This title sounds like a sci-fi movie title…
So, some thoughts about high notes that I had this morning as I prepare myself for my marathon session in New York, and wanted to share as I have a second.
As I have spoken of in the past, there is a tradition, a very old one, in the Italian school that classifies vocal sounds and the sensations linked to them as having layers. If you have read through this blog you will have found much on layers of the vowel sound.
This morning I wanted to point out one thing that may not be very clear to the reader. Here it is: if your vocal mechanism is correctly “alleggerito” or lightened-up in the passaggio, the sound will take on much strength as it connects to the diaphragm, and will feel like it had turned. As we think “louder” the sound is propelled and feels amplified in the mask rather than in the throat. Also the tendency is to go sharp if you push rather than flat as it would be if the mechanism is not lightened up correctly.
Conversely, if you continue to have strong chest mechanism going on in your top, your voice will feel like it has more presence in the mouth (hard palate, bottom jaw, etc), while also having mask resonance. One of my singers refers to this as the voice having a floor beneath which it doesn’t go. When it is correctly alleggerita the floor is the hard palate beneath which the top note doesn’t go; when it is chestier, the floor lowers a bit, even to the jaw.
Here is the point I wanted to make: right at the center of the tone, where we feel a gentle cough, directly in the cords, if we are in the traditional alleggerito mode, the pitfall is over-compression, or one can tend to over-squeeze the cords and “crush the sound”. It becomes a bright pinched sound, which if driven too far goes into a falsetto-ish sound. In the opera house, this will sound very small. Often tenors are under the delusion that this bright sound, which feels like is is much more controllable, is very present. It’s not.
So the correction and the basic rule is to remember that if you sing alleggerito (examples: Lauri Volpi, Caruso, Bjoerling, Gedda, or modern tenors like Calleja and Beczala), if you push the bright sound at the core, the sound will pinch, will sound somewhat nasal in the house, and will be smaller – therefore, KEEP THE CORE DARK. The brightness is around the dark core. The sensation is that a small buffer of air right at the center of the cords is pushing outward against the crushing of the bright sound. Once this is in balance, you can forget about this because powering up the voice up in the mask won’t happen correctly if you are crushing. So, if this balance is in place, you think loud, and your voice kind of suddenly “amplifies” itself up in the sinus cavities, then you have likely maintained your balance. There are of course, no guarantees or magic bullets in this art. You have to go by the sound together with your vocal guide.
On the other hand, if you are chestier, this dark core will be far less. You can find a flow and a balance in this mode just fine, just don’t seek the voice to be too high. If the “floor” of the voice is a little lower, then you will find a balance. You can find a sense of flow in the voice without having a dark core, but the voice needs to be a little more chesty.
So depending on your registration, more or less chesty, you need to be able to determine two main things: 1) where the sound will likely feel, and 2) how bright or dark of a core should you aim for. These things will help you create the correct mental intention.
So to clarify, if you are singing a phrase like “Pensier….” the B-natural from La Donna e’ mobile, if you are aiming for a lighter, laser-like high note (which I recommend because of the exposure of the part, and wanting to sound completely effortless), then you should think that the sound will have a DARK CORE with brightness around it that propels upward over into the mask, and the sound pressure resulting up in the mask has a floor at the top of the mouth, beneath which this pressure should not go. The diaphragm propels it up there as you think “loud” while keeping the balance.
On the other hand, if you are singing “Vincero’…” – the B natural from Nessun Dorma, you might want to have a bit more chest, depending on your approach (the chestier sound will be more “manly” here according to our modern aesthetic). So you shouldn’t aim for the core of the sound to be extremely dark, nor should you aim for the voice to be all up in the head. The sound will originate low as always, but the sound pressure will not be entirely up in the sinus area, but will have somewhat more presence on the hard palate, like in the molar region.
One last thing: remember I am talking about high notes (specifically A natural to C… anything above that go with the alleggerito mode).