Singing From the Mind

April 3, 2014

Louis Quilico was a Canadian baritone who passed away too early at the age of 75. He approached music, interestingly, by remaining silent. In 1955, after turning down an offer from the Metropolitan Opera (knowing that he wasn’t quite ready), he had an offer from San Francisco Opera. His first thought? I’m going to really have to learn how to sing. He had 6 months. There was an empty room where he lived and he would go into that room and just stare at the white wall (standing about 3 feet from it), meditating on how to sing. He did this every day for 3 months, for at least five to six hours a day. He famously claimed that this was how he learned the basics of how to sing. If you were to take voice lessons with him, he would tell you straight away that you likely would not phonate even once with him in the first 6 months of lessons. He said that, “You have muscles that are obstructing. You have to eliminate these muscles. How? There’s only one way we can do it. Thinking (knowing) where they are and eliminating them, because we should be master of our body” (Great Singers on Great Singing by Jerome Hines). These thoughts resonated true with me the other day in my lesson. I was working on a particularly difficult upper passage in Butterfly and my voice teacher looked at me and said, “You don’t sing from here (pointing at her throat), you sing from HERE (pointing towards her mind)!” Truth. This is a very difficult concept for me to grasp. I am a bit of a control freak. I like to be in control, I kind of need to be or else I feel a little bit anxious. At least when it comes to singing. I don’t love the vulnerable feeling that comes with a free sound, because I feel like I am not in control. Ultimately it is all about trust. We have to trust our instrument, our technique, our muscle memory. Mr. Quilico and my teacher are both completely right, we sing with our minds. We can think a note and be on the right pitch. No problem. We do not have to engage our larynx and try to create the sounds from our throats. It is completely mental. You cannot sing a beautiful high B or C if you are trying to control them from your throat. It is just not possible. You have to let the voice go where it wants and embrace the feeling of reckless abandon on those upper notes. Before singing Donna Elvira recently, a colleague looked at me and asked ‘where do you feel your high B?’ and I stared at her for a second before putting my hand about 2 inches above the top of my head. If I am singing a good B or C (in my upper register), I don’t feel it. I am barely aware that I am even producing a sound at that point. Those are good moments. But those are also incredibly vulnerable moments. We have to feel all of our notes like that… we have to learn how to seamlessly incorporate the music and the feeling into one streamlined sound, completely leaving the larynx and the throat out of the mix. My latest mission. SO psychological. So challenging. So necessary. Until the next! Xo, De.

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