Once upon a time, I was a soprano.
And you know, it was actually pretty good.
For a while.
As young singers, our voices are so unformed, so untested, that any attempt to classify our voices is sort of wild. However, as musicians in America, we also feel forced to fit into the mold of academia. As a result, teachers and students alike can feel pressured to assign labels in order to audition for school productions, or to meet the choral requirements, or some other thing that’s just kind of the nature of the beast.
Honestly, I think as long as we all understand that voice type is a permeable thing, it’s not a huge deal. After all, there are a lot of technical skills you can learn without identifying as a certain voice type, or even because you identified as a certain voice type for a time.
Case in point: I am now a mezzo with high notes because I once sang soprano.
Of course, there’s a flip side to this (isn’t there always?). Because I spent so much time developing my head voice in an attempt to fit the soprano mold that ultimately didn’t suit me, I had a bit of an underdeveloped chest voice.
Once it became apparent that I was never going to be a citizen of soprano-land (at best, I would be able to get a work visa), the chest voice thing became unavoidable. It was also one of my biggest concerns about becoming a mezzo. What if no one can hear me down there? What if everyone asks me why I’m not singing soprano?
When I first started asking myself these questions during my vocal identity crisis, it was stressful. I would stew over these worries all the time. I stewed so much that eventually I did it in the car, which is where many of us who enjoy singing (trained or untrained), indulge ourselves and our voices.
My playlist shifts just like anyone else’s. At the time though, I was really big on a folk singer named Laura Marling. If you haven’t heard her, she’s pretty great. I especially enjoy her earlier work, which you can take a listen to below.
One day, as I’m listening to one of her records, I notice that some of her songs are really low and chesty (like the one above). Those songs weren’t the songs I normally sang along to. This particular day though, my voice type stewing and my car karaoke coincided, and I decided to give one of her lower song a shot.
At first it was awkward. It was like trying to write left-handed. But my teacher had already shown me in a lesson that I could sing low notes. All I had to do was find them for myself.
So after that, just about every day, I would sing along to Laura Marling’s lower stuff in the privacy of my own car. Paired with more technical practice and help from my voice teacher, the mechanics came to me pretty quickly. Much more quickly than high notes ever did.
Why do I tell you all of this? Well, for starters, I know there are probably a lot of you questioning your own voice types right now. To you, I want you to know that you’re not alone and that no matter what you decide, everything is going to be just fine.
I also bring this up because I worry that classical singers in particular can get caught up in developing the best “classical” technique, without considering what other genres have to offer. My personal experience taught me that music and singers of any genre can show us something helpful about our own voices. It’s just a matter of listening for it.
Have you questioned your voice type? What kinds of questions come up for you about it? What kind of music or singers in other genres could help you with any technical problems you may have? Classical singing may be a incredibly skillful art, but that doesn’t mean other genres don’t have skills to share too!