a paralyzed down pressing diaphragm.
If I hadn’t experienced what I just wrote about I would probably have no clue what I was reading. I know most of my students totally get this. I know the ueber-talented tenor I just worked with got this very much.
The high note at 2:55 in this Lauri Volpi clip is a testament of how high notes can be sung within this OO tube. It is utter perfection here… You can hear the dark core continue. You can hear the voice continue in the sigh, and the diaphragm continues to move.
So, this post was supposed to clarify things. Feeling clear?