Yesterday, I got confirmation that the premiere of Toby Nelms’ Poole Psalms – previously scheduled for this weekend – is postponed. Toby is a brilliant composer and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning his creations and preparing to debut them. There are six psalms for which I’m the soloist and broadly speaking, three of them feel like traditional choral pieces while the remaining three are more contemporary and jazzy. As a classical singer, I’m conditioned to roll my Rs when singing but for the latter, it just didn’t feel right stylistically. So, I made the decision not to and it got me thinking about Rs in general.
When I started singing opera, I was taught the basic principles of the Italian method of singing. In Italian, there are clear rules about when to roll Rs. The should be rolled if they occur at the beginning of a word and also when they precede a consonant. I give the example of “ritorna” in which both Rs should be rolled. When an R occurs between two consonants – as in “amore” – we only flick it.
Rolled Rs are a great warm up (and one which my first opera teacher, Patricia Taylor highly advocates), as are lip trills (a bit like blowing a raspberry). Part of the reason they’re so effective is that they force you to use the tummy muscles you need for singing. Give them a go and then try them without engaging your tummy muscles. Go on – I defy you! I find it almost impossible.
Finally, I can’t finish a blog on Rs without mentioning Edith Piaf. I absolutely adore her and her guttural, French Rs give me goosebumps. Weird, I know, but I’m emotionally affected by certain sounds and I’m particularly drawn to more unique variations. What Edith does is called an uvular trill because… well, because she uses the uvular. Obvs.
As promised, there’s not a huge amount of science behind my musings. If you want more detail on any of it, there’s lots of information available online. It’s just nice to share my personal journeys of discovery at a time when I’m not able to exercise my extrovert tendencies and chat to people. It’s also a chance to shout about Toby’s brilliance and urge you to watch out for the rescheduled premiere in the hopefully not too distant future!