Monday, January 23, 2012

Barbershop vs Opera

Letter in my inbox:

I'm having vocal difficulty while singing Barbershop Tenor or Lead. I sing flat sometimes, and it really bothers me just how fast that I can drop in pitch. I struggle with it constantly. It's one of the main things that we're working on in my vocal training. Also, my voice cracks a lot more than it use to. We're working on that too.

Should I go back to singing tenor? or Lead? or not at all? I'm told that I should not push at all in barbershop tenor. I'm not sure that style of singing is compatible with my classical training. I love classical singing, but I also love barbershop. My voice teachers think that my voice is better suited for classical. I want to make myself happy, but I love to make others happy as well.

Yours, T.

They are right: you do not push at all singing barbershop tenor... or any other part, either. It strains the muscles and sound, is not pleasant, and often under pitch. You hear singers doing that in both styles of music, and it's unpleasant in both.

Yes, I do sing both classical and barbershop, and do well at both. The "Do Not Strain" rule is true in both classical and barbershop. so is "Beauty At All Costs." You have to make them come true for yourself. No director or coach can MAKE you do it. They can remind you, yes, but you still, every note, have to do it yourself.

I see only a few reasons to choose one style over the other. One is what suits your personal voice best. Luciano Pavarotti is a fabulous opera tenor. That voice as barbershop tenor, or even lead would not be a good fit. There is also the matter of availability of opportunities and competition for performing spots in your area: If you have many opportunities to sing and perform in one role and few in another, that will be a factor on what to chose. Another reason is time. Every minute you are working on barbershop tenor, you are not learning classical or operatic literature and technique. You might only have the time to master one. Which do you chose? What fits best. If you have all the time you want, do both.

Yes, there are different techniques... you have to consciously shift back and forth - chest, head, heavy, light, full, falsetto - between styles and within styles. Do both? Sure. just realize it's two separate studies with much in common and some at odds. Keep them straight, you will do fine.

The last part - you need NOT make a permanent decision. Ever. Try both. Try one. Try neither. Change you mind. It's all good. What makes you happiest? What makes more of everyone else on the planet happiest? If you make a wrong choice, as long as you don't burn any bridges, all is well.

Yours, Gary Shannon
I teach online voice lessons! My passion: Your art.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


ALLREGRETTO: When you're 16 measures into the piece and realize you took too fast a tempo

ANGUS DEI: To play with a divinely beefy tone

A PATELLA: Accompanied by knee-slapping

APPOLOGGIATURA: A composition that you regret playing

APPROXIMATURA: A series of notes not intended by the composer, yet played with an "I meant to do that" attitude

APPROXIMENTO: A musical entrance that is somewhere in the vicinity of the correct pitch

DILL PICCOLINI: An exceedingly small wind instrument that plays only sour notes

FERMANTRA: A note held over and over and over and over and . . .

FIDDLER CRABS: Grumpy string players

FLUTE FLIES: Those tiny mosquitoes that bother musicians on outdoor gigs

FRUGALHORN: A sensible and inexpensive brass instrument

GAUL BLATTER: A French horn player

GREGORIAN CHAMP: The title bestowed upon the monk who can hold a note the longest


SPRITZICATO: An indication to string instruments to produce a bright and bubbly sound

TEMPO TANTRUM: What an elementary school orchestra is having when it's not following the conductor