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getting female belters to blend in SATB choir

I am the choral director of an non-auditioned adolescent SATB choir in southern Maine. Recently I have noticed that as the group has been solidifying parts and starting to blend with eachother that a few female voices stick out more and more. These girls belt higher notes in the vain of musical theater unlike the rest of the choir, who sing in more of a head voice. I have tried a number of different methods to get these girls to blend in such as moving above their belt down into the middle range and working at softer dynamics, but nothing has been particularly successful. Does anyone have any advice for how to get these girls to blend with the rest of their sections? 
Replies (10): Threaded | Chronological
on April 15, 2014 3:05am
Unfortunately this seems to be a trend world wide maybe. Certainly in my area in Australia where I'm struggling g to maintain a community youth choir due to the fact that the local drama school and the 7 dance schools are teaching music theatre. Guess what- there is not a singing teacher in sight and none of them encourage any of these students to at least come to my group where I teach very basic singing skills including breathing and open throat techniques. With any luck this 'fad' will pass and all will return to normality. Do I hear 'yeah, and pigs might fly'!!!
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on April 15, 2014 4:48am
First thing I wonder is if the imbalance is entirely the fault of the few "belters".  It sounds like you are doing the right things to address their tonal production.  However, I often find that as often as not the imbalance is not always because they are putting out too much but because all the others aren't putting out enough!  What would happen if every one of your singers was producing with the same level of energy?  Also, it's never clear to me when people describe to me (without me hearing it for myself) exactly what they mean by "belting".  Many times "belting" ends up being the well-focused, energized, supported, released tone that "sticks out" only because everyone else is "blending" with a passive, unfocused tone.  Be sure your "belters" are not the problem but perhaps the model.
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on April 15, 2014 4:53am
Just as an aside, there have been countless circumstances where I have pointed to one student who was sticking out and announced to the rest of the ensemble, "He/she is sticking out and IT'S NOT HIS/HER FAULT! Where are the rest of you?" If EVERYONE is "sticking out", then NO ONE is "sticking out".  It doesn't make any sense to me to tell the best player on the team to not play so well because he/she is "sticking out" and making the other players look bad.  That standout player might very well be used as a model for the rest of the team to elevate its game.
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on April 15, 2014 8:06am
If these belters are taking thier chest voice up to A and B, this is totally unhealthy.  Unfortunately it can lead to vocal damage, (Annie syndrome) especially for adolescents.  The female voice is breathy at this age because, like boys, their vocal mechanism is going through changes.  I attended a session on vocal health in adolescents and the wisest advice I received was, "If you want more sound, add more singers."  I try to keep this in mind when working with my girls.  Choose literature that discourages "the belt."  There is a lot out there, in the classical and popular genre, that will encourage girls to sing with proper vocal technique for their ages.  Listen to Lorde (who is 16) and her song Royals or We're on Each Oher's Team, totally doable, the girls love it (with a few inappropriate words taken out) and it won't hurt them.  Same with "Cups" by Anna Kendrick. I had a lot of success with Schubert lieder with my girl groups.  Lots of work but totally worth it.
on April 15, 2014 10:01am
Both Robin and Henry make good points, and I have seen these situations many places.  However, it is difficult to know for sure how your group sounds, and how those sounds are being produced.  This is really a matter for someone that you could bring in ; singing is  a "hands-on, voice-on, ears-on" activity.  Maybe a vocally-trained choral person, or a professional singer who is empathetic and attuned to choral issues.  These peope are hard to find, but not impossible! :)
See if you can squeeze in some  instruction - sounds like some/all could use it.   Consistently good posture and breathing support  is necessary from everyone!  "While from song to song, we may do well to sing with different "character/timbres" (light for madrigals, strong-heavier for certain Russian pieces or spirituals, etc.,) we want to blend during each song."   (Be sure all understand the diff between "blend" (timbre) and "balance" (volume) )
You might bring in some youtube examples - Patti Lupone, (well-trained "belter", but do not try this until you are extremely well-trained - could be very unsafe for voices!)  Kristin Chenoweth (combinaton, you can hear the change when she goes up), Kathleen Battle ( keeps it light, but focused throughout) - all are breathing-supported, and can sing a variety of music.   Play examples from youtube or recordings of the tone-quality you want from them.  Play recordings of open, strong-but-focused/supported soprano and alto choir sections, and contrast them with light motet-type renditions.  A little discussion will raise awareness all around. ( Keep it general, don't name names in your choir, unless you are sure they're comfy w/that!  LOL)  Air should be focused, not spread or forced.
Then, in case it was just a matter of them knowing what you wished to hear, they'll have a good sample.
To further Henry's point, sometimes the strong singers are also the better music-readers, and are trying to help lead/build sectional confidence.  Sometimes the others follow suit, or sometimes they back off, exacerbating the issue.  Hal Leonard, Nancy Telfer,  Kjos, others ... have great sight-reading books that only take 5 to 7 minutes of your rehearsal.
As a professional singer-voice teacher who has sung low pop/Broadway to coloratura, I do not recommend "belting" at all.  If one wants to get a strong Broadway/Pop tone in a higher range, mixing resonance is safer ... though tricky to do.  Have them experiment [and you can, too..] with sending the air (focusing/placing) in different angles: 1. just over top teeth, 2. on hard palate (usually works for a "straight"-er smoother tone, 3. straight up to top of head - it may depend on the person what type of "ring " results.
Roybn, I wish I were in Australia to help you!
Best, all!
on April 15, 2014 11:22am
I have the same issue with one of my stronger altos in my church choir. She performs in Broadway type shows during her free time, and has for years, so that belt sound and technique has become very habitual for her.
The main difference I find between the "belt" and "classical" techniques, as well as the blending and non-blending choirs, is vowel shape - an acoustic issue. The belt technique requires a spread vowel as the pitch rises in order to keep the voice in chest register. The classical technique calls for more pure vertical vowels which allow the voice to transition into the middle/head register. In the belt technique, the acoustic goal is to keep the first overtone of the pitch below the first formant of the vowel, while in the classical technique the goal is to allow the first overtone of the pitch to go above the first formant of the vowel as the pitch rises. When all your singers are producing the same classical acoustic, blend is vastly improved.
Whenever my belter begins to stick out, I just remind the alto section to sing with vertical vowels and the blend comes back.
on April 16, 2014 6:09am
I also agree with approaching from vowel formation. I would also consider a focus on aspects of posture and exercises to lower the larynx and open the pharynx into a position more appropriate to classical function. Belting raises the larynx and can decrease the resonating power of the pharynx, which moves a singer to work the oral cavity with bright and spread vowels in order to achieve resonance. Belting also often involves hyper functional breath pressure, which can produce strain and lead to damage.  Encourage a healthy, balanced approach to singing and breath function.  It is also important to offer examples of the two different styles so that the student understands.  Examples can be aural through recording to hear the difference, and for them to understand the appropriateness of production for the style of music you are singing.  It is then important to offer a demonstration model for the technique involved in producing your desired sound, which is probably more of a bel canto style.  This could be provided by you or another vocal specialist. Remember that the youth of today are exposed more to bright, belt style singing through popular music, Disney, and musical theater.  That means you will have to repeatedly expose them to the aural and technical aspects of production for the bel canto style in order to have an impact on the students individual production in the choral setting.
on April 16, 2014 1:04pm
I've had success simply asking for head voice.  Different musical styles require different sounds, and I think it can be helpful to say so.  (Note: NO value judgment.  Just, "We need this sound for this style, and that sound for that style.")  Girls who belt may not LIKE their head voices, because their chest voices feel so much stronger.  But their upper registers will strengthen if they use them. 
(And, incidentally, many teachers,me included, will say that developing your head voice will make you better at belting if that's an activity you want to pursue.)
on April 16, 2014 9:38pm
This is rather a simplistic approach....but I tell my singers that they have a solo voice and a choral voice.  Singers with strong solo voices need to soften to blend.  They can sing full voice in solo recitals. This acknowledges their powerful voice, while asking them to soften for the choral blend.   I also agree that the key may also be uniform classical vowel formations as they sing...make sure they aren't spreading the vowels, therefore vocally sticking out.  Also, encourage them to use the head voice and not belt it out with their chest voice as mentioned above.  
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on April 17, 2014 8:06am
That's great, Denise.  Sounds like you are getting good results.
I recommend that all of us who work with singers re-think the word, "soft."  I have, following Dr. Norma Raybon's lead, replaced it with "quiet" or "small" or "quietly-focused."
Sometimes "soft" is associated with "fuzzy" or "airy" and might cause another type of spread - escaping air.  This can dry the vocal folds, and is not really a great vocal habit.
Norma recommends just using less breath-pressure and a smaller mouth-opening.
I know...expecting a lot, and perhaps rather difficult to acheive .... but I think the sound, particularly in the upper and lower notes, will be well worth it.
Something to experiment with?
Thanks for sharing!
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