This Is A Voice

What is good singing? Dr Irene Bartlett chats to vocal trainers Gillyanne & Jeremy about vocal health, technique & style

October 31, 2022 Jeremy Fisher and Dr Gillyanne Kayes with Dr Irene Bartlett Season 6 Episode 9
This Is A Voice
What is good singing? Dr Irene Bartlett chats to vocal trainers Gillyanne & Jeremy about vocal health, technique & style
Show Notes Transcript

What is good singing? Singer and pedagogue Dr Irene Bartlett joins vocal trainers Gillyanne & Jeremy to talk about good singing, function and style.
It’s an honest conversation between vocal trainers separated by 10,000 miles but together in spirit.

  • Is it divisive to separate classical, CCM and Musical Theatre music? Irene has a great one-sentence answer to this (2.40)
  • Is there a difference between classical singing lessons and musical theatre singing lessons? How do classical singers react to their first heavy metal, or newbies react to their first opera? It’s a fascinating part of the conversation about vocal technique, sound output, performing environment and genre.
  • What happens when you look at a spectrogram of a classical versus a contemporary singer? (5.36 onwards)
  • What do a lot of acoustically trained singers get wrong about working with a mic? (8.10)
  • And what does Irene do first in a singing lesson (that Gillyanne and Jeremy applaud her for)? (10.30)
  • Which “standard” MT vocal technique does Gillyanne think needs a flight correction? (11.19)
  • And why does Jeremy think your “vocal look” isn’t relevant in Musical Theatre but is relevant in CCM? (16.45)

Tune in to find out!

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Jeremy:

What is good singing?

Irene:

Good singing for me is, does not depend on style. If the singer, if it's a healthy voice, if the singing is free and meaningful to that singer, if they are expressing themselves with their voice, then that is good singing. I do, Health is important for me and it's probably cuz of my age, but, I can st I can still out sing a lot of my 18 year olds and I say to them and they say, How can you do that, at your age? And I go, I know how to play my instrument. So I really, my, my philosophy is function, understand the function, and then you've got function and style. You marry the two. It's a really good marriage, and it lasts for a long time. But if you just go for style or you just go for function, then you, then that's probably ended up in divorce,

Jeremy:

This is a Voice, a podcast with Dr. Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher. This is a voice. Hello and welcome to This Is A Voice Season six, episode nine.

Gillyanne:

The podcast where we get Vocal about voice.

Jeremy:

I'm Jeremy Fisher.

Gillyanne:

And I'm Dr. Gillyanne Kayes. And today we have with us our very dear friend and colleague, Dr. Irene Barlett. So should we say good day or good evening, Irene.

Irene:

Just g'day.

Gillyanne:

G'day. Okay,

Jeremy:

G'day Irene.

Gillyanne:

I want to try and get this right. You are associate professor and head of contemporary voice at Griffith University, which is also the Queensland Conservatorium. You are head of pedagogy and head of jazz, and you are running a masters in Vocal pedagogy there amongst the teachers.

Irene:

Yeah, I'm the head of jazz voice because it's, we, it's a, it's an umbrella term. His umbrella, sorry, program. And the singers are the biggest cohort within the jazz area, but we're all under the one umbrella. So in other words, our, the singers are the Vocal instrument in the band. That's how they're treated. So they have to do everything that the musicians do. Yeah.

Gillyanne:

Yeah. And we've had the pleasure of seeing those classes in action.

Jeremy:

We've been there,

Gillyanne:

which is amazing. So I tell you where I'd like to go next, which is interesting I hope, and this is gonna be a bit contentious for some of our listeners. I'm gonna say that, you know, some people are now saying we no longer need to use these labels of CCM and I'm not gonna say classical, I'm going to say Western Lyric Music. And that to use the different labels is divisive. Tell me why you think, cuz I think you do think, why do we still need to differentiate between these types of music?

Irene:

Because the musics differentiate themselves. Your ears tell you that you are listening to something different. And I'm, that's even within contemporary, we don't have to call it CCM, you don't wanna call it that contemporary commercial music, Jeannette Lovetri's term. It just was a nice, at the time, it gave us something to hang around, whereas before it had been, you know, the pejorative, non-classical, which is always a bit of a downer. So, um, but you know, Call it contemporary music to popular music, I don't care what people call it, but basically within contemporary music, There are so many styles, and the listening audience knows the difference. Yes. They know if they're listening to rock or R&B or jazz or pop or blues or dance or house or, electronic music, electronic, whatever they call it techno there's so many different styles. And then if you look at classical, you've got so many different styles within classical as well. But there, the big difference is that line where, classical appears to be more, should we say, sung in the, the legato line and the melodies carrying through, and it's all about melody. And in contemporary, it's not about those things. So for me we have to, we can't just say it's all Well, sorry. We can, it's all music and God help us. I just wish that all young singers listen to all music, but. But that's not the case. And so, if you, if you play some of the like, heavy metal stuff or rap to someone who's only ever trained in classical, it's like nails on a blackboard and vice versa is exactly the same. If you play high end opera to someone who's never, they go, Oh my God, they're screaming. I think they are different. I think they're different. And therefore we need say that.

Jeremy:

We've said this for years, that you have different goals. Uh, You have different voice productions, you have different situations. You have

Gillyanne:

different performing environment for heaven's sake, one is acoustic and the other is largely non acoustic. Yeah,

Irene:

exactly. Exactly.

Jeremy:

Also different band, different instrumentation, different things that you are singing with or competing against.

Irene:

And the, you know, the reason that contemporary And I'm gonna use the word commercial cause it's what earns money and what what earns money on streaming and recordings as well as live. But basically, the reason that singers have to, and I ban my singers from not using it, they have to use a microphone. Even, they can, they practice all their scales. They practice all their actual technical work off mic. But the minute they get onto a song that I put them on mic, even in my studio, and the reason being I don't want them to oversing. And what happens is the minute you bring in all those electronic instruments, we know that basically especially with recorded music, it's all compressed into that, around that two kilohertz range where it hits the ears the best, But that's just where the voice lives. So you get on the stage with a whole lot of electronic instruments with without it, if you're not careful, you'll start to constrict to hear yourself better, to yell. So by having a pa having foldback, that stops that happening. And that's very different from classical singing, I very much appreciate the classical singers singing over in orchestra. That's a huge amount of sound, but again, if, being boring with voice science, but if you study, if you look at a spectrogram of two contemporary singer and a classical singer, you'll see that there's, their formants are very different. They gather very differently, cluster very differently. And and that's because the contemporary singer doesn't need to maintain across the top of the orchestra. But once the orchestra sounds starts to diminish, the classical singer can also follow that down. Whereas a contemporary singer that never diminishes, electronic instruments just stay there. So it's a very different, that's very different thing.

Gillyanne:

That's really fascinating. I mean, It's great for me to have that explained. And I think it's also really useful for teachers who are, cuz so many teachers that we work with are working with contemporary styles, because that's what people wanna sing now. That at some point, you need to be working with the microphone and you need to be working with a sound system.

Irene:

If you don't, this is the problem that I see that we've got a lot of contemporary good contemporary teachers. Now we've got contemporary studios. But if you never put your students onto a PA and they've gotta go out and do a gig, and the first thing they do is put them onto a microphone, then they'll oversing, which means then the sound technician or maybe someone in the band, or it may be someone out the front on a desk, will immediately turn them down. And so therefore it becomes more and more detrimental to their Vocal health to have to, they're constantly trying to push across the top of all this electronic music. If you get singers used to pa very early in the piece, and so I used to do it with my little babies in that performance school, we'd have what we called mic time, and they, it was a treat. They got rostered on and they could get up and sing on the microphone, which is very exciting for them. But it was a way of showing them that once you're on a microphone, you have to let that do some work. You don't have to sing really loud. You know, um, So you can actually save your voice. Cause I say if you're a gig singer, you're singing 3, 4, 5 hours. I still get annoyed, very annoyed actually, when I hear someone say, Oh, but contemporary singers can use a microphone, they don't really need sing. I'm sorry. And what a PA does, what a sound system or as it's called, live sound reinforcement, what it actually does is just amplifies what you're putting into it. So we're not talking about in studio.

Jeremy:

Or shit in, shit out.

Irene:

Exactly. I teach my singers, I teach them um, a lot acapella actually. Um, I want them to be trust their own ear and be able to pitch and basically be able to adjust to what's going on around them. Um, but it's not, it's not about, with belters, it's all, they always think it's about singing bigger, but we don't want the, all that pressure behind the Vocal folds. We want resonance to do the work. So, you know, So you put them on microphone and all of a sudden they go, Oh, it's too loud. And I go, Well dial it down. Yeah, I'll turn the PA down. No, No, It stays. It stays where it is. You have to adjust.

Jeremy:

You're working too hard.

Irene:

Yeah, exactly.

Jeremy:

But this is really interesting because for me it's the same in musical theater training because how many musical theater performances in the world now are not amplified?

Irene:

They're ALL amplified.

Gillyanne:

They're all going through a sound system.

Irene:

They're all. Even the rep... Even the schools, high schools.

Jeremy:

Yeah. So why are you not teaching people on a microphone? Because they're gonna be singing and people are going, I must sing louder. I must sing louder because whoever it is sings so loud and I'm going stop doing that.

Gillyanne:

They're taught to project acoustically, it's, it drives us potty.

Jeremy:

It's nonsense. But first of all, You're doing eight shows a week and two rehearsals possibly. Yeah. Yeah. And you are screaming your socks off and you are gonna run outta stamina. And frankly, exactly as you said, the sound engineer at the back is just gonna go too loud, turn it down,

Gillyanne:

and it's a massive

Jeremy:

And what a waste of energy.

Gillyanne:

A massive Vocal load.

Irene:

Yeah, absolutely. And I, I just think that, you know, I see like you guys, I work with a lot of professional performers. When they, when the shows are touring Australia and they come into Brisbane, they, it'll be the musical director or the director of the show will send them to me and say, can you get them ready? They're doing a, a cover at the moment, but we want, we need them on stage. Um, Or the singing, you know, the lead's leaving us and we need them to take over and you've got six, five or six lessons to get them to that point. And, And honestly, I, my strategy is to listen to them. Always listen first. I listen to all my singers first. I don't put them through exercises. I just listen to 'em sing so I can make some sort of judgment call about what it is they want.

Jeremy:

We're giving you a little silent round of applause here.

Irene:

But what they wanna do and what they, what they are doing. And I'm looking for the good in what they do. I'm always looking for the good in what someone's doing and then go, Okay, so that's good. So how can I enhance that? What can I do? And with music theater singers is the first thing I do is tell 'em, do you know to stop pinning me to the wall? Mm-hmm. There's only me and you in the room. I don't, I need you to tell me a story. I'm interested in your story. I'm not interested in the fact that you can sing loud.

Jeremy:

Yes,

Irene:

...ly.

Gillyanne:

Yeah. So yeah, I think there's been, I mean, this is us being contentious. I, I think there's sort of been a, a path that people have gone down in musical theater, particularly in the uk and I think maybe you're experiencing the same thing in Australia. That I think needs a bit of a, a flight correction. And I, I really hope that flight correction is going to come.

Jeremy:

I think that my, my concern in a way is that they, it's a very, it's being touted as a very limited palate of sounds. Which is you must belt, you must legit, and you must twang the hell out of everything. Here's my mix this

Gillyanne:

and here's that.

Jeremy:

And I'm going, You stick that amount of twang down a microphone and it's horrible because the, those upper frequencies, those, those

Irene:

um,

Jeremy:

upper partial just actually take over and

Irene:

um,

Jeremy:

so

Irene:

I'm,

Jeremy:

I'm with you.

Irene:

And it's just so easy. Like, so with the pedagogy program I run, we get singers, we get everything from classical, music theater, pop, rock. We don't care. They come in, they wanna teach, and they might wanna only teach in their area. They might wanna just teach rock or teach. We make them do everything. And the reason is I say to them, You need to know what your student feels like. So you are the student in these. We give them one to one lessons that's quite rare in pedagogy programs. So everything they learn in theory, in lectures, they have to put on their own voice. Um, And it, and includes different styles. The ones that are hardest to turn around, to be honest with you are the music theater trained singers. Because everything wants to be that super, super twang, high, higher larynx, so that you get you know, not letting the larynx just sitting neutral. It's just, it's all about getting that everything pingy and forward and mm-hmm. and I love all of that. We need that. But I always say to them right now, can we bring that back? You know, can we do, How about we take all the twang out? That's impossible for them, but let's take all of that ring twang out and sing with a really, let's all see with a very bad cold, And they think I'm nuts. But over the course of the program, it's the music theater kids, Oh, I shouldn't say kids are all adults. Some of them are in their fifties. But all those students basically amazed. Amazed at the fact that there's more than one sound that they, one tonal colour. We get them to try and experiment with timbre, timbral colours and not just get stuck into that bright sound. But I'm with you, Jeremy. I think that. It's sort of become the demand of the industry. Yeah.

Gillyanne:

The thing of industry sounds, but

Jeremy:

hang on, there's the difficulty, which is when you just have that relentless ping in, frankly, whatever style, you lose humanity.

Gillyanne:

Oh, you can't hear the voice.

Jeremy:

Yes. You can't hear the person. You can't hear the person, you can't hear the voice.

Gillyanne:

Yeah. I want to hear the person. Everybody's voice is individual and Yes, EQ and all of the, that, you know, sometimes removes that. And I, I understand that's part of the genre in certain situations. It's not particularly for me. I really love individual voices that what, that is what excites me.

Irene:

But, and we all know when we see someone that's really a performer that's really exciting and just, especially as a teacher, you forget to analyze. That's when I know I'm hearing that person, that I'm not stopped thinking about what they're doing and I'm just, Hearing what, hearing them. And generally it's a lot to do with storytelling, of course, and the ability to be in the moment. But yeah, I just, I just agree with you totally. I just think that um, unfortunately you've got these, the same thing happening with you rock singers and that where they're just told to yell and uh, constrict and whatever. All they're doing is having a very short career where actually, you know, I've taught heavy metal singers who are fabulous singers, but they know how to use effects. You know, Just use those things as effects. and, and we do have the beauty of a microphone so we can fool around a bit with effects.

Jeremy:

And we are talking variety. We're not, we are not saying don't make the but we are talking variety of some kind.

Irene:

Oh, look, if you're in um, Legally Blonde, Then you're going to make that twangy. And if you're doing an American Bronx accent, of course you're gonna be there. But, we don't really wanna hear that if you're doing, Sunday in the part with George or, you know, I just don't wanna hear that.

Gillyanne:

We often say to people if we're talking about twang, my twang isn't your twang.

Irene:

I love that.

Gillyanne:

If you really know how to do, you know how to see something on a spectogram, there will be slight differences because everybody's voice is individual. So we're not talking about pasting on a colour. So, you know, If we're taking that example of singing Elle in Legally Blonde, and we're going for that um, you know, those sort of accent patterns if you like, or dialect patterns and the colour of the voice I still wanna hear the singer inside that voice.

Jeremy:

Mm-hmm.

Gillyanne:

I don't just want to hear the colour.

Irene:

But I wanna hear a palette of colour. are, you, If you're painting always in oils or you're always painting in pastels, You're limiting your ability to... now what, what happens in between? Can you, can we just use that as an example? But, is does every colour have to be heavy? Does every colour have to be bright? No, you can morph your way through. And a lot of that comes from the emotional connection, I always find too. If they're telling a really honest story.

Jeremy:

I think it's really interesting and in, in a way it's why we separate musical theater out from pretty much every other genre. There are some, there are certain,

Gillyanne:

Look, she's nodding everybody. Please go and watch YouTube and see Irene nodding.

Jeremy:

Okay. So in most contemporary commercial styles you are, you're praised for a particular, I'm gonna say it's like a "Vocal look". You're praised for being within that genre, within that style, within that niche.

Gillyanne:

Is that fair?

Irene:

Yeah. And you basically, if you're in pop or any of the really commercial styles you have to have, it's your, it's the idiosyncratic elements of that you bring to your voice that are generally a reflection of personality or culture or upbringing or, it's that rawness that Adele sings with. When you hear a talk that's her Cockney accent and that's, that's in there, you know, she's not putting that on. And basically someone who's got a, you know, a, a much more refined, and I don't mean that in a good or bad way, but a more balanced registration, for instance. You don't, I don't wanna hear them trying to do what Adele does, I just think. In, In pop. You've got to have that thing that makes you different from everybody else. You've gotta be the new,

Jeremy:

I'm gonna say

Gillyanne:

signature I'm, It's the signature Elements isn't it?

Jeremy:

Hang on a minute though, because there, i i, in my head it's two separate things. Because there is, there's a genre or a niche a style niche within which you live because that's all of those people who love that niche will then buy your album.

Irene:

I'm With You. They have those elements that tell you it's that style. That's what we said about people having a name for it. Yes. You've gotta name it because they recognize it. Yes, absolutely.

Jeremy:

And within that niche, you've gotta have something that is distinctive. Without going outside that niche. Now, where it gets really interesting, and this does happen, is where you get somebody bringing niches together that are completely unrelated. And you go, Wow, that's it's almost like a circus act where you go, I've never heard that before. And that becomes really interesting. The thing is.

Irene:

And I'm hearing that less and less and less, Jeremy, unfortunately.

Jeremy:

Well this is the thing, cause it's, it's commercial.

Irene:

I think that what's happening now is that we've gone back to, like in the sixties, you had formulaic bands like The Monkeys, where they were just, it was, and it's almost like we're getting you this formula thing again in the two thousands where you have to fit into that box. So you have to do those things. And I think that's a shame because what's happened is there are, we're sort of going back to the future here, but there, I, there are no really pure musics anymore. It's, everything's a fusion. So you're usually a pop rock. Country, you know, you could be all three, you could have there, there are singers that I work with in Australia who are bringing a lot of classical elements into their pop singing. Yes. So there's no clear definitions anymore. And it's fusion music. Yes. It's like you bring with it what you've listened to and I guess your influences, you bring your influences.

Jeremy:

I think what's so interesting, totally agree with that. What I think is so interesting about musical theater is the separate category is that the job changes every six months. Yes. And therefore you are singing Legally Blonde, and then you're singing Phantom of the Opera, and then you're singing Grease and then you're singing whatever the you literally have to create a new palette when you change jobs. Yes. And often you are singing performances that night and rehearsing in the day with a completely different palette.

Gillyanne:

And that's, I think that makes it unique really. Because if I'm thinking about, and you, I'm glad that you said when you're looking at Western Lyric music, you know what's often called classical. It isn't just one genre.

Jeremy:

Mm-mm.

Gillyanne:

It's an umbrella term.

Jeremy:

Sure.

Gillyanne:

But I trained as a classical singer. And if I was singing something operatic, say 19th century opera, and I, I was singing handle, and I was singing Schubert, there's a common thread in the voice production.

Jeremy:

Mm-hmm.

Gillyanne:

And I think that, I mean obviously, you know, we, we could have a whole other conversation about which elements of voice production are common. Where do they diverge? After all, the voice is a voice at a certain point. Um, But I think that's very different for a musical theater singer.

Irene:

Well,

Gillyanne:

I think this is the point, this is another discussion.

Irene:

Yeah. I haven't had that discussion. I, I can said to your listeners, we haven't had this discussion, but in my pedagogy program I say that you have, if you're talking about genre, you really have the classical genre. You have the contemporary genre. And in the middle you've got music theater because it spans both.

Jeremy:

Yes.

Irene:

And And you're right Jeremy, those singers, we're asking more and more. Yes. Especially the females, that they can just morph from one to the other and what a huge ask, so yeah, I think again it's not something we've discussed, but I totally agree with you and I think there are, I've spoken to other colleagues at conferences and things, and we all seem to be coming to this realization if it's not a conclusion.

Gillyanne:

I mean, Jeanie Lovetri said it decades ago that it's a unique world, and I was so pleased to see um, recently published Elizabeth Benson's book. Yes. She talks in the introduction about how musical theater, it's, it kind of forms a bridge between the two. and I, you know, you've gotta walk across both sides if you're in musical theater.

Irene:

And again, we're back to the word commercial. The reason it, the reason those singers are having to do that is that then, Broadway needs to, if you're talking about Broadway theater or Drury Lane theater, it doesn't matter that you've got to get people in the theater. And we know what's happening with opera, And we, and by the way, jazz, my love, is that, I call it the high end of contemporary. And you've got the high end of classical, you've basically got this polarization where you've got, I went to a jazz concert with my showcase of all the students in the jazz course. And they were, I mean, these are 9, 17, 18, 19 year old, 20 year old at most uh, players. And then they're doing this amazing technical stuff. They, but the audience didn't understand a lot of what, you could tell. I was watching the audience and, you know, they didn't understand a lot of the improvised music and they lost interest. we have to realize that there are differences and we have to be able to realize that the majority of people who are gonna be working in our industry, the music industry, are gonna be people who can either cover star album star singers, and it's all about singers these days. Whoever hears instrumental music anymore? When I was growing up, all the big bands would have instrumental Cliff Richard's band always had solo albums out, you know, Sorry, band albums. Yeah. But you don't hear any of that anymore. It's all about the singer. And I just think that we've, I think it's harder and harder for teachers to really understand the instrument they're working with. To understand the personality of the person they're working with. To understand the goals and the aims of the person they're working with. It's not as easy as saying we're gonna teach you to, teach you how to bridge your two main registers. We're going to teach you how to add resonance. We're going to, it's not, it's always got to then be taken into style and go what? All of those things are important And they're, I call 'em the pillars of technique. You, you must teach people how to breathe for singing. But they're singing in the style they wanna sing.

Jeremy:

I was gonna say, which particular style of singing would you like to breathe for?

Gillyanne:

Absolutely. It's like, yeah, if you use flow phonation and you try to belt, you're in trouble.

Jeremy:

You're in trouble.

Irene:

we're gonna have to wrap this up cuz I'm loving this conversation, but I have a question for you, which is actually quite a big one, which is what is good singing? Thank you Jeremy.

Jeremy:

What is good singing

Irene:

good singing for me is, Does not depend on style. If the singer, if it's a healthy voice, if the singing is free and meaningful to that singer, if they are expressing themselves with their voice, then that is good singing. Health is important for me and it's probably cuz of my age, but, I can st I can still out sing a lot of my 18 year olds and I say to them and they say, How can you do that, at your age? And I go, I know how to play my instrument. my philosophy is function, understand the function, and then you've got function and style. You marry the two. It's a really good marriage, and it lasts for a long time. But if you just go for style or you just go for function, then you, then that's probably ended up in divorce, in that your voice won't just, will give up the ghost through age, through, change of uh, you know, I've sung through lots of different eras and the reason I could sing for 54 years of 53 years, 54 years continuously was because I was flexible enough to change, my voice could change the style. Mm-hmm. And people wanna listen to you. So, Yeah, I think it's good singing is healthy. We use the word free, we band it around all the time. But Unconstricted Okay. And connected. And the singers looks like they're really enjoying telling me the story they're telling and I don't care what their tone quality is, as long as it's a nice free sound. I mean This has been so fascinating, but we are gonna have to stop here because we are definitely gonna bring you back next time. There is so much to talk about. For the moment, thank you very much Irene and we'll see you next time. Bye. See you later! This is a voice, a podcast with Dr. Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher.