22 June 2011

The Good, The Bad, and The Eugh!

One the great resources for my singing lessons is Youtube.  In there one finds thousands upon thousands of songs, many of which are impossible to buy, for perusal and for the learning of lessons, both positive and negative.  I often find myself listening to the same song but sung by different people as a way of devloping my ear, and also for hearing examples of techniques to be embraced, as well as those to be shunned.

As an example, here are three recordings of Franck's famous setting of Panis Angelicus. 

The first, and an example of what I call  "the good" is a version sung by the incomparable Leontyne Price.  In case you were to ask, the place where she is singing is the also incomparable Basilique de Notre Dame in Montreal.

I have listened to this piece many, many times over, and every time I hear or see something new.  This piece is a constant lesson to me of so many good practices, I can't even begin to name them all here.  She does have what in another singer would be flaws, it is true, but for someone of her stature, what would be flaws in someone else are part of her style and artistry. 

There is one thing I would like to point out: because of Leontyne's training and natural gifts, and the acousitcs of Notre Dame, she is able to sing on top of a fairly large ensemble without the aid of a microphone.  That voice is her voice, and nothing else.  The same cannot be said of the next person, whom I call "the bad. "

The style here seems to aim for cute, or perhaps precious would be a better term.  The style is quite popular, but as far as vocal technique goes, it is very poor.  Her breathy tone is due to air escaping as it is wasted:  She would not be able to hold a note long.  She also has no projection to her voice.  Her unaided voice would barely fill the average living room.  Her singing to a large crowd in this way would be impossible without a microphone.  Microphones for singing are a crutch, and if someone learns to walk with a crutch, even though they may be healthy, they will always walk with a limp.

This kind of singing is, as I said, popular and common today.  Many choirs have one or even several breathy voiced people sighing out their hymns, but what one hears in the congregation is air, a wind coming from the choir loft.

And now, the Eugh!

Dolores O' Riordan is the singer for the rock group The Cranberries.  As such, her voice and her style is utterly unsuited for this piece.  She is out of tune (as she is when she sings for her band, but there it does suit the music) and out of time, and gasping for breath at all the wrong points.  We often get this kind of singing in our choirs as well- untrained enthusiasts giving it their best, to be sure, but with occasionally ear splitting results. 

This is a simple lesson, as opposed to listening to a Jussi Bjorling version of a piece and comparing it to Mario Del Monaco's rendition, but it does get a point across:  Not all voices are suited to every kind of music.  For this song, lean more towards Price than Agnew. Work for a pure tone.  If you sound like O'Riordan, sing something else.

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