I have never seen it myself, but someone once described to me a painting of Jesus walking on a beach.
Behind Him, all the saints followed, trying desperately to stay in perfect line with Our Lord. Hands waved wildly in the air, feet stumbled here and there in the sands, even occasionally wobbling off course from the prints left by Our Savior.
But, according to the description, there was one Saint who was not struggling at all. This saint just walked behind Jesus, very calm and placid, a gentle smile on his face, no tension in his limbs and his feet always stepping in perfect symmetry with our Lord’s.
St. Francis of Assisi.
Now, despite the obvious favoritism displayed in this painting, the artist (undoubtedly a Franciscan) had a wonderful point. It was not St. Francis’s feet which kept him in line with Christ.
It was his eyes.
I wrote to you of resonance already in Lesson 10. The lesson briefly describes feeling “the buzz” and trying to become more aware of it.
Singing teachers span the gamut in their styles and philosophies when it comes to resonance. As a young singer, I tested a lot of teachers who were what we might call “visual pedagogues.”
“Put the tone through the eye of the needle”
“You need more ring in your tone.”
“Feel the shimmer in the orange peel.”
“Let the tone spin.”
“Pull the tone like taffy.”
“Make the tone bloom.”
Etc, etc, etc.
Now, many of these teachers have a lot of great singers in their studios. So, I can’t fault them. Apparently, this visualization stuff really works for some people. And I have to admit, in my years of teaching, I’ve had quite a few students who respond easily to this sort of “poetic” verbiage as opposed to direct physical feedback.
But all this visual imagery never worked for me, and I spent years as a young singer, despairing that singing was some mystical artform and I would never be in the “elite” number who could understand it.
Until John Maloy came along and said plainly, “Right here!” and touched his index finger to the roof of his mouth, right behind his front teeth.
The hard palate.
“Right here,” he said. “You want to put the tone right here. I don’t care if it’s high, middle, low, what vowel it is or how loud. Place the tone up front here and don’t let it go back.”
“Right here” turned out to be the big revelation in my singing career. It was a very simple and direct physical thing I could aim for, to feel the resonance, the vibrations, the buzz in a very specific place. All the sudden, I could give my voice direction without having some intuitive visual imagination that translated visualization into physical realities.
In Maloy’s studio, frontal resonance was king and that man could hear a voice go “back” in a fraction of a second. But in the decades since leaving Eastman, I have discovered something more precise about resonance. It’s not about where you feel it. It’s about where you aim.
Like Jesus on the beach. What are you aiming for?
We aim for the “singer’s mask” the “hard palate” and “frontal resonance,” but that doesn’t mean we won’t feel the resonance elsewhere. And this is where a lot of young singers get lost.
By its nature, the human voice was made to cause vibrations. Vibrations naturally spread out and move. Often, after having the “God the Son” lesson, young students will try to manipulate their throats, adding unnecessary tension to “keep” the feeling of the resonance forward. Doing this is like trying to keep Christ limited to just certain parts of your life. It won’t work, it’s not the way He works.
We aim for the frontal “hard palate” resonance, but we should “feel” the resonance in a variety of places as we move through our range and different vowels. Just like St. Francis on the beach, we keep our aim in the right place and God takes over.
“I am the way, the truth and the Life.” And apparently, the voice.
So don’t be hesitant when you become aware of vibrations in the soft palate or pharyngeal cavity. You may feel resonance spread to the top of your skull or deep into your chest. Sometimes, beginning singers get moments of dizziness and a feeling like they are going to pass out. That’s literally resonance spreading blood around to parts of your brain it hasn’t been in a while. Don’t worry, it goes away after a bit.
You will find that sickness, allergies, and any kind of postnasal complication affects where you feel the resonance. I once had to sing in a Handel oratorio with orchestra and chorus in Cape Cod, but the week before I’d been down with a cold. My nose was so stuffed with mucus I could barely hear, but when I sang, for some reason, the resonance vibrated my front two teeth intensely against each other causing me a sharp “tooth” pain. I had to struggle not to show the agony on my face to the audience.
How much sleep you had last night, what you ate for dinner, your emotional state, even a woman’s time of the month will affect how she feels the resonance in her voice. Where you “feel” the resonance can be as fleeting as the weather.
But your aim must be as solid as the ground on which you stand.
You cannot aim for “sound.” You don’t get that luxury. This instrument is not a violin you take out of a case and expect it to sound and feel the same every day. This instrument is you. It will change as you go through new periods of life. It will change when you go through something traumatic like death or divorce. It will change when your body changes in weight, or fertility.
These changes are His problems.
Your problem? Aim.
Keep your eyes on God the Son and you will find navigating all the fine nuances of language, dynamics and range suddenly get much easier.
Take the break for example. When you are singing over the break, what are you keeping your eyes on? Your sound? Your volume? Head or chest?
To cross the Great Divide (the natural break in your voice), you must keep your eyes on Christ: frontal resonance. (See Lecture 10). This point of resonance "through who, all tones must go" is literally the “common denominator” between head and chest. Just as He is the common denominator between Heaven and Earth.
Young singers get into so much trouble when they begin studying the break and the shift between the two voices, because they start aiming for a “feeling” instead of a place. Chest voice gets too deep and detached from head, head becomes an island floating by itself. If you have difficulty navigating the break and feel like your voice has a dual personality, ask yourself where you are taking aim. Are you aiming to “go into chest voice,” or are you aiming for God the Son - frontal resonance? This “aim” will literally carry you through the break.
But you must have faith and surrender your desires to Him. To this aim.
You must have faith and understand that His presence will spread through other parts of your body (and your life).
You must not aim for those parts. Only He can be the connection between Heaven and Earth, between the spirit and the body, between each surrendering soul.
Have faith in the deep low breaths that seem so far from your voice.
Have faith in the airflow that moves constantly in your song, never stopping.
Have faith in the frontal resonance which, no matter how high, or how low, will get you through.
Have faith in God the Son.