Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What is the Neutral Voice?

Happy eve before New Year's!

There has been quite a little discussion happening about voice and style - or so I thought - at the New Forum for Classical Singers. I got involved - and realized this might make an interesting blog entry on building the voice and what I mean as "neutral" voice.

"Neutral" to me simply means unencumbered. It is developing a vocal behavior that is balanced, inhibited, unexpressed by style or genre. What do YOU sound like when your physical behavior of breath, support, engagement, resonance and muscular balance - intrinsic and otherwise - are working with YOU?

This is the "neutral" for me. It allows for no baggage. It allows for a freedom to discover further into the technical balances, stylistic knowledge within the physical instrument, emotional commitment, musical language and traditional expectations for a genre or a style to be embodied.

Often, I am asked by a singer in theatre or R&B or otherwise, "If I study will I sound like an opera singer?" This is completely why I have developed the word "neutral" in my teaching!!!

Simply put - if you study and learn how your instrument works and how it builds, you will sound like YOU. Then, that "you" will have the opportunity to develop further into different stylistic journeys - opera, theatre, belt, R&B, pop, whatever you choose to explore.

Does this mean you can sing anything? That's a loaded question. It means you have the physical possibility to learn what each style and genre demands of your neutral voice - of YOU in balance. When you find that nakedness of sound you can then explore the re-balancing of style/muscular et al to discover how your instrument can take on any given style.

Perhaps you won't have the physicality to do it authentically; perhaps you do not have the aptitude; perhaps you do not have the desire; perhaps you do not understand the tradition or have lived that tradition or with it; HOWEVER, you have the possibility if you choose to explore it!

The body as an athletic instrument is intricate and complex. It is a miraculous event that we do what we do!!! So many muscles, so much alignment! A complexity of support, elasticity, engagement, balance...if we don't learn and know what that is without complicating it further, we are continually masking issues, instead of discovering what IS.

The complexity of the physical and athletic instrument is within the body as a whole. It also has to do with the complexity of the psychology of how we approach our instrument and our sport. The neutral voice takes into account the physical balance of support, the tangibility of breath, the intricacies of onset, laryngeal balance, resonance and transition ease and how we think about it, view it, regard it, and ALLOW it to emerge.

Then, and only then, in my experience as a singer and as a teacher, can the true dimension of the singer truly emerge to take on style and genre with clear intent - psychologically and physically and athletically!

Every genre has its technical behaviors. These behaviors can only be discovered fully once the neutral voice is in alignment. Otherwise we work from a patchwork position and not from a foundational one!

We can only mask issues for so long, and then the cracks appear! Then we must rebuild/reconstruct and recognize the truth of our voice! What is it able to do? What do we ask of it? Is there a foundational truth in the neutral voice or is it put on from the outside?

Muscle and breath and engagement needs to build with the BODY. It must be build from the inside out. The voice is to inhabit the physical to allow for a tangible intensity to occur. If the body is strong and balanced, the voice can then develop its balance within the structure that has been created for it. This is neutral voice. This is voice without baggage or excuse. This is INDIVIDUAL voice that can be further developed into the genre of choice or the genre of compatibility.

How do you know if your physicality and psychology is best suited for opera if you do not assume a regime of athleticism to discover how the instrument will function first in balance, and then further, into the demands of the genre? And if it is suited for opera - do you start with Puccini and Verdi? Or Mozart? What voice fach are you in "neutral" and when the voice begins changing and developing, where do you end up?

If you only belt - what if you get into trouble? What if the voice breaks down? How do you find a rebalanced voice that can inform that belt?

If you are a high soprano and never develop that middle voice - will those high notes exist forever without issue?

And on and on...

If we don't have a starting point - and ABC - a NEUTRAL - we can wish, we can hope, we can create in our minds, but it isn't always a truth. We begin to patchwork/mask and pretend. The truth of the instrument begins to get murky. The truth of our artistic spirit is being compromised, because the technical behavior of our physicality has not found "home".

Neutral simply has expectation of SELF. Recognizing self when self is seen, and claiming it.

Neutral is active - because it is a frame of reference - physically, technically, psychologically, spiritually - to find where we are, and where we are going, and what we have and how we develop it further.

If we have this frame of reference and this behavior, we have the best possibility to walk into a genre authentically and create that operatic role as an opera singer; that R&B tune as an R&B singer; that theatre piece as a theatre singer; that cabaret song as a cabaret singer; and on and on...

Style and genre is PHYSICAL as well as psychological. It is a living and breathing creation based on the physical manifestation of the neutral pure and vivid presence of our instrument - our athleticism!!

We train within that athleticism to discover and develop specificity to our craft, to the genres we choose to seek out, to the technical demands and requirements. However, if the ABC of the neutral instrument has not found "home", we are drifters, and "home" doesn't exist.

Neutral is that place we can always come back to - to refocus and rediscover - to rebalance and re-acquaint.

Neutral voice is the truth of you and your voice - it is the core of what makes your singing YOURS.

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