April 11, 2014

Falsetto Revisited

If you ask a student who is making a ringing tone to sense what is happening in their ear muscles, you'll most likely get a blank look. Modify your instruction by asking them to sense the muscles of the ear while singing a ringing tone, and then alternate this tone with a lifeless one, going back and forth, and you may see a curious expression appear on their face.

"They move!" 

Well, indeed they do. 

The curious student will find that the muscles of the ear move subtly, but no less powerfully. I've written about it before on these pages, but have not forgotten seeing a baritone's ears move in a rehearsal at New York City Opera after I had returned from the Listening Centre in Toronto. The split second before stentorian tone came out of his mouth, his ears lifted quite noticeably. You might say my eyes as well as my ears had been opened!

Pricking up your ears? It's a real thing that happens—when it happens—upon inhalation. Of course, the muscles of the ear, like the other muscles of the body, are capable of varying degrees of contraction, which leads me to ponder the efficacy of certain vocal behaviors and techniques.

Let's take singing in falsetto, which is executed—by men anyway—in such a manner as to first be encountered in the higher range. In many vocal studios, falsetto is touted as being the greatest thing since sliced bread. What concerns me, no matter how that bread it buttered, is the observation that the muscles of the ear can be seen and felt to move when falsetto is being sung by men as opposed to when they are singing in chest voice. In light of the work of Alfred A. Tomatis, who understood this movement or "opening" of the ear to be necessary for singing, I am left to wonder if the benefit sought from the practice of falsetto is altogether different than supposed.