Finding Your Vocal Path

We’ve all heard a version of the serenity prayer – asking for the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change what we can and the wisdom to know the difference.
 
We tend to like the idea of being able to change things, of becoming better – and we should celebrate and pursue this improvement continually.
 
The accepting part is a bit less exciting – who of us wants to acknowledge something is less than we’d like and it’s not going to change?
 
With singing, there will be parts of your voice that you must accept – the natural limitations nature has given you.
 
Within classical singing, there is a system of accepting limits. The Fach System was created to help opera houses with casting by identifying voice types within narrow categories.
 
Your Fach narrows your options, as well as your goals and expectations. A dramatic baritone would spend not a moment of time aspiring towards a lyric tenor role.
 
It can be argued this puts limitations on singers (although some singers do work in more than one Fach), and while this may be true to a point, the Fach System acknowledges the strengths and weaknesses we inherently have and acts as a guide for the training of singers and the casting of roles.
 
There is no formal Fach System in popular music. Musical Theatre has a loose, simplified version of the main voice types – soprano, mezzo, etc., and, for females, a separation of belt vs. “legit” (classical style) singing, but the lines are less strict, and singers move between voice types a bit more freely.
 
In popular music such as pop, rock or jazz voice types are nearly non-existent, it’s more about your unique sound.
 
This creates terrific opportunity and freedom, as well as the possibility of unrealistic expectations.
 
With no Fach to box them in, singers can put unrealistic expectations and goals on their voices, causing them to chase rainbows while neglecting the strengths of their natural gifts.
 
I have had singers come to me obsessed with expanding their range to hit the high notes of a favorite singer.
 
Meanwhile, their middle-voice is a mess, the register transitions in dire need of attention. But this work is not as exciting as expanding range.
 
Students want their voices higher, bigger, faster, which are all legitimate vocal goals, but there is a physical genetic limit to what each voice can ultimately do, and chasing these extremes can come at the cost of working on what you need to – of building upon your strengths.
 
Accepting what you cannot change allows you to embrace what you can, and to go after those improvements.
 
If you don’t have a naturally large voice I would suggest not spending your time wishing and trying to sound like Whitney Houston – it’s likely not going to happen for you because you don’t have her physiology.
 
Two of my favorite singers are Luciano Pavarotti and Peter Gabriel – two very different voices and genres of music.
 
Much has been written about the beauty of Pavarotti’s voice, including speculations on the length of his vocal tract – it being the perfect size to bring out bite and clarity in his thrilling high notes.
 
Pavarotti strayed out of his Fach occasionally, taking on weightier roles such as Otello, but with less acclaim than the roles within his Fach such as Rodolfo in La Boheme.
 
When Pavarotti sang within his vocal strengths he was magnificent.
 
Peter Gabriel has a much different voice – quirky, with a throaty, grainy texture. Gabriel would have little chance of attaining the beauty of Pavarotti’s high notes.
 
Rather than chasing after what nature did not give him, Gabriel created music around the unique sound of his voice, vocally pushing the boundaries of what nature did give him in a wonderfully artistic way.
 
“In Your Eyes,” is a song I would have trouble imagining anyone else singing – Gabriel’s voice is an intricate part of the artistic expression, his unique sound perfectly fits the song and the song perfectly fits him.
 
We all have vocal work to do – improvements and goals to have us singing at our highest possible level.
 
But we also have limitations to what our voice can do, no matter how hard or efficiently we work. By chasing after unrealistic singing goals we get pulled away from the work we should be doing, from going after the goals that are realistic and attainable.
 
We need to accept what we cannot change – get clear on who you are, what nature gave you and then go after what you can improve.
 
Embrace and accept your limitations while making improvements in your strengths.
 
And may you have the wisdom to know the difference.
 
To better (serene) singing!
 
John