Pay Attention to the Tension

Pay attention to the tension

(FYI: I know the end of this post will tick some people off but yeah well)

Yesterday, I was giving a lesson to one of my favorite people in the world, Sasha Kostakis, and we were talking about a little bit of tightness in her jaw that was getting in the way for her high notes in the song, “When he sees me” from Waitress. Sasha is a great belter, and belting requires a bit more mouth width than a song sung “legit” or classically. So this is not something that is unique to this particular singer, and I’m not telling tales out of school. While I’m not advocating for adopting a more vertical mouth position for belt (because that wouldn’t work), we still need to make sure that the temporomandibular joint is free and flexible and that the jaw can MOVE. It can’t come forward, it can’t be locked straight down,  and it needs to be flexible enough so that you can adjust your position quickly for the next pitch/phoneme you’re producing.

After working on finding where the jaw needs to “live,” we approached the song a second time and I invited Sasha to be aware of any possible tightness that might occur and to allow herself to release it, particularly at the jumps up to the high notes in the song. She replied with:

Pay attention to the tension

As singers (and as human beings), there are many places we can hold tension:

  1. In the jaw
  2. In the shoulders, either slumped over as shown here (the “smartphone slump” is real and can carry over from your devices to your singing!)
  3. or artificially pulled back in what is often called “noble posture,” a term that is still used as an example of good posture but often presents as tenseOld School 19th Singing tips on Posture and Respiration | goodkarmamusic
  4. In your tongue, like the lovely head I have in the picture above (which is above a window in my studio and used to be on the overhang of the steps leading down to my Milwaukee studio, which was intended to signal two things: “Singers Ahead,” and “Watch your head,” because that overhang was LOW)
  5. In your neck
  6. In your knees
  7. In your feet
  8. In your arms and hands (I personally used to stand with my right arms pulled down straight, my wrist bent and my fingers splayed – why, I don’t know)

Tension isn’t always a bad thing.  A tension rod keeps your curtain up (that’s definitely a good thing if it’s your shower curtain). Think of dramatic tension – it’s necessary for a play or story to be interesting. It builds and then it releases.  Tension keeps us upright – otherwise gravity would pull us down. In that case, tension allows us to maintain balance.

When tension is physical tightness, rather than balance, that’s where the problem lies.

Alexander Technique is one of the modalities that can help you release unnecessary tension (while maintaining that which keeps you upright). Another is Feldenkrais. Or yoga and dance might help inform you of where tightness happens in your body and offer you strategies on how to release that tightness.

Because I am a terrible person, I am attaching a video that, to me, illustrates tremendous tension in most of the body parts listed above. If you are a fan of the Hof, well, I will judge you. (Sorry.) But notice the position of his jaw,  the tension in his hands (which could be “acting”), the leaning forward posture, and his tongue. OMG, at 2:30 minutes in, there is so much tongue tension there that there is an actual groove in it. I can’t duplicate that in my own body. I have no idea how he’s doing it. But you could serve soup in that tongue. (N.B.: I do not recommend that as a serving utensil.)

I will say that his knees and feet seem very flexible. (See, I can be nice.)

(And yes, I realize that he has more money than I will ever make in my lifetime. This is not jealousy, it’s just an observation.)

Please … enjoy? … these video.

(And if you still like me afterwards, please feel free to register for the upcoming
College Audition Panel Discussion on June 30)

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

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