Warming Up: postscript

The choral, or group, warm-up is insufficient for the serious singer, who must find the time for a pre-rehearsal, private, personalized warm-up. The choral warm-up serves other purposes well, in ideal circumstances.

Each singer should report to rehearsal already warmed up, ready to function as a member of the larger vocal instrument. To do less awards to others (conductor, assistant conductor, etc.) a level of control and influence that should be prized and safeguarded as an individual right. Concurrently, the singer who arrives at rehearsal unprepared to offer his/her best singing does not contribute responsibly. Everybody loses.

Advertisements

Warming Up

Aside from “warming up” the brain (rediscovering that deeply energetic coordination that enables good singing), the vocal warm-up is about activating phonatory, articulatory and support-related muscles.

Know that as muscle fibers get warm, they become more fluid, so that they stretch and contract more rapidly. Both florid and sustained singing (florid singing on fewer and longer notes…more on that topic later) become easier. The rapidity factor is important, since the vocal cycle happens on average 100-500 times per second for men and approximately 300-900 times for women. Related muscles must be very responsive, indeed, for such a trick!

The core, supporting muscles of the torso and lower body must also be able to vary the intensity of their engagement nimbly and sympathetically, in order for the vocal apparatus to work at peak efficiency and freedom. For this reason, simple breath-related exercises (even non-vocal) can be helpful in warming up the body. What we call “support” or “appoggio” in Classical singing has to do not only with breath management, but with providing stability for the body, thus allowing easier engagement of the articulators, and enhancing the ease of performance on every level. In addition to these low support muscles, the vocal folds themselves and related muscles of the upper body need some warm-up time to reach optimum function.

Athletes in various sports require warm-ups of varying character, intensity and length; some athletes seem to reach peak (or at least functional) level more quickly than others. I think of the pinch-runner in baseball, who jogs out to first base on very short notice and does a few stretches on the spot. To be sure, that runner has executed a more complete and generous warm-up a few minutes or hours earlier.

Some singers warm up very quickly — so much so, that it may seem no warm-up exercises are required. Depending on the repertoire, it may be true that a well-functioning speaking voice will sufficiently enable the desired result. I have heard singers say that they don’t need to warm up; in my experience, Classical singers who make such a claim are usually basses. Other singers more nearly “grind down” their voice, instead of warming it up, by vocalizing too much, too aggressively, and/or with inappropriate thought.

Though some of us can reach a functional level of singing almost immediately (often depending on time of day and energy level), a singer typically finds that after a few minutes of singing, he/she will reach a higher level of comfort, flexibility and power. Each of us must determine how much warm-up is enough, and must never expect technical mastery, intelligence or extra effort to compensate for an ineffective warm-up.

Advice to Artists from a Novelist/Critic/Academician

Revered author C.S. Lewis penned these words: “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

For those of us who are committed to being authentic and avoiding cliché, this is liberating and empowering advice.

Our calling to be creators and re-creators is guided by respect and love of the truth. The performing artist seeks artistic truth in word and music, and personal truth finds its way into the performance. Inspiration and preparation — in its various forms — allow that performer to deliver the truth through his/her own lens.

Mature artists and students alike must choose to seek truth in art and in themselves. Truth is a beautiful thing, though it may seem ugly, coarse or even repulsive. Singers must find that broad range of expressive potential in their voices — literally and artistically.

This brilliant quote is my favorite excerpt from C.S. Lewis. It surely bears further analysis, contemplation and application…