Repercussions of Uniqueness for the 21st Century Vocalist

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In 2004 Californian singer and harpist Joanna Newsom, released her first album The Milk Eyed Mender with a vocal approach that features many child-like qualities with glottal fries and vocal squeaks, which are at times rather unwieldy. This great start to her career later resulted in her getting nodules, which required surgery. As part of her recovery she worked with a speech therapist and vocal teacher to regain her voice and be able to sing safely again. The result, heard on her latest CD Have One On Me (2010), is a dramatically different vocal sound, with qualities that are richer in her lower register, restrained with less overall constriction or affectation. Ironically, vocalists that aim to construct a new sound based on their perception of what is required in the industry, actually often become/are derivative. There ends up being a process of deconstruction with regard to affectations, embellishment, manipulation of tone in order to discover the essence of their voices’ abilities and tone colour. This paper will examine the idea of uniqueness and its place in contemporary vocal practice, training, education and the industry. It will also explore the impacts on longevity, vocal damage and possible limitations as well as strategies for the contemporary vocal teacher. The idea raises other questions of vocal construction and its meaning, as well as the question of whether the pathways to these vocal sounds also employ good vocal OH&S practices.

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