© 2013 by Trish Causey for Musical Theatre Magazine.
“MASTER CLASS: The Functional Voice for Broadway Singers and Dancers”
by Trish Causey
Eight shows per week is taxing on the body in many ways, especially on the voice. Master voice pedagogue Jeannette LoVetri offered her extensive knowledge in voice research and practical application to training the voice for the rigors of performing on Broadway.
“There is a sort of mystique around the profession at the moment,” reveals LoVetri, “If you’re a really good actor, your voice will somehow just go where it needs to go because you’re committed to the acting at a deep enough level that your voice will follow you. That’s wrong,” she states emphatically.
“You need to know what you’re doing and be able to make the sound separate from acting first. Otherwise, when you go to do that thing, your throat will pay the price if you don’t have it set up right in the first place.”
Confusion begins for the voice trainee when he or she seeks out voice instruction, only to be told Musical Theatre and commercial singing is bad for the voice or that the only “real” vocal training is a classical training.
LoVetri is adamant: “There is no such thing as classical training!”
With a “classical” voice teacher, a student may learn a few basic arias in a foreign language, and that is misconstrued as “vocal training.” However, learning repertoire is not the same as learning the anatomical and physiological mechanics of technique or the emotive expressiveness of artistry. Worse yet, a singer with no interest in classical singing styles is often compelled to take these kinds of voice lessons, just to receive some training, even though “classical training” does not prepare a singer for the genre of contemporary commercial music such as modern musicals.
“These are issues that need to be examined, but of course they’re not, and that’s largely because the academic world—which is responsible for a lot of the training young people get before they audition for professional auditions—is very disconnected from the applied, real world scenario of people singing on Broadway or in a recording studio, or in any configuration where the singer is on the line. As long as those two worlds have very little to do with each other—that is changing, but it’s changing slowly—the singer is always going to be on the downside. The singer is always going to be responsible for somehow finding someone who can tell them what’s the way to make the sound that’s healthy for them.”
Just as every singer has a different vocal instrument, so, too, the voice world has a myriad of techniques and approaches for training, but not all of them are copasetic. LoVetri lists the three qualities every good singer should embody. “You have to have that specific set of resonances. You have to generate a certain amount of decibels. And you have to have some connection to the body in terms of breathing to sustain a line. Beyond that, it’s very subjective and personal. I think we should address that.”
With an active studio in New York City, LoVetri trains singers in all genres, and the most common issue she sees for stage performers is over-singing. “It develops out of either singing music which is exceptionally demanding, like very loud or very high over a long period of time, or pushing gradually emotionally, more and more, for certain kinds of dramatic reasons, and having that take an effect. Sometimes there are occasions when it is a side effect of something else in the show like a heavy costume or theatrical smoke, which affects their lungs and causes allergies, or they have allergies to dust or something else in the show. Occasionally it’s because they are being asked to do some kind of very difficult dance move while they’re singing and it’s affecting their breathing and their head and neck positions. Maybe once in a very great while it may have to do something with the sound system, and whether or not they can hear themselves and the acoustics in the theatre. It runs a gamut, and it depends on the life experience of the performer.”
Musical Theatre is known for its triple threat performers—performers who act, sing, and dance, often simultaneously. Therefore, singing for Musical Theatre productions is very different than other artforms because the breathing is, by necessity, constantly changing. LoVetri mentions the difference between a performer’s dance training and the job of a particular show. “If you have more modern dance training in your background, you’re going to learn to breathe in a way that’s a little bit more fluid. If you’ve been trained in very old-fashioned ballet, then your belly muscles get stiff and tight, and then it is difficult to take a deep breath in,” she explains.
“Most people who are good dancers on Broadway who can sing well have managed to find a compromise in themselves, in their own bodies, to be able to inhale a decent amount of air and use it effectively while singing. Since a lot of the sounds are belting, they don’t require as much air going out, and therefore, they don’t have to breathe quite so deeply going in because the airflow parameters are controlled by the vocal fold closure closed quotient. A lot of the dancers that I’ve had who can also sing really well have struck a good balance between having strong core muscles, but not rigid—like wood—muscles in their stomach [area].”
With so many styles of music within the ever-growing Musical Theatre canon, the singer ultimately is responsible for finding a foundation and a routine that works best for him or her. LoVetri reveals there is not a one-size-fits-all way to prepare for a Broadway show. “Each person ends up making their own regimen.”
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