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The Balanced Voice – Part 1: Introduction

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After the long hiatus, the opportunity to hear voices singing live in real time – both solo and ensemble – has found me reflecting anew on what I most value in what I’m hearing. This is partly a response to remedial needs, to hearing voices that are in varying degrees out of practice, and having to re-imagine the ideal they need to find their way back to. But it’s also simply a function of the opportunity to listen with fresh ears after a year and more’s diet of processed recorded sound.

Bringing these reflections to written form has taken longer than I thought it might – my notes on the subject started back in the Spring – and has also spread out into a series of linked posts which will appear over the next few weeks in between other items more tied to specific events. Today’s post will explore the global ideas that shape my reflections, the second and third will break it down into a range of elements that contribute to it, and the last will return to the holistic level, to consider the kind of structure and relation between those elements implied by the various metaphors in play.

So, as my title has already signalled, balance has emerged as the guiding metaphor for these thoughts. On the face of it, this could imply a sense of moderation, of compromise, though that is not at all what I mean. To quote an earlier articulation of my sound ideal, from back before the covid era, this is a note from the Thinking Book back in October 2019:

The sound I desire:
poise, balance, clarity, flexibility, generosity – clarion call, oracular, prophetic, true

Here, balance is only one of a number of attributes, many of which have a much more positive and distinctive mode of expression. My feeling was then, and still is, that the first set of qualities is what allows the second to come into being.

This makes more sense in the context of two other metaphors which made extended bids to become the overriding concept for this series of posts:

  • the integrated voice
  • the connected voice

The idea of integration brings with it a sense of coherence, of disparate elements coming together to make a whole that transcends the parts. It also has the sense of integrity, which chimes with the adjective of a voice (and by extension, an expression) that is true. There are ties here with the concept of authenticity, in the sense of congruence between values and behaviour associated with believability in performance. Somehow I prefer integrity to authenticity; it has a stronger ethical dimension – it is not just a matter of being true to yourself, but that self having a firm moral foundation.

The idea of the voice being connected is commonly used as a metaphor to describe the aspect of technique that involves the relationship between respiration/support and phonation. A lot of voices have become disconnected in this technical sense over lockdown, and we are all having to do a lot to reconnect body with sound. But the word connection also brings connotations of meaningful social contact. A connected voice can be thought of one in which sound acts as an effective conduit for expression, or one that has a vibrant and effective relationship with other voices in an ensemble. (Actually, relationship with the ensemble is another fruitful meaning for the integrated voice too.)

Useful as these ideas are, I keep coming back to the idea of balance, though. It is on the face of it a less vivid metaphor, but it’s one that keeps giving. It works analytically as a way to consider all kinds of different aspects of singing – vocal/technical, sonic, and psychological – and I’ll look at this in the next two posts of this series. It also works holistically as a way of conceiving the relationship between those analytical elements, which I’ll move onto in the last one.

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