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Training the Voice

My first voice teacher was a remarkable singer and teacher.  She possessed a beautiful voice in excellent condition and a list of accomplishments that read like the liner notes on back of a Jussi Bjorling album.  As a teacher she had a roster of successful singers.  She could teach all day long and never tire of the impositions of her students.  Understanding and insightful, she loved what she was doing and was highly successful.

Christopher as Cavaradossi in New York City Opera Tour, Tosca

I studied for four or five years before achieving some degree of success.  As a former rock singer with an unusual upbringing in music (I was an eight-year student of the remarkable Lois Choksy), by my mid-twenties, I was being cast in every part for which I auditioned.  the next few years were heady indeed, and I loved what I was doing - I loved to sing.  For some idea of the extent to which I trusted my voice, I would sing the "Flower Song" from Carmen up a whole tone, or walk into a rehearsal at 10am and sing "Daughter of the Regiment" with some humming and a few scales as warm up.  I easily sustained E's and F's above the staff, and sang everything from Ferrando in Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte... to Ravenal in Kern's Showboat ... to Don Jose in Bizet's Carmen ... to Jesus in Beethoven's Christus am Oelberge.

Then followed a period of a few years where I struggled.  I was never sure if my voice would respond, or some other demon would appear and wreak havoc on my performance.  Some went extremely well and others did not, but I kept singing and believing that my technique would carry the day.  Was it a change of voice, change of hear, or hormones - I'll never be sure, but I endured and survived it!  I had little idea that technique could have been the problem - not the technique itself, but the keeping intact of the technique.  Nonetheless, my performances were good enough for me to continue on, and I was generally a happy singer.

Then came a roaring case of Lyme Disease with 105 degree fever, arthritis and malaise.  I stopped singing altogether and worked in a large warehouse.  But shortly before this, I had chanced to perform with a wonderful singer - a bass-baritone - who by sheer force of his own technical prowess - forced me to question everything I had thought to be technically correct.  Some time after recovering from the Lyme, I felt well enough to return to study, singing, and the stage.  I began to search and question again, and came to the realization that the technique taught me by my first teacher was the technique her teacher had tailored to her specific voice and her needs.

Was it really logical to assume that a technique that is successful for a lyric coloratura should also be the correct one for a lyric tenor?  Are we - in our never ending search for perfection in others - trying to make everyone sound like the tenor or soprano du jour, or the tenor and soprano of yesterday?  I continue to question and search - NOT for a new teacher or a different technique - but for a possible cause or causes for the occurrences earlier in my life, so that I may be of help - both to myself and others in the future.

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