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Bass singing a tenor role...help!

My high school is doing "Fiddler on the Roof" this spring, and the boy we cast as Motel (who sings "Miracle of Miracles") is a bass. Normally, this would not have been a good decision, but due to our talent pool it is what we ended up with. He is a pretty good singer, and is in my choir, but his range doesn't seem to comfortably go very far above middle C. While I know that as a bass he is going to have some struggles with this song, he also is straining on the upper pitches and can't seem to relax his neck. When he does relax, it's easier for him to switch between a deeper 'chest' voice and a lighter 'head' voice. However, his voice breaks right around the D to Eb range and I'm struggling to help him sing this song easily. He's just tense. His vocal agility isn't the best either. For those of you familiar with 'Miracle of Miracles' you know that's pretty important for this song. I would love some tips on how to help him release tension and sing from the body instead of the throat, and on improving vocal agility. As a female, I don't know that I'm currently giving him the best instruction for his bass voice. 
Replies (6): Threaded | Chronological
on January 30, 2014 8:21pm
Is it possible to transpose the song, since it's just the one number? I once directed a high school production of Fiddler that had a tenor Tevye...it was a very small school, he was clearly the best acting choice and a fantastic singer...so we went with it. We transposed one or two of his songs - it will take some time to transpose the pit parts, if you are using an orchestra, but much easier on that young voice than trying to get it to do something it's not meant to right now while he is simultaneously acting, performing staging, etc. As long as you don't move it so far that it sounds really out of character, no one will probably notice. And the sheer fact that you are telling the young man that he is singing it lower may make him more relaxed, too.
 
I'm sure others will chime in with great suggestions on working with his voice that will be great long-term as you work with him on agility and relaxation, but in my experience it's often better to move the keys to where a student is more comfortable than to count on being able to successfully make major adjustments to an iffy singer's technique in the rehearsal period of a high school show.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on January 31, 2014 3:02am
Leigh - you could try not talking about chest or head with him at all. What is a "tenor note" anyway? Each voice is different, so the simplest way to address this problem might be to stop giving him information at all - other than to get him to take the focus off his face and on to his body. Stop him lifting his shoulders, raising his eyebrows - in fact doing anything that he doesn't need to do. I always find that getting a young singer to video themselves and look at it back can obliterate all the tension-causing gurning that is so acceptable among choral singers [for no reason that I can see]. If he adopts a singface when he sings, then he shouldn't.
 
The air has to move unimpeded. Get his ribs out and buoyant: tell him to think of the words as coming from down towards his midriff. The more information he has to process, the tighter the neck becomes, and the more he worries. The more he worries, the tighter his neck becomes etc etc. My teacher is female, and from my experience with trained and untrained singers, our bodies are all the same when it comes to singing, unless you want to hit the back of a massive hall. Less is always more :-)
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 31, 2014 9:46am
Kristina, I totally agree about transposing!  Leigh, please don't make the kid sing out of his normal range.  That's an absolute no-no for anyone.  You have the voice you're given and that's that.  Older singers can manipulate after learning lots of vocal techniques and tricks, but a high school student who's never been trained can easily trash his/her voice.  So wrong.  Transposing's so easy to do.  We do it all the time.  Go with that, and have fun (and no worries) with your production!
Best,
Ken Malucelli
Applauded by an audience of 2
on February 1, 2014 8:43am
In my experience as a voice teacher, getting a young bass to sing high when he's not ready is really tough to do.  It can be risky, and I'd advise against it. I vote for transposing!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 1, 2014 2:09pm
Given the fact that he is a relatively untrained high school singer being asked by adults, whom he correctly assumes know more about the voice than he does, to sing a roll which all agree is out of his range, the only ethical way of handling the situation is to transpose his song. Any suggestions regarding vocal technical issues intended to help him sing the high notes will only lead him to the misunderstanding that he is a defficient singer when they fail to help him successfully sing the notes which are legitimately out of his range. In other words, he will blame himself instead of the adults. He is doing you a favor by performing a roll outside of his range so that the show will go on. Do him a favor and let him perform it to the best of his God-given abilities. Transpose the song!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 3, 2014 4:51pm
You want to know "how to release tension and sing from the body instead of the throat?"  The answer is to not have him sing in a range that is not for his voice--  and if he does it anyway, "by hook or by crook," it will ultimately hurt him and probably not get a desireable result.
Either transpose or re-cast-- it's the only fair thing to the boy.  That's probably not the answer you want to hear-- but there's no "trick" to make a young bass a tenor.  And to make him try to do it (in that key) is not right.
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