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  • Writer's pictureKaren Pauley

Week 1: Sing Space 16 Bar Challenge 2022

Last year I took part in the 16 bar challenge that was created by The Sing Space and OnlineMD. I found that this helped give me focus during a time when most things related to performing seemed out of my control. I was hoping that the start of 2022 would be different bu here I am again postponing and cancelling shows with no idea of when I will be performing live again. So I've decided to sign up for the new challenge.

I'm starting late on my first week as the songs are posted around 11am GMT on the Monday morning but I wasn't able to look at them until Wednesday afternoon. The first genre is Epic Symphonic Musical Theatre Ballad. I understand what this is but it's not a description I have ever used, though it's a great one. We get to choose between two songs:

The Pirate Queen - I'll Be There

Ragtime - Back To Before

The songs are provided in two keys, so you don't have pick the one that was written for your voice type, but I have decided to go with the song from Ragtime as the role of Mother can fit with the my voice which isn't as bright as some younger MT voices. I have heard the song from Ragtime before but it would be a stretch to say that I know it. I enjoy getting exposed to new material and to have a reason to learn something new. I also love that the song requires a full tone and lots of emotion.

Each week there is a master class on the genre and this week's class was taught by Kate Batter. She talked about primal sounds and how these can help us to sing this sort of material with less effort, which is incredibly important as pushing your voice to get a big sound is a terrible idea. In my own work I'm going to use a "sigh" to help me get into "You were my sky..." so that I can bring the volume back down and give myself a lot of contrast before the ending phrase that contains the belt.

In songs like this, that can sound like legit material I can never really decide how much of a belt to give the ending. I suppose the most famous musical with this sound is Les Miserables. I want to describe it as contemporary legit. The notes, a C5 and an A4, suggest a chest belt which may sound harsh against the mixed sound that I am inclined to use for this type of song. Whatever I decide to do the ending if going to be loud, which means that I can't easily practice it in the evening. I can still, of course, practice elements of the song and leave out the big belted ending.

I'm not hugely concerned about the sound for the end of the piece as I know that the emotion will help me find a big sound but I am concerned about my breathing. Back To Before is an athletic piece to sing and having a cut of it seems harder as there is less time to get into the emotion that would drive the piece. It can be hard to find the arc of the story in the cut and find time to show the transformation that has happened in the character by the end of the piece. The cut is also longer than I was expecting as the bars are being counted in 1 and not the 3/4 it is written in.

In order to control my breathing and to stop me from pushing too hard I have been working on the ending using semi-occluded vocal tract exercises, mostly bubbling and puffy cheeks. I have tried the exercise where you are bubbling with your tongue out, as I know that at times my tongue retracts when I don't want it to, but I still struggle with that.

I have also been working on the timing. Singing with a track is difficult and I am a person that really enjoys dueting with a piano and want my voice to be on time. I struggle listening to singers who push and pull against the piano unless they are singing something like jazz that feels right like that. I also have problems hearing the track when I'm singing as using a speaker in my room doesn't really sound the same as a live piano and when I belt I can no longer hear anything but my own voice.

I am probably old fashioned but I don't like too many contemporary sounding onsets to be used in this piece. In some voices it sounds fine to start under the note or to offset with a glottal on some of the big notes, but I am not keen on there being too much of this. I'm also not keen on hearing people sing an vowel sound an octave below the belt to help their placement. I think this is a great technique to help with singing something like I'd Rather Be Me from Mean Girls, but I don't personally like it in this song.

As always, when learning a new song, something trips me up that I wasn't expecting. In this case it was the word "ocean". This contains an unvoiced consonant - sh - that I keep tripping over. I have been practicing forming the sh shape with my tongue and teeth and allowing a little air to escape. Before I added in the "sh" I practiced singing "o-un" as I was having problems with my jaw position and had been pushing too hard to try to sing through the unvoiced "sh", which is a terrible idea.

I don't like videos of my singing, but then I imagine that is true for most people. I hear the flaws and see all the funny faces I pull. All that being said, here is the video I submitted for week 1.

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