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I said au revoir to Dad and Julie last night, and now, as they are on their way back home via Munich, I have a ton of stuff to get done. Groceries on which to stock up, laundry to do, rent to pay, library books to return and renew, and possibly a pair of completely impractical shoes to buy (but that’s neither here nor there). And then I remembered something I had been planning to blog about after my choir rehearsal yesterday, but didn’t because I was in a pasta-chocolate cake-Chanukah gelt coma after dinner. So here I am, hair washed and combed, boots on, and accessories chosen–ready to write!

This blog probably doesn’t accurately reflect the amount of time I spend working on, worrying about, and pondering my voice. Because I do all of those things, and they take up the bulk of my time; even when I’m out and about, I’m probably singing, thinking about singing, or planning what I’m going to sing when I get home. It’s my life, and not in a totally single-minded way. I just don’t know how I would live without it. But that’s not what this post is about.

I want to talk vibrato. It’s an endlessly fascinating concept, as well as a divisive one. I actually was told before I came to France that I would encounter differing opinions about vibrato, especially in choral solos. I’m currently in a battle with my choir director about how much vibrato I’m allowed to use in the solo I’m singing on January 21st. Yesterday when I sang it, he called out, “Moins de vibrato!” Less vibrato! Which I can do, of course. I can eliminate my vibrato altogether and feel no ill effects; when I was working on my recital this past summer, I actually found that deliberately straightening out the tone helped me connect to my breath better in some pieces, especially the simpler ones like “Come ready and see me.” Oh, what the hell:

(Also, notice the commenter who says she loves my vibrato! Moving on…)

And of course, in a choral situation, you can’t just laisser vibrer (let vibrate), because you have to blend with the rest of the group. But when I’m singing a solo, even if it’s Handel or Bach, I’m going to let my vibrato happen. My conductor says that because it’s not opera and because it’s baroque, I should limit my vibrato. I disagree. When I sang with Music of the Baroque last winter, Lisa Saffer was our soprano soloist and Jennifer Rivera was the alto, and they both sang their solos with the same vibrato as they sing everything else. Here’s a little Lisa Saffer, who is one of my vocal role models in a big way (and I just discovered when I looked her up on Youtube that she’s in the Liebeslieder quintet in the production of A Little Night Music I have on DVD).

Plenty of nice, healthy vibrato. Which isn’t to say that this isn’t stylistically correct and appropriate. Or how about this one? Kiri te Kanawa, arguably one of the grand dames of opera in recent years, rocking some Handel.

The thing about vibrato is that it’s a natural phenomenon. Some people have a lot, some people have a little, some people have slow vibrati (often bigger voices), some people have faster vibrati (like me, for instance). My choir conductor asked me if I work on straight tone with my teacher; I told him we work on stability. We don’t try to change my vibrato, which will always be what it is if I’m singing well, but we work to keep the vibrations even and equal. He suggested “slowing down” the vibrato, but that would be not only difficult but probably damaging for me. When I’ve got my breath support in place and I’m doing everything else right, my vibrato is just plain fast. And that’s good. What I aim for is consistency with my own vibrato, because I can’t have somebody else’s. I would rather sing straight-toned than try to mess with my natural vibrato.

Interestingly, there’s a book by Patricia McLachlan that I read when I was a kid called The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt. It was about a dedicated young cellist with an insane family (her brother Mac answered the phone by saying, “WHAT?!”), and her yearning to find her vibrato. She plays in a string ensemble, I remember, and there’s a cute violinist who already has his vibrato. She asks him how he got it, and he says he was at music camp, and it just happened. He tells her that hers would just happen, there’s nothing she could do to create it. At the end of the book, he tells her to call him if she finds her vibrato. She gets up in the middle of the night, plays a note on the cello, calls him, and he says, “Congratulations.”

It’s what happens when your technique progresses, when you learn to connect the breath to the creation of the sound. I have recordings from my senior year of high school, when I applied to conservatories, and the vibrato is minimal. Even as soon as freshman year of college, the vibrato had pretty much arrived. I have friends who have studied voice as long as I have who have naturally less vibrato than I do–and that’s okay. Every voice is different, just like everybody has a different laugh:

(“Shall we get spots?”
“Oh, highly unlikely.”)

And now, I will DO ALL THE THINGS!