I'm a chorister and I need to become a soloist.
January 17, 2014 5:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm a chorister and I need to become a soloist. Please help me develop a richer quality in my singing voice.

I sing with a community choir, and our spring concert is on 15th February. I've been asked to sing a solo. Whilst I've sung the solo first verse of "Once in Royal David's City" in several carol concerts over the years, this will be the first time I've sung a full solo. I will be singing "Flow my Tears" by John Dowland, accompanied by a harpsichord.

I had a rehearsal with our choir director today and he said my performance was excellent, but that he believes I could do more with my voice artistically, to become a soloist instead of a chorister. In particular, he said that the soloist who sings on the youtube recording has a "haunting richness" that he believes that I would be able to learn - but he isn't a voice teacher, and he doesn't know how to teach someone to do that.

I can sing both soprano and alto, and have been singing in choirs since I was a child (church music, madrigals and general school choirs). I have never been formally taught to sing - it just kind of happened through practice. I have a good sense of pitch and timing, can sing accurately and use dynamic range and diction to shape a musical phrase, however my experience in choirs has taught me how to blend my voice with others - nothing about how to stand out.
posted by talitha_kumi to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Would you be willing to work with a voice teacher to prepare you for the concert? I think that is the surest route to success. Your choir director might be able to recommend someone. Just be very specific about your need to prepare for a concert rather quickly.

In the meantime, listen to lots of recordings of that piece and find one or two you particularly like. In my experience, what you listen to informs your performance.
posted by bunderful at 5:52 PM on January 17, 2014

This is not about classical singing, but I think it's appropriate. Yes, get all the technical elements of the song DOWN. And then have a damn good reason inside the core of you for singing it. A need to communicate. The need is contained within the bounds of the song and the style, but it will POWER the song.
posted by stray at 6:32 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Paying for a good vocal coach helped me... but Youtube. Seriously. Look for singers who you like and practice like hell. Emulate them. It does help.
posted by brownrd at 6:41 PM on January 17, 2014

get thee to a voice coach; few mefites are qualified to perform this function, and none of them can do it over askme.
posted by bruce at 6:42 PM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

however my experience in choirs has taught me how to blend my voice with others

Just start experimenting with tone. Sing, record yourself (result is highly dependent on the tech part of that process, though, so attention required that way too), and listen to it. With the support of a coach :)

Mimicry is probably how most people develop their style, consciously or not, even with a vocal coach. If you've got an ear, it's just hard not to respond. Also the relevant processes are invisible -- even with a good knowledge of anatomy and technical explanations, you're interpreting them proprioceptively. But a good coach should be able to reach across the inherent privacy of those processes, and describe what things should feel like -- this is physics, frequencies moving through cavities will yield more or less predictable sensory effects. A coach who can communicate this process and how it feels, and who him/herself sounds close to what you're after, would be great.

Definitely get someone, because people whose vocal cords aren't really strong enough to deliver a fat sound sometimes push through from the throat and give themselves nodes. Again, a coach can offer advice around how to avoid that, and also give input on what s/he thinks your natural physical limitations might be.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:18 PM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't just practice - record yourself and listen to the recording over and over again. Hear the parts that are boring and try to make it interesting. Hear the parts that are interesting and try to figure out what you did to make it so, and do more of that next time. Record it again, and listen to that recording a bunch of times... etc.

Or on preview, what cotton dress sock said.
posted by 3FLryan at 8:11 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree that you should work with a teacher/coach on vocal technique and singing on the breath.

When a singer hasn't had formal training (and often when they have!) choral singing can be difficult to sing properly. Quite often it does not allow for proper breath technique for a number of reasons like blending, the timing or pace of the piece, having to stagger breathe, etc. In general, it's about the whole sound versus the individual singer.

A solo singer most definitely needs to work on proper breath technique and placement of the voice. Those things make the difference between a bland or dynamic performance. Bonus! They will also ensure you don't do your voice any damage in the long run. A teacher will be able to help you with these skills.
posted by legendarygirlfriend at 2:32 AM on January 18, 2014

A word of caution about mimicking a quality of voice you hear: when you sing, you actually can't hear what your own voice sounds like at all. It's like trying to look at yourself in a mirror if your nose is also touching the mirror; everything's too close to get perspective. One of the main functions of a voice teacher or coach is to be your ears. If they tell you to mimic something, in other words, they can help tweak the actual sound you're making, too. I'd be wary of listening to YouTube clips and trying to replicate those sounds, though - you just won't know what's coming out unless you record yourself on high-quality equipment (iPhones are unfortunately limited in this capacity...).

Nthing the suggestion to take the piece to a good voice teacher for a session or two. Choral technique is by necessity the enemy of solo technique; that richness your choir director is talking about would likely stand out too much in a group of voices. That said, if you're doing this solo, I'm sure you sound great already, and honestly I wouldn't worry too much about trying to make your voice something totally different in a limited amount of time.

What people will respond to is a point of view about what you're singing. What do these words mean to you? Can you make them personal? And can you use the music to bring that meaning out? If you think of the piece that way, it'll help the singing take care of itself.

Congrats, and have a great time!
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 6:47 AM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

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