”Aspire with realism” – Sue McCulloch

Being objective about where you are in the profession, is something which most singers find incredibly daunting.  We were fortunate to have a couple of talks led by Sue McCulloch on vocal health, and ensuring you are well prepared.

Marketing yourself

  • Keeping your database of contacts up to date is important, as are the methods which people will use to find you; your website / linkedin / social media spaces should be relevant, up to date and contain valid contact info. Remember – you are marketing yourself!

Prepating Repertoire

  • Write out the text
  • Do a word for word translation (never trust editorial translations, invest in a decent dictionary and put in the work yourself)
  • Speak the words in a declamatory manner (See Masterclass notes on this: Masterclasses: Chris Purves, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Ann Murray and Toby Spence. ) and understand the structure of the poem / text.
  • Familiarize yourself with knowledge of the grammatical structure of each sense – how will this affect which words are given additional emphasis?

Health

‘Everything that we are is our instrument’

  • Try to be up and awake a couple of hours before vocalising.
  • Hydration: Aim for 2-3 litres of water each day.  Your body takes 4 hours to hydrate from the moment you drink, so try to take this into consideration.
  • Stretch and become mentally aware of your surroundings before launching into practise.
  • Keep your body fit and agile – exercise which encourages deep breathing (such as pilates, yoga, dance etc) are all recommended.  Avoid exercises which encourage over-development of the neck and abdominal muscles.
  • Maintain good oral hygeine – consider your colleagues!
  • Avoid asprin – it thins the blood and can cause haemoraging of the vocal folds.
  • Avoid unnecessary coughing / throat clearing.
  • Steam and gargling salt water are the best for any cold viruses or sensitivity.

Foods etc

  • Lessen dairy products where possible, and keep citric and menthol products to a minimum.
  • Slow release carbs on rehearsal / long days are great for keeping sustained: wholemeal pasta, wholemeal bagels, bananas, basamti rice etc.
  • Teas: honey, lemon, ginger, liquorice are all great.

Masterclasses: Chris Purves, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Ann Murray and Toby Spence.

For a week in July, singers, tutors and pianists descended on Radley College near Oxford to take part in the Abingdon Summer School for Solo Singers.  For 3 consecutive days, we were extremely fortunate to have Christopher Purves, Ann Murray, Catherine Wyn-Rogers and Toby Spence hold masterclasses for all singers involved in the course.

I sat in as many of these classes as my schedule would allow.  I hope you find this conglomeration of points useful:

Recitative

  • Recitative: what is the reason for your recit? Why do you need to get someone’s attention enough for them to listen to you?
  • What do you want an audience to feel about your character at the very start Vs at the very end of a piece? How can you ensure that this is applied to your interpretation of the piece?
  • Become accustomed to speaking through your recit and aria in a declamatory spoken voice – notice where you breathe, and where the natural stresses fall in the text.
  • You should be able to recite the text to both recit and aria without requiring the music.

Breathing

  • Breathe with intent – this includes the use of expressive breaths, especially if they fall within a long phrase / section of coloratura.
  • Remeber to empty the breath before starting a new phrase, allowing you to resonate and not hold on to unnecessary breath. Similarly, do not hold your breath during long phrases – allow your sound to spin naturally, and trust this (and your support) will see you through.

Phrasing

  • Sing from the moment a phrase begins, no creeping!
  • If you encounter long phrases on one vowel, practise alternating the vowel, to keep the sound boyant.
  • Singing a phrase on rolled ‘R’s is a useful means of assessing how much breath you need to take on a phrase.
  • The ends of phrases are important! Ensure you end a phrase with equal purpose and spin; think of a phrase in it’s entirety, and do not allow the ends to drop. Never drop the intensity of your line.
  • If you have an idea of how a piece should be interpreted, commit to it.