Thursday, January 17, 2013

Studying with Shirley Emmons

Paula Gaubert • She didn't talk about the cheekbones or lifting the soft palate with me, or glottal starting, etc. She talked about vowels. everything had to do with the vowels, the right vowel for the right mouth opening, based on the work of Bertin Coffin.

It was all very codified. You learned where your starting point was on her chart, there were green vowels (safe) and yellow vowels (still safe, but more risky) and red vowels (dangerous).

Each size of mouth opening had a number. For me, whom she placed as dramatic soprano on her chart, the mouth opening for the note E was size 10 or 11, (very big), and the best vowels for that note were Eh or uh (rather than ah); that was my favorite note; then F and F# went to a much smaller mouth (8 and 9) and the vowels much further forward (e/i/) - just that one placement of that one note changed almost everything for me, and very fast.

I thought it was all way to scientific at first - she made a bargain with me, I promised to do exactly what she said for six weeks, and only sing the repertoire she said, than after that, I could take it or leave it. I saw such amazing results so fast, I felt like I went from singing with always a walking on eggshells feeling, to a comfortable soft tennis shoes feeling. It had to do not with finding more space but finding which parts of the voice needed more space to be balanced, and which parts needed a narrower placement to be clear. Some voice teachers advocate only forward placement, others only want depth and space. She understood that there is an optimum placement (for clarity and beauty of sound, and also vocal health) that is slightly different for each note.

The next biggest change was to realise in the middle of my voice that b-flat, c and c-sharp needed to come way forward and have much smaller mouth, to make a clear and projected sound. It sounds like such a tiny little detail, and yet it had huge consequences.

I originally went to Shirlee because I heard Hei-Kyung Hong at the Met, in the Coregliano opera, at I found hers was the most perfect balanced sound, clear, projected, like magic, that I had ever heard live. It took me some time to track down her teacher, Finally a Korean baritone of a friend willing to share the Korean state secret... I feel that Shirlee's method work wonders in exactly the way I hoped it would, to get beauty and purity of tone, and lots more ease.

There were other methods she taught as well, she had a thing with the rubber bands, and pulling them to discover support, and lots of exercises for finding the chest voice and learning to mix it in. She also believed very much in holding the ribs out - I found that created tension, and was superfluous and told her so. I believed her magic vowels were all that one need for the breath to work perfectly, and I was able to prove that. She had many different approaches and was able to tailor them to the needs of the day. If one thing didn't work she would try another, but I came to believe in her vowels, and use them to this day.

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