What makes a great soprano????

The following video is a wonderful overview of the types of soprano that exist in the world of opera. They come in all shapes and sizes, with varying timbres from bright to dark. They cover a vast vocal range and are used in operas from the 1600’s to present day. It explores what is needed to become a great soprano; demonstrating the need for the singer to be well versed in languages, stage deportment, and have a solid and flexible technique. Being a great soprano doesn’t happen over night. It takes years of schooling and waiting for the right opportunity to come your way. It has been said that “luck” is where preparation and opportunity meet.

The issue of fitness and strength are discussed quite a bit in this video. It is true, the singer is like an athlete. The muscles of the diaphragm and core are used at all times. The legs and feet must be strong enough to withstand the various sets and raked floors for hours at a time. The lungs, or “powerhouse” for the singer need to be strong, flexible, being able to expand in as little as a single second to accommodate the air needed to sing long, dramatic phrases. While it is true that singers should ovoid being overweight, the same is true for being underweight. As an adjudicator of numerous competitions and auditions, and as a private voice teacher, I have noticed a trend for the young female singer to be extremely thin. I find this quite dangerous. One is not capable of supporting the tone when one lacks strength and stamina in the body. The body is not free and flexible enough to engage the muscle system and take in the proper amount of air. I try an urge all my students to focus on strength of body, to exercise and eat properly. One doesn’t need to be model thin to be successful, however one does need to be strong and body “aware”.

The title of this video is “What makes a great soprano”? I believe the advice is wonderful for any voice type. Whether you sing opera, jazz, musical theater, country or rock, these principles will apply. Singing is extremely difficult and requires a life commitment. With proper training, dedication and of course, a beautiful and exciting voice, one should be able to enjoy many years of great singing.

Music lessons spur emotional and behavioral growth in children, new study says!

By Amy Ellis Nutt: The Washington Post

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Parents who have patiently sat through countless music recitals and questioned their sanity at encouraging all those trumpet or violin lessons need do so no longer. Even ear-splitting dissonance has an upside.

Music training not only helps children develop fine motor skills, but aids emotional and behavioral maturation as well, according to a new study, one of the largest to investigate the effects of playing an instrument on brain development.

Using a database produced by the National Institutes of Health Magnetic Resonance (MRI) Study of Normal Brain Development, researchers at the University of Vermont College of Medicine analyzed the brain scans of 232 healthy children ages six to 18 specifically looking at brain development in children who play a musical instrument. (The original study did not indicate specific instruments.)

“What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument,” said James Hudziak, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families, “it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control.”

The cortex, or outer layer of brain, changes in thickness as a child grows and develops. Previously, Hudziak and colleagues Matthew Albaugh and Eileen Crehan found relationships between cortical thickening and thinning in various areas of the brain responsible for depression, aggression and attention problems. This research, announced last month in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, was different.

“I wanted to look at positive things, what we believe benefits child development,” Hudziak said. “What I was surprised by was the emotional regulatory regions. Everyone in our culture knows if I lift 5-pound, 10-pound, 15-pound weights, my biceps will get bigger. The same is true for the brain. We shouldn’t be surprised we can train the brain.”

Because the study’s participants were all mentally healthy children, Hudziak thinks the positive effect of music training on those who are not could be significant.

“A kid may still have ADHD,” he said. “It’s the storm around it that improves.”

Inspired by his own research, and having never learned to play an instrument, the 56-year-old Hudziak decided to take viola lessons last year.

“I had this passion for health promotion in children, it seemed silly not to do it myself,” he said.

Though music isn’t his only health-related extracurricular activity — Hudziak also engages in regular exercise and meditation — he believes the viola lessons contribute to his overall wellness. They have not, however, contributed much to his overall playing ability — at least not yet. The sanguine psychiatrist had just one word for his viola skills:

“Horrible.”

Singing show tunes helps fight off dementia, Alzheimer’s disease: study

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BY David Harding
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Singing show tunes helps fight off dementia, Alzheimer’s disease: study
A recent research study found that those suffering from moderate to severe dementia did particularly well singing show tunes from movies and musicals such as ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Oklahoma!’ in group settings and had a marked improvement in their remembering skills versus those who simply listened during the sing-alongs.

The hills are alive with the sound of music, which could help people with Alzheimer’s stave off the effects of the debilitating disease.

A study by U.S. scientists has shown that the brain function of those suffering from dementia can be improved if they belt out their favorite show tunes.

Researchers working with elderly residents at an East Coast care home found in a four-month long study found that people who sang their favorite songs showed a marked improvement compared to those who just listened.

Among the songs sung during 50-minute sessions were hits from “The Wizard of Oz,” “Oklahoma!” and “The Sound of Music.”

The most improvement was among those sufferers with moderate to severe dementia.

Jane Flinn, one of the scientists involved in the study who works at George Mason University in Virginia, concluded singing was beneficial.

“Even when people are in the fairly advanced stages of dementia, when it is so advanced they are in a secure ward, singing sessions were still helpful,” she said.

“The message is: don’t give up on these people. You need to be doing things that engage them, and singing is cheap, easy and engaging.”

How to keep boys in choir when their voices change

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By Lindsey Bever February 13 at 5:12 AM, THE WASHINGTON POST

The world’s best boys’ choirs have been losing their sweetest sopranos earlier and earlier to puberty. Every choir director knows that the crack, croak or squeak from a young singer means the boy will soon have a different sound. Many boys never stick with it through this voice change to see where it takes them.

That’s why the Cincinnati Boychoir is partnering with researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to study the science behind boys’ changing voices and learn better ways to help them transition as singers.

“Many choral directors and voice teachers believe that the voice change is a primary reason for boys quitting singing as they enter puberty,” Christopher Eanes, Cincinnati Boychoir’s artistic director and co-author of the upcoming study, told The Washington Post in an e-mail. “Who can blame a boy who, when singing, becomes uncomfortable for a time, follows his friends to the football team, never to look back at his musical career.”

“When one thinks about the fact that boys’ voices in the 18th century changed at 17 or 18 years old, and now they change around 12 or 13 years old, one can only conclude that boychoirs are heading for extinction,” he added.

Later this month, researchers will begin to study the physiological, aerodynamic and acoustic changes that happen when boy singers hit puberty. Some 20 Cincinnati Boychoir members from ages 5 to 11 will participate in the study, which is expected to last about two years. The boys will speak and sing in a sound booth, and researchers will examine their larynxes and voice boxes to see how they change during certain tasks, co-author Alessandro de Alarcon, an ear, nose and throat doctor at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, told The Post.

Over time, the researchers said, they hope the study will shed more light on how the male voice changes during puberty, particularly in vocalists, so voice teachers will know how to intervene to help them move into their adult voices.

“My personal hope is that we can, on some level, anticipate voice change stages in order to assign the appropriate voice part for a boy, or to design appropriate vocal exercises to strengthen certain aspects of the singing voice,” Eanes said. “Overall, anything we can do to make the voice transition more comfortable for boys will help us as teachers and conductors.”

SINGING WITH A COLD

Singing With a Cold

by Anthony Jahn, M.D.

CLASSICAL SINGER

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It’s most singers’ nightmare. Two days before an important engagement, it begins: the stuffy, itchy nose; the headache; and the congestion. A cold is on its way, and your engagement cannot be canceled. You know the cold will usually run its course in a week—but you must sing now, and make the best of it. What to do?

Short of canceling (a wise choice, if it is an option), you can do several things to make the course of your infection shorter and less severe, and lessen its impact on your voice.

Colds are caused by rhinoviruses. Normally transmitted by physical contact or the aerosol droplets of a sneeze, these viruses can survive outside of the body for up to 72 hours—you don’t need to be infected in real time by someone with a cold.

As the name implies, rhinoviruses have an affinity for your nose. Typically, they begin the infection by attaching themselves to the mucous membrane in your nasal passages. There, they start to multiply and the clinical symptoms begin. Rhinitis progresses to nasal congestion, postnasal drip, then laryngitis, cough, and possibly, bronchitis.

What can you do once the viruses have landed?

Everyone has his or her favorite routine for dealing with a cold. I would like to give you some of mine, and, if the show must go on, some tips on singing with a cold.

Numerous scientific studies have shown that zinc can help. Zinc gluconate tablets, or nasal swabs (such as Zicam), when wiped over the infected mucosa, can be beneficial. Zinc not only shortens the duration of the cold, it also lessens the severity of the symptoms, and (attention choral singers) shortens the period during which you are contagious. Zinc seems to work only once the cold has begun, however—it has no preventive effect, so you don’t need to take daily zinc prophylactically.

If your nose is not too congested, you should begin (or increase) using saline nasal spray or irrigations. You can find many manufactured solutions at the drug store, but I recommend a Neti pot with lukewarm saline that you make up yourself. Why? It’s cheaper and easier.

Unlike Zinc, vitamin C does have some preventive effect. Whether you take vitamin C preventively or not, you should increase your intake once the cold has started. I recommend 4,000 mg in divided doses daily, though some physicians recommend even more. Since vitamin C is water soluble, you won’t poison yourself with excessive amounts—it is simply excreted in the urine. Side effects however may include mild diarrhea and heartburn.

Echinacea and goldenseal are two herbs often recommended for treatment of a cold. Again, you should take them once you have a cold. Whatever benefit they may confer, they do not prevent inoculation of the virus.

OK, you’ve done all you can, yet the cold continues. What to do, what to avoid?

As much as possible, avoid antihistamines. Antihistamines, especially the proprietary mixtures such as DayQuil or NyQuil, are very drying and make phonation difficult. Decongestants such as Sudafed, on the other hand, are a bit drying, but the benefit may outweigh the negative effect. Inhaling warm steam before the performance is helpful, perhaps with a drop or two of eucalyptus oil in the pot. This soothes the upper airway and loosens sticky mucus.

From the vocal point of view, your difficulties will be on the top and in the passaggio. Swelling and thick mucus on the vocal folds affect the top, and irritation of the pharynx affects the passaggio. This may require you to push, to muscle the voice more than usual. Support may also be affected, especially if you have chest congestion and are dealing with a cough.

When singing with a cold, it is important to be aware of support, and also to realize that you may temporarily need to use suboptimal technique to get the voice out. As soon as the cold passes, conscientiously revert to your good technique, opening the pharynx, lowering the larynx, and anchoring the voice in the lower abdomen and pelvis. In other words, do whatever is necessary to get the voice out, but as soon as possible, return to your normal good technique, otherwise your temporary compensation may itself become a problem.

Many singers think they “sound better” with a cold. They don’t. When you have a cold, more sound is absorbed into the swollen tissues of the upper airway, so to your ears the voice (conducted directly through the body) sounds louder. This conducted sound favors lower frequencies (with longer waves), so the sound seems not only louder, but also deeper. The voice coming out of your mouth, however, is not what you hear inside, so don’t be deceived.

Perhaps most importantly, you must rest your voice after your ordeal. You can get through one or two performances with a cold perhaps, but continued singing while impaired can cause damage.

Norman Punt, the English laryngologist, once quipped that the difference between a professional singer and an amateur is that the professional can sing even when he doesn’t want to, and the amateur can’t, even when he does. The singer with a cold exemplifies this aphorism. None of this advice will lead to a great performance, but it can be an adequate one.

Anthony Jahn M.D., noted author and professor of clinical otolaryngology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, has offices in New York and New Jersey. His book, The Care of the Professional Voice, now in its second printing, is available on the CS website.
E-mail the author at: jahn@classicalsinger.com