No voice stays the same forever

Nobody sounds exactly the same at 75 as they did at 25. This is not bad, it just is.

I heard Leontyne Price in a recital around 1982 where she sounded quite rough. I heard her again in 1987, and it was wonderful. Retiring from opera in the early 1980s was the right step for her. Did retiring the role of Aida mean that she was “in decline”? No! She kept singing well into her 80s.

Barbra Streisand’s “Live at the Village Vanguard”, recorded when she was 67, shows a voice with some fraying around the edges, less bombastic at the climaxes than in her youth, but what beautiful, expressive singing! Her CD of that year “Love Is the Answer” was Smooth Barbra, Mature Barbra. It was not the young one’s pattern of mewing in the verse and honking in the chorus. I have a friend who complained that Barbra isn’t belting like she used to. So what?

We live in a noisy, loud, sonically abusive world. Much of our entertainment today is also noisy and harsh. Our definition of “good singing” often includes a “power” component that means “loud”. We are disappointed when a singer isn’t loud like they used to be. Why?

A lot of singers realize that at some point they need to back off from applying force to the voice in order to stay healthy. This often means that they will be less loud. This is often seen as a sad thing. Ridiculous! Learning how to use the voice you have in a flexible and healthy manner is a fine choice. For the singer, it often is the difference between continuing to sing or not.

Rosemary Clooney and Joni Mitchell kept lowering keys throughout their careers. Barbra is singing more gently. Tony Bennett finally sounds old at a very advanced age. Magda Oliveiro made her debut at the Met when she was 65! We are blessed to have had these singers in long careers, giving us mature interpretations that cannot be replicated by young people.

With age comes change. As Joni Mitchell wrote in “Both Sides Now” – “something’s lost, but something’s gained In living every day”. This may look like vocal decline to some, and indeed that may be a characteristic of many older voices. But maybe what we are hearing is something truer and wiser than what was possible when they were young. That is something to cherish. I love old singers!

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