Angie: You have worked with many individuals of all levels and styles over the years. What are the most frequent problems or challenges you have had to address with your voice students?
Philippe: Well, I hear the students come in to my studio saying “I don’t have those notes (speaks with a very high voice), I don’t have these notes (speaks with very low voice), and I don’t have…” or “I only have 5 fingers on one hand, I cannot grow another one!” I tell them “no but the voice is made of air and air is one of the fastest or easiest things to deal with; it is very supple. It’s just air and those 2 little bands (vocal folds) are not limited; they stretch like an elastic and can thicken as well.” We use any technique that will provoke this, in teaching voice.
We say the voice is an instrument, so to say “you either have it or you don’t have it” now, that is the worst phrase you could use to raise a child with. They sit on that phrase, and just get fat! Or, they will try to find miracle workers. Miracle workers? No; try and try again.
Angie: There is both art and science in this.
Philippe: Yes, those are the possibilities of the right and left brains.
The lady who taught me the “belting” approach is a scientist; an Italian living in the States, who one day said to herself (around the age of 50): “What am I doing still singing opera? I did it all! Maybe I should go back to what I heard early on; my father calling out my brother to come inside… and it was so loud, I would retrieve back in the hall!” She applied and received a grant to study and then went back to the more natural sounds; sounds we made as babies, as children, as adults calling in their children from play!
She ended up working in hospitals treating diseases of the voice, voice-speech-therapy or vocal rehabilitation.
Angie: That is what fascinates me – how there is an artistic side to training the voice, and a scientific side as well; disproving the idea of you are only born with it or not. I have witnessed examples of this where certain individuals had been told early on that they could not sing or carry a tune and should only pretend to be singing in choir practice at school. So they kept shut for a good part of their lives until they gave themselves permission to make sounds again, slowly starting to make a connection between what they hear inside their head, and what comes out of their mouth!
Philippe: We don’t hear inside the head what comes outside of the mouth. Also, there is a coordination of many muscles to help produce sound…maybe 250!
Angie: Coordinating all of these actions happens in one moment, with one thought.
Philippe: Professional athletes know about this; they keep working at it, lose half of it the next morning, then gain it back again and again until it’s there, in the muscle memory, in the brain, in the thought.
Angie: In your book “La Voix au présent” (French), you have a section called “Why Vocalize?”. Can you give us a brief insight into the main reasons why we, as singers, work with vocalizes?
Philippe: To search for what else we may have… as a gift. If you don’t have the gift, you have something else. So either with air; pushing or holding, posture, definitely posture, every sport, every singer needs to search for good posture. Even just to write. For example, you cannot write so freely if you are slouched and lacking energy and mobility. Correcting the posture will free the hand to write, the arms, the shoulders, the neck, (the brain!), and the voice to sing. Let’s start from the feet; we are earth people!
The first thing I talk about with my students is posture.
But as for vocalizes, they help to address the individual voices. The problem is often with the kids who want to sing like the last singer they heard. They want to sound like their favourite artist. Will that help achieve a new career? There are no 2 Céline Dion’s, no 2 Ella Fitzgerald’s, no 2 Elvis’s… Many singers will play around and learn from copying but then move on to other things. Like we copy our parents, later we detach and become unique… or we hope to!
So instead of working the voice with songs, we use vocalizes to work on ones personal voice.
Angie: Along with posture, what are the key elements to what we could call “good” singing in your opinion?
Philippe: Maybe a good ear… It’s good to be able to produce a sound on the perfect pitch if not closer and closer all the time. Sometimes, a person may be a bit deaf in one ear as most people are rather one-sided. They are comfortable like this and won’t change. It’s my case, I must admit; one brain is sleeping and the other is super excited (laughs)! But it’s in creation so I love it. I think we can’t say we are no good at something. Someone will say, “Oh you play piano! Me, I can’t play”…“Did you try it?”…“No”…“Well how do you know you can’t?” Have you ever heard that before?
Philippe: Please try before you say that! At least try more than once, you’ll be surprised!
Angie: If you only had 2 tips to give to the singing community, what would they be?
Philippe: Try it all (in a very distinguished voice!). Try it out and then try to find any desire that you think you haven’t been allowed to have or produce. Maybe there is a goldmine there.
Angie: I’d say those are 2 very good tips!
Philippe: Well, I hope so. Because many people are told to stand still and they watch the world go by thinking “Oh, they are very interesting” – the others! Maybe, we would have less war; creating is very mind filling and… body uplifting.
So light, energy,… it’s all I wish for you and everyone.
Philippe: My pleasure.
Along with his studies in music at the Montreal University of Montréal, Québec (Canada), Philippe Parent has also studied:
- Voice for over 40 years, in a variety of different techniques: classical, folk, jazz, blues, rock, Broadway, and the harmonic overtone singing of the Tibetan monks, Tuva, etc…
- Musical theater
- Musical arrangements
- Dance (classical, flamenco, tap, Irish jig)