Diction part 2: Vowels modification (II)

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Artistic performance is vital, vibrant, and exciting. Certainly, it is dependent upon the human spirit, the musical and poetic imagination, and health, but it also hinges upon the physical events of vibration and resonation that are brought about by certain muscular activities related to the vocal instrument. Non-singers’ tendency is to forget that the voice is a musical instrument, responsive to the laws of acoustics just as any other instrument is. (They probably forget because the human voice is located inside a human body rather than inhabiting a carved piece of wood or a metal housing.)

Artistic limitations will result if the proper muscular activities do not become almost reflexive. Insistence upon singing the vowel written on the page will stultify the natural ability of the singer to find the modification that serves the needs of the music. When the vocal tone is correctly formed by acoustical phonetics, the singer avoids many muscular problems, basically hyperfunction and hypofunction, both of which may result in stiffness of parts of the vocal tract.

Stiffness of the singer’s vocal tract can translate into hoarseness, register problems, unacceptable deviations from the pitch, limitations of range, color, and dynamics, poor vibrato, as well as other malfunctions and/or dysfunctions, all of which present the singer, the voice teacher and the choir director with very real problems.

∙ Singers who are suffering from hoarseness caused by the vocal cord erosion that speech vowels induce will find it difficult to concentrate on the details of their musical and vocal responsibilities.

∙ Singers who are experiencing register problems find it difficult if not impossible to handle the musical and vocal problems that occur at register breaks.

∙ Singers who are chided for off-pitch singing that seems unfixable simply by more acute listening often cannot think of anything other than pitch.

∙ Singers who cannot handle the high notes or the low notes, the loud notes or the soft notes, well enough to please themselves, their teachers or their conductors usually become disheartened at their own lack of technique and, as a consequence, are incapable of attending to the musical and vocal qualities of their singing.

And so on.

All these maladies have the same result: in the end they will produce a faltering and more or less inept performance. High on the list of appropriate remedies for performance problems is vowel modification.

There is no disputing the fact that modification of vowels inspires much controversy. However, the conviction that modification of vowels is unnecessary does betray a certain ignorance. It is true that singers can sing any note on any vowel, limited only by the physical boundaries of their range, but some vowel forms will have constructive interaction with the vocal cords (aid and amplify their air pressures), and other vowel forms will have a diminishing acoustical interaction (distort and diminish the cords’ air pressures).

A bad tone fights with itself; that is, two vibrators interact badly with each other. For example, in stringed instruments the conflict is between a string and the resonator; in the organ the conflict is between the reed and pipe. In the voice, the conflict is between the vocal cords and the vocal tract.