December 19, 2012

Mezza Voce

Mezza Voce
adv. & adj. Music 
With moderate volume or in a subdued tone. Used chiefly as a direction.

[Italian : mezzahalf + vocevoice.]

Francesco Lamperti was famous for making his students sing in a mezza voce manner, that is, in half voice, saying that if the student could sing correctly in this way, then forte singing would present no difficulties. 

Mezza voce isn't really complicated. You just have to follow a few "rules." What are they? You first need a keen understanding of three things: Breath, Singing Forward and Singing Position.  Ok. You're lost, right? Let me try to explain things simply. 

The Old School maintained that before the student could sing mezza voce correctly, singing con la fronte was necessary. In other words, the student had to be able to sustain a full ringing tone easily. Some time ago, I wrote about a student of García's who called this the frontale tone (see here). Mezza voce? That was the centrale voice, or head voice.

Here's the big secret: to sing mezza voce, all you have to do is maintain the feeling of breath you have in your body when you are singing with full ringing tone, and not mess around with your singing position (see here for more information). You don't compromise the feeling of the breath when you sing mezza voce. But what does the young student typically do? He or she tries to sing mezza voce and the breath is diminished greatly and the singing position lost. While some say that mezza voce needs more support, I find this term limiting, since the feeling of the breath is more than how muscles are pushed and pulled, and how much air is in the lungs. Breath is a whole body feeling. Properly speaking, it is the body/ear connection that is felt from the top of the head to the pelvis. It's what is felt when the singer is truly inspired.

Theatre and Contemporary Commercial Music singers need to learn to sing mezza voce just as much as classical singers do. In fact, it is their bread and butter if they are any good. The only difference is that the vocal tube is not as rounded for the CCM singer as it is for the classical singer. However, the sensation of breath in the body is identical for everyone, as is the sense of placement. And what is the correct sensation of placement for mezza voice singing? The center of the head. The tone is also very clear at the front of the mouth (bone and air conduction). 

To go from a mezza voce production to full ringing tone and back again to mezza voce is something else. That's called messa di voce. To do this, the singer feels the throat area as a speaker that is turned on gradually, getting louder and louder along with the awareness of forward placement, and then diminished. In doing so, as mentioned above, the Singing Position is not messed with in any way, nor is the Breath, since both make mezza voce, fulling ringing tone (con la fronte), and messa di voce possible. 

Lastly, to get even more detailed, there are two ways in which to sing mezza voce. The first is the head tone already described, while the second is where the vocal tube is much rounded (thinking of /u/ is what is typically done), the resulting tone being quite dark. This is what the classical tenor does when singing Una furtiva lagrima

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