Sometimes I like to make up words. Occasionally on purpose.
A few that have come to mind are:
- phlegmacious: having a surplus of phlegm (also called “phlegmular,” by former student Jennifer Leevan, who, when I said, “that sounds like it’s granular,” responded with, “Well, sometimes it is”)
- boobular: wearing an extremely low-cut or very tight top, as in “Well, she certainly looks boobular today.”
- woobidy-woobidy: a stomach pain that isn’t quite nausea and seems to have somewhat of a spinning motion (that one confuses doctors), as in “My stomach is all woobidy-woobidy today”
But the other day, I had one that I think was particularly brilliant and can be used in multiple circumstances.
This came from a slip of the tongue, as I was teaching young Arin McManus on how to efficiently move through their range by subtle shifts or migrations of the /a/ vowel. (You may remember Arin from the post, “Breath is welcome here.”) I began to say “shift,” but then changed it in the middle of the word to “migrate,” so what came out was
And I thought that was useful.
The definition of “shift” is to move from one place to another. The definition of “migrate” is the same.
When we talk of moving through registration is a seamless manner, we talking of shifts or lifts or transitions. Sometimes this involves vowel modification or vowel migration, the latter of which is my preferred term. I understand vowel modification as an active substitution of one vowel for another, whereas migration is where the vowel goes when you give the note you’re singing the appropriate amount of space and shape to produce an efficient and attractive tone. Rather than consciously saying, “I’m going to sing an /a/ vowel up there because I can’t sing an /i/ that high,” which will compromise vowel integrity, I prefer to sing that note with the intention of /i/, but with the space of /a/. The text may be compromised somewhat but the intention of the correct vowel should be clear. (And let’s face it, if, as a composer, you put an /i/ up that high, you deserve whatever comes out. I’m looking at you, Gian-Carlo Menotti.)
Plus, if you’ve already sung the word “steal” 643 times, the audience isn’t going to think you suddenly said “stall,” as long as the intention of “steal” is still there. The same is true with the final note of “Climb ev’ry mountain,” with the word “dream” placed on an Ab5. (Thank you, Rodgers & Hammerstein. Thanks a lot.)
So as you are moving through a phrase, in order to shift efficiently from one register to the next in a manner that is nearly imperceptible, the vowel you are singing probably will need to migrate. In other words, you’re going to need to