An open and shut case

April 24, 2014

Let’s talk about an open voice.

Now, I’m not talking about open and closed vowels, open and covered registration, or even open or closed mouth, but an open voice.  What is that?

We’ve all heard singers who seemed like there was a lot of sound, if someone could unzip the top of their heads.  Not open.

I sang with a mezzo once who had one vowel, and it was “L” – not open.

Then, there are the singers described by one of two phrases:  “Open mouth, close throat” and “When push comes to shove.”  Still not open!

There are two parts to this open – a clear sound and a resonant sound.  I’ll tackle clear first.

The old saw “if you listen to yourself sing, you’ll be the only one to enjoy it” works here.  Lower voices are more often guilty of this – singing to themselves through the Eustachian tubes instead of to the paying customers in the audience.  (The Eustachian tubes help balance the air pressure across the eardrum, and open in the back of the throat.)  Many singers sing to themselves in this way, sounding swallowed to the rest of the world.

The vowels carry the beauty and meaning of every language, and if they are generalized, all that is lost.  Good singing technique should give you clear vowels throughout the range.

Now I know higher women’s voices lose a bit of understandability at the top of the range, which is why composers who want the text to be understood will repeat high-flying text in the middle of the range.  That said, in Knoxville, Summer of 1915, the B flat to A at the end of “Now is the night one blue dew” can and should have real [u] vowels.  And how many tenors, at the end of “Recondita armonia” try to make the F as loud as the B flat by singing “Tosca, sai to” instead of “Tosca, sei tu”?

So, we need to sing with good, clear vowels, but how?  Next time, I’ll tackle vowel formation, or how we can sing clearly throughout the range.


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