Staying true to your vowel

What came first – the chicken or the egg?

What came first – the diction or the voice?

Sometimes singers can get so caught up with “making a beautiful sound” and “staying in the column” that we can modify our vowels to the point where they are pleasing to our internal ears but don’t ring true to an outside listener.

Guilty as charged.


Recently, I had the opportunity to work with soprano Nathalie Paulin in a Master Class setting. I had prepared a charming Fauré mélodie called “Le Papillon et la fleur” which tells the story of a poor flower who falls helplessly in love with a peripatetic butterfly.

The bulk of my time with her was spent perfecting the French [œ] (ie: Fleur) and ensuring that it wasn’t too open as I was entering my passaggio. To my internal ear, the[œ] sounded correct but was in fact too open . As a result, the word Fleur morphed into Flaarr – which I’m fairly certain is a) not cute and b) not french.

We trouble-shot this problem by simply mixing in more schwa while maintaining a very closed[œ] in front of the schwa back space. Once I was able to commit so singing a true vowel, not only did the word sound correct but the voice just popped into place. Quel miracle!

Nathalie encouraged all of us to treat our native languages as a second language – in other words, don’t get sloppy just because you think you know what you are doing! Know the notes, rhythms, use the consonance as band-aids to link your vowels together and then….let the baby go!

She also started using this wonderful phrase with us: “Dare to Air”. School is a place to explore – and you must love the imperfections that come before the final picture comes together.

The Quest is more important that the end result.

Hmmmm….I’m starting to notice a recurring theme in this singing business….





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