Sound material

Oct 29 2007 by Janet Howd Print This Article

The unmistakeable sound of the 1990 soccer World Cup recording of Puccini's famous aria, Nessun Dorma, piped out over a station concourse a few weeks ago alerted travellers to the fact that Luciano Pavarotti had lost his final battle with cancer.

It was one of those - stop you in your tracks - moments which heightens awareness and engages full attention.

What struck me most was the physical ease with which the singer manoeuvred and positioned his voice so that from the very beginning of the aria it was clear he would successfully skim its final phrase into the world's collective memory.

I refer you to that particular sonic legacy because the ability to pitch the voice from one base line to another, plant it directly it at the feet of others or manoeuvre it with intricate care out of a tight corner and drive it tellingly home is within the capability of us all.

But except for occasions when we stand shouting at a sports match or singing-along at pop concerts or in places of worship, few of us ever open up our voices to their fullest extent.

We use so little physical effort to support our ideas that the muscles between our lower ribs are weak and unable to hold out long enough for us to say what we want to say - let alone persuade others of its merit.

But once we allow air to find its way deep inside us, so that it can be meted out in a manner designed to allow pause for thought and add conviction to our words, muscle memory immediately kicks in and makes it possible for us to repeat the activity again and again.

A few unusual aches and pains around the lower rib cage alert us to the fact that we have undertaken an unusual physical task, but because those interlacing rib muscles are specifically designed for the job, voicing thoughts out loud soon becomes effortless.

Google 'Nessun Dorma,' and first up comes a YouTube clip from 1994 of Pavarotti singing the aria. Watch how - just as he is about to use his voice - the tenor lifts his face and looks the audience in the eye to draw focus.

Standing firm, his head - strongly supported by the muscles in the back of his neck - held upright over the centre of his shoulder-girdle, he is able to maintain ocular and oral hold over the audience no matter what pitch or volume the score directs his voice to range over.

Now, you're certainly not likely to be singing a presentation (though its not a bad idea to sing out some of the sentences you intend to say as you practise), but by observing how a great vocalist stands and delivers, and by trying out what you see him do, you will discover for yourself how easily a well supported voice can drive a message home.

Get bodily and vocal energy right then, and you will definitely ignite audience interest. But unless the quality of your material is good, you won't be able to keep the flame alive Ė and this is where Puccini's skill enters the story.

When the World Cup Authority was given the job of promoting public passion for the 1990 event, it chose a world class performer at the height of his powers to do so. The fact that Pavarotti's repertoire contained an aria with the phrase, "Vincero!" ("I shall win!") at its climactic point must have seemed like a marketing coup from heaven.

In fact, Puccini crafted the whole aria so well that even a half decent singer (as many a bath time wannabe has discovered) is hard put to make a hash of it. With a performer of Pavarotti's stature to deliver Puccini's perfectly nuanced notation there was never any doubt that the execution would be outstanding.

When next you make a foray into presentation do your best to emulate the Pucc & Pav Combo. Aim for a fusion of high quality material and high quality delivery.

Oh, and keep "Vincero!" ringing in your ears while you practise because there's nothing like believing you're going to succeed to spur you on to doing so.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.