Singing and Language


Ah - the cursed twang! It goes against everything I have grown up with, as far as the dulcet sounds of my native Austrian tongue go. The German dialect I grew up speaking is shaped in round, dark vowels, interspersed with half swallowed consonants that get dragged even further down my gullet by a low, low tongue. As far as singing German opera goes, the language is stupendously suitable. However, don't ever try to sing anything but that! Unless, of course, you are willing to sprint so far outside of your comfort zone that every vowel and consonant feels as unfamiliar to you as the third star to the left on the belt of Orion, and you have to start from scratch, reassembling the shards of old habits into something bendy and malleable.

Now - American English, with all it's chewing gum cowboy inflections and, topographically not quite as far outside of New York, Long Island "twang", has a definite advantage, when it comes to stepping outside the somber, dramatic opera of Central Europe. Of course there are vocal technique issues with American English speakers. They are just a different set from mine. But the linguistic divide that comes into play when working on vocal technique that allows you to be a versatile, modern vocalist, is, at least, notable.

With my own students, I find it interesting that, in essence, every single Japanese singer I've worked with, shares some of the same issues (that blasted "ue" sound that doesn't want to open up), as does ever French and, yes, American one. Of course each student has his or her own set of obstacles to deal with, but some generalizations definitely do apply.

And thus, my friends, I shall continue to hoist the dorsal part of my tongue up and stubbornly continue in my quest for the elusive twang. In the end, no matter what our mother tongue may be, our goal as vocalists is the right distribution of effort, so that we can get out of our way and start expressing what's already there.

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