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Musical Theatre Singing

Hello, I am in a Choral Methods class and I was wondering what are some problems that Musical Theatre style singing cause for the classically trained voice? How does "belting" hurt the voice? Are there any benefits to this style for a classical singer?
Replies (3): Threaded | Chronological
on November 24, 2012 12:42pm
This is just my opinion as a classical singer who also sings musical theater (and the Lead part in a barbershop chorus).
 
1.  Some of the "problems" with Musical Theater singing for the classical voice are really only problems if the singer isn't easily able to adapt from one style to the next.  Many people think that all current musical theater shows are sung mainly in high Belt voice - while it's true there are a number of shows that are sung predominantly in a belt voice, there are plenty of shows out there that feature more "legit" singing (mixed voice or head dominant).  The switching back and forth between singing with vibrato at all times (my classical voice) versus singing straight tone until the ends of phrases (my musical theater style) is the bigger challenge.  My voice teacher often has to remind me to sing more vibrantly.  The other challenge for me is I often want to sing lower pitches in my classical rep in pure chest voice, where my voice teacher prefers I sing in more of a mix.
 
2.  Belting done properly does not hurt the voice but can result in the singer having weaker cricho-tyroid muscles as a result of always singing thyro-arytenoid dominant.  It's like any other set of muscles that work in conjunction with another -- a swimmer who always uses the arms to stroke without kicking the legs is going to have a hard time making it across the pool holding a kickboard.  A singer who belts correctly and also sings in head voice dominant production won't experience the same weak sound up high in head voice as one who never uses head voice production. 
 
Now belting done improperly is another story.  If done improperly, there is risk of vocal damage of varying degrees from muscle exhaustion to vocal nodes to polyps. 
 
3.  As for benefits - that depends on what you mean.  If you are a working classical singer, having musical theater credits on your resume is not likely to help in purely classical auditions (and I've heard stories of it actually hurting).  If you are looking to be a working singer, period - then having a wide variety of musical styles that you can perform well can open you up to more markets and more jobs.  It's very difficult to excel in both arenas though - if one wants to be a "star" in either genre it's better to focus on one or the other, but if you are more of an ensemble or bit part singer, then being accomplished in both arenas can help you find more steady work.
 
Hope this helps.  Again, it's just my opinion based on my experiences.  I'm sure others may have other opinions.
 
Jennifer Newman
Masters of Music in Voice Performance & Pedagogy, pedagogy emphasis, Westminster Choir College - Class of 2013
Bachelors of Music in Music Education, James Madison University - Class of 1992
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 19, 2012 1:45pm
Chad:  Absolutely agreed on the two really important points you make:  "Good technique applies to all styles"; and "it's an age old conversation that people still argue about."
 
Too many voice teachers refuse to teach good technique to young singers who aren't instested in operatic STYLE.  And too may young singers don't want to learn good technique because in order to do so they get pushed into that same operatic STYLE.  It's mutual incomprehension getting in the way of mutual accomplishment.
 
BUT, unlike the piano, different genres of music require not just different styles, but different SOUNDS as well, and that's where I have to add a small caveat to your comments.  It's no good to sing musical theater style without getting a musical theater SOUND, and while it's certainly possible to do so with good, healthy technique, it's also possible to do so with poor technique that hurts the voice.  And the same for rock singing or any OTHER type of singing that requires both a certain style and a certain sound.
 
At one point we had two sax teachers on our faculty, one strictly classical and the other strictly jazz.  And yes, the techniques taught were different (as well as parts of the equipment, in particular the mouthpieces and the choice of reed strength).  Students often wanted to learn BOTH styles from both teachers, but the two teachers were so far apart in their basic beliefs that it wasn't possible.
 
So I guess that even the simple things can actually get complicated, but life's like that!
All the best,
John
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 20, 2012 8:21am
as a saxophonist and vocalist, I also have experienced the different breathing techniques for sax versus voice . . . I would imagine that similar traps may be discovered as singers develop habits to achieve sounds they desire.  Hard to unlearn bad habits.
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