Alchemic Vocal Placement
“Particles are merely local condensations of the field: condensations of energy dissolving into the underlying field”. “All forms are associated with processes, all interrelations with interactions and opposites are unified through oscillations “– The world is sound.
I had a great teacher who mentioned to me all the time that singing was really about coordination. I remember that at the time I didn’t fully capture the essence of this statement, but now, after many years of practicing, researching and teaching, I believe I do. There are so many technical components in singing, but the most important thing is how we coordinate all of them to make the alchemy happen.
I have the understanding, under experience, that when a teacher points out a technical aspect, there is a tendency to focus, for a while, on that aspect and then logically create an imbalance. But this is only normal, just as in quantum theory the electrons change their routes when being observed: the simple act of observation affects the results. Attention brings about awareness, which also brings about some sort of interference inevitably, but that is the real essence of continuous change and evolution.
In this post I would like to discuss the contingencies of vocal placement and sprinkle this subject with a bit of my magic wand! The expression "vocal placement" is a translation of the Italian impostazione della voce. I have received all kinds of different information about placement along the years, or even non-placement for that matter: “behind your eyes”, “behind the back of your head”, “behind your upper teeth”, "don't target anywhere, just shoot it out", etc. I will use some of these expressions once in a while in my studio depending on what kind of voice I am facing. What I have come to the conclusion is that if one emphasizes too much a certain placement of the voice, there will eventually be a forced or constricted quality to the sound (not necessarily in a bad way, but certainly dabbling vocal aesthetic issues).
On the other hand, I also believe that if there is no direction, but total freedom, the effect on the voice will not result in bel canto singing, but something else, or it can result in too much pushing and blowing air. “Classical singing” which really is born in the bel canto tradition has an affect, meaning, it is affected upon, molded in such a way that perspires a very specific quality which distinguishes it from other styles of singing. And here we can enter a very subjective field where aesthetics also come into place.
According to Richard Miller the concept of placement is most effectively used as an imagery meant to help the singer discover resonance through sensation. Miller goes further to mention that Imposto “expresses the more general concept of resonance in singing as a result of appoggio”. To Miller the Imposto technique is in fact resonator coupling and relies on the combination of both pharynx and mouth as center sensations.
Personally, I like to talk about the idea of balancing forces (a bit inspired by Miller) as “all forms are associated with processes” [read initial quote]. I use what I named “The 7 arrows of movement for resonance and register balance”, which a lot of times are based on opposing forces (even sometimes related to antagonistic anatomical musculature). These allow movement as per the name, and don’t convey so much the idea of stagnation, as “placement” might. Because when you place something, it almost implies a fixation, which I prefer not to associate with singing. I love the idea of movement when thinking about singing, as I wrote in a previous article called “make your voice dance” which you can refer to in my blog, as I also love the bel canto “affect”, so I rather conjure it up [the placement] in my magic melting pot as a combination of moving “affects”. These derive from practical experience and creative/fun teaching ideas born in my studio.
Placement is essentially acoustical balance, providing laryngeal stability. I use a lot of imagery and movement in my teaching and these movements (as you can see in my drawing) combined with a drop of the jaw (+ pelvic and breathing diaphragm) and a semi-closed mouth help thread the voice (getting it on the right track, permeable to move up and down without any audible shifts or quality changes), lifts the soft palate, stabilizes the larynx and balances both the chiaro (bright) and the oscuro (dark) qualities of the voice.
All of this ultimately culminates in the vault-like form of the pharynx that Garcia mentioned in his Art of Singing treatise. These opposing movements help to keep the resonance calibrated, neither here nor there; this is how I "alchemically" use the idea of placement. The word alchemy derives from the greek word “chymeia” which means mixture. Alchemic Placement is then a combination of moving forces that balances out the resonance to conjure up an enthralling voice, a beautiful calibrated mixture that can move the heart.
If you would like to experience this bit of magic, come have a voice lesson at the Vocal Alchemy Studio!