The Singer – A Musician’s Curse?!

A Quote by Patrick Rothfus.

A Quote by Patrick Rothfus.

Let’s get one thing straight before I get loads of complaints. Singers ARE musicians. We do a very good job at being musicians. The title is a bit pedantic, but I am trying to make a point here. I think it is about time that those of you who are not singers, need to understand our “ways”. Yes I know some of us throw tantrums, lash expensive mic’s to the floor, kick speakers, and walk out of rehearsals in disgust-never to be seen again, or in the nearest bar drowning our sorrows and saluting Freddy Mecury, et al: “why can’t I sing like them?”.

The first thing you need to remember my friends-is that the singers ego ,I am afraid, is pretty big.In fact it is huge. But I am going to tell you why this is so, and how to deal, in fact, help your singer friends make themselves work better at their ‘art’ for the sake of the band. Oh yes-in my 24 years in teaching and performing I have seen them all.I have witnessed the tantrums, and seen bands fall apart. Very good bands at that, splitting up because of heads being the size of Jupiter! ALL musicians have big ego’s, but the singers have the biggest, and occasionally they need a very good rubbing (if you get my meaning!). To be honest-the ego is always going to be there, and not going to go away, so, you just have to deal with it.  Read more… »

The Louis CK Effect: How Should We Fund and Distribute Art Music?

Don't worry, we'll put you in the Twitter seats... Yes, that's a real thing now...

Don’t worry, we’ll put you in the Twitter seats… Yes, that’s a real thing now…

I adore Louis CK. He is a comedian, has been working his butt off for decades, and is enjoying a successful career. His stand up acts are observational in nature, peppered with obscenity (but not defined by it), and just strange enough to pull you into the rabbit hole of his mind. His stage persona is a sort of “out-of-shape-everyman,” but he is best known within the entertainment industry for being a dedicated worker (like George Carlin, he famously refuses to repeat material), and he is brilliant at writing sketches that function on multiple levels simultaneously. And… he has gone into business for himself, cutting out the middle man, distributing a new DRM-free video comedy special directly through his website for $5. He made his first million dollars in under two weeks.

It is exciting to see someone in the arts take a chance and elegantly use the Internet to distribute their work. That his sales pitch includes digs against the corporations that usually underwrite, manufacture, and distribute these stand-up specials is revelatory, I think. (Read this quote from his blog.)  Read more… »

TCV Turns One Today… Our Most Popular Posts from 2011

happybirthdayOne year ago today, The Countertenor Voice published its first issue.  We have published around sixty articles on vocal technique and the singing life, as well as in depth reviews of recordings and artists.  THANKS TO EVERYONE who has read, shared, and commented on these pieces. Extra special thanks to my team of writers (Oliver CamachoNicholas TamagnaBryan DeSilva,Henry LebedinskyTai OneyFrank Richards, and Dr. Peter Hennen).  What a nice little countertenor community we have formed here  .

I want to re-share our top five most popular articles from 2011.  Maybe you missed them the first time around, maybe you will enjoy re-reading them now that some time has passed. Given how many active singers read this blog, I am not surprised that these articles are all practical pieces on how to be a better singer! I hope that you will look through all of our pieces from last year. Just click the category links in the menu bar.  Read more… »

Some Thoughts on the Nature of Stage Fright, a.k.a. How to Stand and Deliver

“WSUK… All day talk radio in my head… I suck!

For the many ways that the Matrix movies do not bear repeated viewings a decade on, their ability to distill eternal wisdom into whoa-esque one liners remains untarnished. Most issues related to technique and performance are solved when we step back from the actual point of struggle and frame the question correctly.  (Yes Neo, when you are ready, you won’t have to dodge the bullets.)  Stage fright is just such an issue. Debilitating and confusing, yes. Can we fight it in the moment?

There are tricks that calm the body and mind, but it is difficult to rationalize your way past the bio-chemical experience of The Fear.

The Fear laughs and sends another cold shot of cortisol through your tummy.   However, change your thinking toward the act of performance and the roles that both you and the audience play in that extended series of present moments, and the brain’s natural defense mechanisms will have no need to kick in.  In this article, I will unpack this idea and offer a few real world techniques for de-energizing the thought patterns that elicit the stage fright reaction.  Read more… »

The Vocal Soloist as Ensemble Singer


I think that this article by Bryan is extremely relevant to all you aspiring singers (and especially countertenors) out there. I myself, having sung with Chanticleer for four seasons, worked very hard to extricate myself from the world of ensemble singing, at least partially to justify my choice to leave the group. Throughout graduate school, I focused on cultivating a soloist’s vocal qualities. The irony is that I have made quite a good deal of money and had meaningful musical experiences singing one- (or two-) to-a-part versions of Bach’s Passions and Motets, Monteverdi’s Vespers, Purcell’s Odes and Verse Anthems, and the like. Had I not honed my ensemble skills in Chanticleer, I would not have been prepared for the solo career that followed. – editor

I recently won an audition for a well-known Bach cantata series. For part of the audition, I was asked to read music with a few singers in an ensemble setting.  The conductor knew I could sing an aria, but wished to know more about how I collaborated with other singers and instrumentalists.  Read more… »

Bergamo European Countertenor Competition Winners Announced

From South Africa, Christopher Ainslie, First Prize

From America, Andrew Rader, Third Prize

You may remember the story we posted several months ago announcing a new competition for countertenors. This ‘first of its kind’ competition just took place in Lugano, Switzerland from Sept. 8-11, 2011.

The Gianni Bergamo Classic Music Award was created to discover and encourag new young talent in various sectors of classical music. Gianni Bergamo, a retired CEO of various import/export, real estate, and finance companies in Switzerland and Italy, was originally a conducting and composition major in Milan at the Catholic University. Read more… »

Vocal Technique: An Organizing Principle for Singers, Part 1

He is totally thinking about his soft palate right now...

He is totally thinking about his soft palate right now…

What is the optimal approach to training the singing voice?

Right at the root of it, what are the ideal conditions for optimal tone production and what thought patterns best exploit the physiological strengths of the voice while de-emphasizing (or at least respecting) the inherent limitations?

Your Bandwidth is Too Narrow and Other Issues

Branches of the vagus nerve innervate the larynx. I am far from an expert in neurology, however, I feel comfortable pointing out that this nerve originates in the brain stem. This is an older part of the brain (evolutionarily speaking) responsible for a number of subconscious motor and sensory functions throughout the body (in the heart, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract, for example), in addition to controlling and providing sensory feedback from the pharynx and larynx. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that vocal function falls below the level of conscious thought. Animals with no (or little) neocortical brain structures (think an alligator or similar reptile that exhibits little capacity to ‘think’ in the human sense) are able to make sounds that serve to warn, encourage, define territory, etc. Read more… »

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall, in Vivaldi’s Griselda, and in Handel’s Messiah: A Review & Artist Overview

Countertenor Iestyn Davies. Photo Credit: Marco Borggreve.

Countertenor Iestyn Davies. Photo Credit: Marco Borggreve.

This summer, I was in one of the last great record stores in North America, (Manhattan’s Academy Records) and I came across both the Iestyn Davies 2009 recital at Wigmore Hall AND the 2009 Stephen Layton/Polyphony Messiah with Davies as alto soloist.  Earlier in that same visit to NY, the publicist for the sexy French record label Naïve gifted me the 2006 release of Vivaldi’s Griselda, boasting a freshman Iestyn Davies in the bit-role of Corrado. Either Handel on his heavenly throne was guiding me to listen to Davies, or I am easy prey for the marketing strategists behind this rising star countertenor.

The  two Corrado arias, the first a rage aria, the second a formulaic “love is a bird” aria (see videos to the left) show Davies’ voice to be very capable of  legato coloratura with a bright, appealing sound. However, he gets left in the dust by the principles in the cast, among them Philippe Jaroussky, Veronica Cangemi and Simone Kermes.   Read more… »