Archive for August, 2010

Words, words, worst

Speaking the words and singing at the same time. Hm…

Singers are the only musicians that have words. What a blessing for our art: not only music, but poems as well. Texts conveying feelings and deep insights, images in our minds. To be told to our listeners, wanting to be understood. And how do we serve the composer and the poet? That is the question I have in mind today.

Listening to a master class by Barbara Bonney this summer again made me think of this strange phenomenon: singers love singing but rarely seem to love the text of a song or an aria. And yet, those artists who really connect to the audience and almost compell them to listen, they are the ones who really convey the whole meaning of a song, who really tell a story. This requires both intellectual and emotional understanding. And because they SO want to communicate they also take great care of clearly articulating and enunciating the words. It becomes a necessity, a need for these singers.

Yet, while teaching singers, I have unfortunately found that some of them are not all that interested in the diction part of the singing process. Everybody (singing teachers, coaches, repetiteurs, directors) always tell them: speak the words more clearly. As long as they can remember, they overdo the articulatory movements, then get frustrated at the seemingly useless effort that distroys their beautiful musical line and makes the jaw tense. And back we are with the “normal”, unmeaning utterance of notes tied together. At least the composer seems to be served. But I doubt he is.

So, we have several categories of singers: those who love their voices and couldn´t care less about poetry; thus mainly concentrating on the sound they are making. Then those who do think about the words and have an emotional connection to the text but who cannot combine singing and diction and thus mostly resort to lazy articulation. Those who love poems, the texts of their roles and love acting to the degree of forgetting to sing out their long notes, let alone the short ones. And finally those who love every aspect of vocal art and have honed their skills to the finest detail, being able to sing the music with great line and beautiful sound while enunciating the words clearly and crisply, using every nuance of the text to underline the emotional context, yet without stressing unnecessary syllables. That is the perfect singer. For every time you open your mouth to sing, it is words.  In all possible languages, pronounced with phonetical authenticity, understanding every meaning.

In the Finnish language the words vocal and vowel have the same meaning. So we are talking of vocal “vowel” art –  but consonant art as well. That is the technical part of this challenge and you can literally “taste” it in your mouth! We´ll return to this subject. Meanwhile, THINK what you are singing!


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