Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Into the depths...

I turned 40 recently, and true to our tradition,
we invited friends and gave a concert.

I gave myself the opportunity to sing a passage out
of L'Elisir D'amore: the Nemorino/Dulcamara duet
(Voglio dire...), followed by the Nemorino/Adina duet
(Caro elisir...), followed by the Belcore/Nemorino/Adina
trio (Tran tran tran...)

My wonderful wife, Katarina sang the part of Adina, of course.
Peter Kajlinger did both Dulcamara and Belcore.
It was my
first time singing with Peter, and it was truly a joy. He has an
air of confidence and generosity about him, and he's a gifted
comedian as well as a consummate professional.

Coach Bengt made a valiant effort to make it despite first
attending an audition in Stockholm.
He arrived just in time
to fire off his contributions in rapid succession:
the Edgardo/Lucia duet (Verranno a te...), Cielo e mar,
and the Cavaradossi/Tosca duet (Mario, mario...), before
he was allowed to sit down and have a glass of wine.
He also helped spice up the party with his ukelele...

Bengt's singing reminds me of Franco Corelli.

Our Tosca was Maria Sloth, who has traveled a rocky road ever since
she was hailed as "the next Birgit Nilsson" at school.
She resolved the pressure by simply not singing at all for the longest
time, but a few years ago, she made a tentative comeback (in our
living room, if I recall...) She has now found her way back to her
first teacher (Jacqueline Delman), and has found her voice
again, after more than 20 years.

Maria is a true dramatic soprano. Managing a dramatic voice is
no picnic (not that I would know...), but when it works, it's truly
something to experience. Thanks, Maria, for a wonderful

Katarina pulled off being a great hostess, singing Adina, Lucia
and the Bell Song from Lakmé. A perfect Birthday gift, and a
wonderful evening.

As for my own performance, I was actually quite pleased.
The acting was mostly acceptable, and I did attempt to go
all out (something that I've had trouble with, as most
amateurs do). The voice sounded stable and well grounded,
although the singer's formant can be improved. The legato
line was good.

A few weeks later I had a very interesting conversation
with Prof Johan Sundberg at the Dept of Speech, Music
and Hearing at KTH. Prof Sundberg's theoretical depth
is truly impressive, and just chatting with him for a couple
of hours taught me a great deal. Not that I can easily
account for what, exactly, but the combination of his
comments, the stuff that Bengt has been telling me for
years, and bits and pieces I've picked up elsewhere,
inspired me to go home and try a few things...

One item of discussion was a picture from Manén's
"Bel canto" book, showing a closed larynx. The picture
looked like the larynx was in a high position (not very
interesting from a singing perspective), but the text
indicated that it was in a low position. Closing the false
vocal cords, as indicated by the picture, in a low position
is not easy, apparently. Without an X-ray machine at
home, it's difficult to conduct your own experiments,

But Manén mentions a "click" sound, "caused by ... a clash
of air rushing in from above and below the larynx"
(according to Manén - I can't judge whether this is a
correct description). I set out to attempt to reproduce
this effect. It took two days of hard work, and significantly
more downward pull of the larynx than I'm used to,
combined with a kind of squeezing (I imagined the larynx
as a "V", which needs to be squeezed together into an "I",
partly inspired by a drawing that Prof Sundberg made
during our conversation). After a while, I could do the
exercise suggested by Manén: a slow staccato scale
(apparently, from "Studio di canto", by A. Busti),
producing that faint "click" between each note, as the
larynx closes and re-opens. I don't know whether this
proves anything, but the tangible effect was a marked
improvement in my singer's formant (more "ringing",
and more power - basically, everything improved, as
far as I can tell; Katarina seems to agree).

This seems to be in line with Sundberg's observation
that the singers formant is formed in the larynx, and with
Bengt's insisting that the overtones are not produced
the way you'd expect. Not that I doubted this, but it's
always good to be able to internalise this knowledge,
so that your body agrees as well.

The added difficulty is exerting a significant downward
pull on the larynx while "freeing" the muscles shaping
the upper air passages. I would not have been able to
do this a year ago (much less four years ago, before I
started taking lessons for Bengt), even if I had
understood that it were needed for the kind of
singing that I aspired to.

I've been resting a few days now, to avoid over-excerting
myself. It's difficult, since I want to keep exploring this
newfound sensation. I'm looking forward to many more
years of continued discovery. This is obviously only the