My voice teacher, Donna Reid, and I felt as though we had made history at my voice lesson today. Together, we arrived at a higher level of understanding of how placement/appoggio/vocal resonance works. And we think we may finally understand a concept that Cornelius Reid often talked about in his teaching, but that had until today been bewildering to us: what he called “register rotation”:
[A]n aural perception of the textural changes which occur when the voice moves from one extreme of the tonal range to its opposite, when swelling or diminishing, or when negotiating larger intervals. [from Reid’s Dictionary of Vocal Terminology].
What I seem to understand at a new level of clarity is still resistant to being put in clear words for others to understand, but here’s the gist of it:
The way we energize notes has to vary according to the pitch (as well as the vowel, volume, musical context, etc.). In order for our voice to sound unified from top to bottom (or vice versa), the environment for each note has to adjust to what is appropriate for that individual note. Paradoxically, if we sing all notes in the same way, they will come out sounding mismatched. The factors that have to adjust include the way we put energy/pressure into a note—what is sometimes known by the Italian term appoggio. I imagine that different singers experience this differently, but for me, the lower pitches demand a “growly” kind of attack, which I experience low in my larynx and which feels firm and like a physical contact between tangible objects. The higher pitches, on the other hand, demand a “cloudy” kind of attack, which I experience in my face or head or even above me, depending on the pitch, and which feels softer and more diffuse.
When I allow the appoggio to shift in the way I am attempting to describe, singing becomes easy and deliciously sensuous. Singing a simple arpeggio in this manner during my lesson brought me to tears; the simplicity and purity of the experience was deeply moving. What’s more, Donna admitted to goosebumps and wet eyes from just having heard my arpeggio.