Day 7: Ping-a-ling

I’m honoured that people are reading/watching the #sfh blog/vlog and grateful for all the feedback and questions. Today, I’m attempting to shed some light on how opera singers sing so loud. It’s not just a question of sheer volume – opera singers are not miked or amplified so it’s about producing the right tone and quality to be heard in big venues and over large orchestras.

I wanted to address (in a Miranda’s mother-style) “the, what I call, ping and hoot”. But first, we need to understand a bit about resonance. I love talking about resonating surfaces and spaces because I have big ones (I’m a tall girl)!

If you imagine the body like a cello, it’s basically made up of sound boards and space for the sound to bounce around. So, we make a sound when our vocal chords vibrate together. That’s called phonation. That initial, core tone or sound then bounces around the spaces in the body and off the sound boards, or resonating surfaces.

Now we know more about resonance, we can find our ping. Ping – or “squillo” in Italian – is a tonal quality that we can achieve by bouncing the sound in the nasal cavity. The nasal cavity is located behind the nose and eyes. Think of the space behind the bridge of your nose. To access this particular resonance, try talking in a high-pitched American accent or laughing like a witch. You’re not necessarily trying to make a nice sound, just to create a really focussed, clear one. This is the tone that will carry, like a laser beam, across a distance and over an orchestra.

Next, the hoot. The hoot is how I describe the result of bouncing your sound off all your other resonating surfaces, especially those lower in the body – the mouth, then down into the chest and back. It should feel like you’re making a broader noise. It’s less focussed and you might feel different parts of your body tingling or vibrating when making the sound. It should feel quite soothing and most importantly, it will feel different for everybody since our differing physiological make-ups will determine which spaces and surfaces are most accessible.

To sing opera – to be heard from the back and over an entire orchestra but with feeling and character – we have to combine the ping and the hoot. We have to balance these qualities.

Explore the limits of what you can use within your body to help you create sound. That is what makes us all different and gives us distinct vocal qualities. By having a greater awareness of our bodies and the available resonating spaces and surfaces, we can choose which to use and when to add the right emotion or colour to a performance.

Thank you so much for watching. With the uncertainty of COVID-19 and around what the future brings for me as a singer, checking in every day on specific aspects of he art form gives me a sense of purpose and teaches me more about myself and my craft. This opportunity (or operatunity!) is a gift. Thank you.

Stay cheered, stay healthy and lots of love xx

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