In training we often get the spontaneity trained out of us. We end up with an over-cultured, manufactured, formed, packaged, and delivered vocal product. It might be an attractive sound, although usually it is not so good, but it isn’t free. Why not cultivate singing that is free, easy, joyous, and spontaneous?
Spontaneous? How can you be spontaneous with 20 lines of recitativo and a six-minute aria? I’m not talking about prepping the materials. Memorizing text and making acting/emotional choices, learning pitches and rhythms – all are materials that must be internalized. Parallel with this, vocal exercises must encourage the most free and spontaneous responses to the singer’s thought, so that things the singer wishes to express will emerge easily and authentically.
This alternation between the studious preparation of the material (in any genre) and its spontaneous expression is the way an excellent performer must work. If I don’t know my material (if it’s not supposed to be pure improvisation), then all the work on spontaneity is compromised by worry about memory or technique. If I know my material very well and securely, but do not practice making spontaneous reflexive sounds, my performance will be flat and dull and not represent my unique possibilities.
Everyone has unique possibilities. No combination of body, soul, mind, and song is the same in any two singers who ever existed. What liberation this is for our performances! If you believe that, then giving the most authentic, least artificial performance is a solid goal.
When you are stuck, go back to basics. I don’t mean five-tone scales – more basic than that. Find something to laugh at. Play roles. Imitate sounds around you, or people you know. Make vocal “special effects” that aren’t necessarily singing or speech. Sadly, I have heard people who had so much vocal “control” going on that even their laugh was phony. Where is the vocal “you” under all the layers of whatever has been piled on?
Now, how can I say that vocal imitation or impersonation has any role in finding your own sound? Those things are not about your expression of an artistic idea, true. However, creating a vocal imitation involves a spontaneous process that goes directly from mind to voice, without the intervention of “technical” or “educated” baggage like breathing technique, resonance, formant tuning, fold adduction, or vowel modification/ purification/ putrefaction. Madame Throatmaestro has probably never given you rules for how to sound like an agitated turkey, impersonate your best friend, howl like a blizzard wind, or laugh like a baby. What a relief! Just enjoy making a sound!
Laugh, cry, tell silly jokes, impersonate, role-play, ululate, and yodel – anything outside of your usual vocal zone. You will rediscover a mind-voice pathway that can give you clues about how to make your singing more authentically you, without unnecessary filters. Voice culture is about growing a voice, to allow it to become fully itself. Since every human and voice is unique, you must train the voice and not “a sound”. The trained voice will make a sound; Nature has taken care of that. What we singers need is to expand, liberate, and respect this sound by allowing the voice to become strong, easy, and responsive. This is what “practicing” is about for a singer.