Thanks, Rockwell Blake!
One day, I walked into my teacher’s office, and he, excitedly, showed me this video:
Despite his having seen it before, we both sat there exclaming and cursing and brain storming aloud what could have allowed Rockwell Blake to have such breath control (Since then, I must have watched it thirty times and have still been impressed every time). We came up with a few ideas:
- He bares his teeth.
- He never allows his rib cage to drop.
- He wrinkles his nose.
- He rides the “thin string” of the voice. He never allows his voice to get heavy sounding.
- He points.
In the interest of brevity, I will focus only on part of his technique.
The Introduction to Lift
A couple of weeks later, I performed “Von ewiger Liebe”, and in listening to the recording, I became frustrated. I thought my voice sounded inconsequential next to the piano. I lamented to my teacher, who took me outside and instructed me to find “lift” in my voice. I’d had some experience with this before, but this time he was insistent. So I lifted and lifted, and he became more and more pleased. Other students of his remarked positively.
So I proceeded to practice on my own and ruin my voice for a few days by taking it too far and not warming up enough.
In doing so, I doubted myself and gave up on the lift idea. Weeks passed, and my recital came and went (It was a smashing success even without too much lift. I was really overwhelmed by the positive response). Everything was positive except on one point: I did not have enough ring in the sound because I was pulling my top lip down to sound darker.
In the three days since the recital I have gotten some impromptu lessons from Andrew, and all of them have focused on one idea: Lift. Lift. Lift. Lift. Lift. (The term itself is misleading. It feels like a general heightening, which implies a raising of the soft palette, but one can achieve a sense of lift while also dropping the soft palette.)
He explains lift as being multi-faceted: It lowers the larynx, while also widening the pharynx, which causes the vocal folds to come together more quickly, which in turn increases the amplitude of higher partials. The voice is louder and more ringing all around. Most importantly, it is louder without added breath pressure, thus it is safe. The singer experiences a brighter sound, which is confusing at first but actually helps the singer more easily track the voice. If the sound contains too much extra noise beyond brightness (to the singer), then it is probably too heavy. It also preserves the singers breath by more effective causing the cords to fully close.
There are several ways to achieve lift that I have been focusing on:
- Inhale through a wrinkled nose. Really wrinkle it up and then sing with it still wrinkled.
- Bare the top and bottom teeth.
- Imagine you are inhaling through slits above your cheekbones.
- Imagine an “inner smile”.
- Inhale as if you are smelling some wonderful smell, or “smell the rose”.
- Then, once found, ride the ensuing brightness and do not deviate.
So from the initial excitement over Rockwell Blake, I believe I have found, with my teachers’ help, a way to move toward a more “operatic” sound without over darkening or thickening the voice. Initial results from myself and my students (and Andrew’s students) have all been positive. Breathiness vanishes. Loudness increases. Phrase length increases. All without tiring the voice.