Saturday, March 20, 2010


I'm not sure if the Swedish saying "Mitt i Livet" (directly translated "In the middle of Life") has a direct correspondence in English. What it refers to is how life is large, unpredictable, and wonderful, even if often overwhelming.

Having a management position in a growing IT company, wife and kids, and an exciting hobby, sometimes leaves little time for blogging. :)

Here is a short update, though.

I'm getting plenty of chances to practice proper singing at the weirdest places: airports, subways, walking down the streets of London, ... With a busy schedule, the alternative is usually not singing at all. You have to carefully note the sensations in your body, even while singing almost inaudibly in a crowd; it should be at least as intense as singing loudly.

One particular sensation I've been exploring lately is one where you achieve the "long and narrow mouth" by trying to shape it not at the mouth itself, but rather as far back towards the jaw joints as you can (this is a hypothesis I stitched together myself, from pieces here and there). Just trying to shape the lips "long and narrow" does fairly little, and is very difficult if your overall position is not correct. Instead, try to invoke a "Frankenstein's monster" image, if you will, and try to narrow right where he has the screws. You should feel the jaw joints spreading...

What does this do? When I do this, it seems to activate the "pillar" muscles of the palate, raising the soft palate, spread the jaw joints and lower the larynx, all in one motion. All these things are conducive to a low-larynx, open-throat sound. Once in this position, narrowing the mouth is trivial. The sensation of pushing in against your jaw joints, spreading the joints is also fairly distinct, which always helps. Practice in front of a mirror and observe what happens.

I don't worry too much about tension. I think it can be counter-intuitive to worry about tension too soon. When trying to shape the mouth and pharynx in ways you never have before, you will invariably become tense in the beginning. Practice will strengthen your muscles and fine muscle coordination. I wrote about this in my "Relaxing at full speed" blogpost.

Mario del Monaco illustrates the "long and narrow mouth" pretty well in the above clip. Notice how he breaks out of it only a few times, and each time for effect - the mad laughter, for example.

This technique is of course not a panacea. It is one detail, and I believe it has helped me. The test is of course whether Maestro Bengt agrees. There has to be an ongoing dialogue between teacher and student about analogies and sensations; what the student experiences and what the teacher hears. What works for me might be counter-productive to someone else.

On a different note, Katarina's Master's thesis on Chiaroscuro is finally available in the Swedish publication database (why it took so long is another story...). We translated it to English, and owe tremendous gratitude to Dorothy Irving for spending significant time helping us with proofreading.