Kashu-do (歌手道): Kashu-do Royal: Avoiding the Danger of Reducing Oneself–A Shout-out to the Royal Hotel Perea, Greece

There is so much to discuss along the path to realizing ourselves as singers.  My mind has been full of subjects to discuss here on the blog, but so much was happening with my voice that I needed time to work them out before I commented too much.  I needed a hiatus from writing.  Some things needed to be truly concrete in my mind as I write the book, Kashu-do, The Way of the Singer.

I had a session yesterday with a wonderful coach from the Bavarian Opera and she said to me” “I know you love teaching…But you must sing!”  This was after working through Siegmund.  I told her that I would sing and that the two were not mutually exclusive.  The time is coming for that.  After these many months (over 4 years)  I am seeing a light at the end of a long tunnel.  I can begin to think seriously about auditioning in the near future.    In the next few months I have arranged readings of Florestan, Siegmund and Radames.  Next I will look at Samson, José, Canio, Chénier, Tannhaüser, Alvaro and Otello.  These roles are not only desirable, but they fit my voice, my dramatic personality and my musical sensitivities.  It is a great step to accept that I am indeed a dramatic tenor on the more robust side of the spectrum.

It is indeed a step to see myself as what I truly am.  The truth is when one looks at someone with my body type, they do not think dramatic tenor.  People have a way of consciously or unconsciously assigning us to specific boxes, limiting us to what they are comfortable with.   You hear such statements as “Tenors need to be bright! Your voice is too dark to be a tenor!”  “You are too slight of stature.  You could not be anything but something lyric!”  One former academic colleague, upon hearing that I had become a tenor, said:  “Why did he do that?  He has a better chance continuing as a baritone!”

With all the hours of study I put in, with all the skills I have learned, if I were indeed a baritone, I should have become one of the very best.  The fact is that my voice did not excite as a baritone.  My acting ability and musicianship is what always carried my performances.  The voice was well-produced but not exciting in and of itself.

To become a great singer I had to take a journey to become myself, a fact which has permeated every aspect of my life.  I see success coming my way as a teacher, as a father and in my personal relationships.  After teaching a 10-hour day (with a practice hour in between), I was still able to sing some difficult arias with great ease.  I am beginning to feel I can turn this voice on on command.

The voice is strong.  I have been training my entire vocal body for more than four years.  My knowledge of acoustics and anatomy has guided me to develop a technique, which has helped many singers and now myself.  I am now reaping the rewards.

All of this to say that the truth of technique begins and ends with a correct concept of the voice and vocal personality that someone has.  This brings me up to the technical terms in the title (the original title was different and covered the following terms).  Gola Aperta is precisely that–Open throat.  Assuming one’s full resonance space is of absolute importance to a well-functioning operatic voice.  It is this large pharyngeal space that couples with the narrowness of the Aryepiglottic fold (epi-larynx) to produce Squillo, the ring in the voice.  As so often discussed here, there is a necessary 1:6 ratio between the circumference of the epi-larynx and the pharynx.  This spacial relationship combined with an efficient glottal oscillation (I recommend the vocal fry as a model) and appropriate resonance tracking via vowel adjustments (jaw, tongue and lips articulations) produces a flexible sensation in the mechanism that we can refer to as Morbidezza or non-rigidity.

Several students have said to me that being given permission to sing the voice they felt they had was necessary in order for them to take that step to truly sing.  I do teach many dramatic voices and they in particularly have suffered from the tyranny that dictates that a voice should be effortless from get-go.  Singers are afraid of the necessary in-between stages when the voice is tense from lack of strength and flexibility, when phonation is fuzzy, when the voice gets tired quickly, etc…In most voices, there will be a necessary training period, whether done unconsciously by screaming in the backyard as a free child at play, or later when an otherwise shy adult begins to open up.

Today it was a coloratura who had to learn that she did not have to sing like perched canary, but that she should have the same visceral experiences that her Heldentenor husband has.  The result was free, faster coloratura and a rich middle voice color that did not change much from the lowest to the highest note.  It was also about a young full-voiced tenor who found freedom in his top notes when he adopted the natural timbre of his middle range.  It was also a former mezzo turned dramatic soprano who realize that pianissimo high notes came from maintaining the richness of her former mezzo voice instead of reducing herself to a stereo-typical soprano timbre.

Vocal freedom begins by recognizing one’s true and complete timbre and training the entire voice to reflect that complete color, which is true, which is humbly Grand!  Opera is about full un-amplified voices requiring dynamic muscular strength throughout the body.  The entire person sings.  Discovering that person and his/her true vocal color is our goal.  Instead, too often is some stereo-typical color imposed on us.  We should all free ourselves from these impositions, passed down initially before the voice had truly matured.  The biggest obstacles to great singing are the falsehoods that we take as truths.  The premises of academic vocal pedagogy are for the most part ill-advised, developed for High School choral singers whose voices needed to be protected during the formative stages.

A colleague told me once: “You should emulate Vladimir Galouzine!”  I told him I thought Galouzine may have taken his vocal weight too far and I noticed some instabilities I did not like.  I further told him it was not my goal to sing dark.  Galouzine in fact has become my hero.  I believe he understood something that many true dramatic tenors do not.  He attempted to develop the completeness of his voice and the more I hear his recent performances, the more I believe he has gotten it right but may be still developing.

Galouzine has become my hero not because I think he is perfect, nor because I think we have the same voices.  I think my voice is a few shades lighter than his in fact:

In truth, Galouzine and I do not sound anywhere near the same.  However, it is important to me that there is a professional tenor with such a baritonal tenor voice, who has been the last uncompromisingly viable Otello in recent times.  It is important to have a role model.  Paradoxically, it is crucial important to keep in mind how individual we truly are.
I was reminded this year during my vacation how important it is not to compromise principles.  Planning my first personal vacation in 25 years (i.e. not an extension of working in an idyllic place), I ended up at the Royal Hotel in Parea, outside of Thessaloniki, Greece.  In short, the staff of the Royal Hotel, Parea completely charmed my girlfriend and I to a lulled state we can both remember as “vacation”!  We had been to Athens and Lesvos beforehand and only felt the dismal weight of the economic crisis on every face.
After become friendly with the staff, I had a drink with the Hotel owner/manager.  He made it very clear that his goal was that his guests do not think about the economic crisis when they visit his hotel.  Indeed because of the crisis, Greece is a very cost-effective place to vacation and the Royal Hotel, with its four stars (which should be five) could not raise their prices to high.  For a modest fee, we had a “Royal” experience, because this manager, who is loved by his staff, would not compromise on the quality of the experience he offered his guests.  I have already spoken with him about returning there and using the premises for a master-class.  
Why is the Royal Hotel so important?  It does not compromise what it stands for.  In the face of others’ doubts, one must remain true to oneself.  Only then do we discover who we are and what we are made of.  I am a tenor with a baritone quality and thanks to Galouzine, I am not alone.  He does not attempt to sound like a “typical tenor”.  He is a special kind of a tenor!  So am I! And I do not need to convince anyone.  I just have to offer a product of quality.  The more I sing my own voice, the more stamina I have, the more flexibility I have.  I am still developing, but the day that I sing my pianissimo high C, it will be full bodied and totally supported.  Until then, I will continue to be true to the voice I have been given.  And this is the message of this post.  The best voice is the complete one you have inside of you, which does not sound like anyone else.  When you reduce it, you will sound like every other voice reduced to a “type,” reduced to someone’s inability to imagine something richer, something more complete!
© 08/29/2012

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