Author: Sjoerdsma, Richard Dale
Date published: March 1, 2012
IT IS MY FERVENT HOPE that the significance of April 16 will be lost on considerably fewer voice practitioners than was the case a year ago. NATS members and other readers of the Journal of Singing need to consider themselves the vanguard for all matters related to voice, and, as a consequence, to be fully cognizant of and participate in World Voice Day 2012. It provides a platform for celebrating the human voice that we professional voice practitioners simply must not ignore. Perhaps the reader has already noted that, like last year, the cover of this issue carries an announcement of World Voice Day. As long as I remain editor of this periodical, I intend to devote the cover of each March/April number to the event, in the hope of increasingly drawing to it the attention it merits.
For a history of the origin and development of World Voice Day, along with suggestions-admittedly incomplete, but meant to stir creativity-for commemorating the occasion, the reader is referred to my "Editor's Commentary" in the March/April 2011 Journal of Singing. These need no repetition here.
At this time of writing (November 2011), I only recently learned the theme of World Voice Day 2012: "Your Voice Counts." It is a curious theme, but provocative; one suspects that it may have been spawned-consciously or not-in anticipation of a pervasive emphasis upon the vox populi predominant during an election year. Narrowing its focus to singing has proved to be a challenge.
That the voice counts in a choral or solo ensemble situation is perhaps the most obvious inference. A flurry of important articles dealing with the solo voice in the choral ensemble appeared recently in these pages, presumably owing at least in part to a newly forged relationship with the ACDA, but also due to the significant number of NATS members who direct choirs. A search of the JOS Index with "choral" as the subject indication yields an impressive array of contributions dating back to 1955.
But how does "Your Voice Counts" relate to the solo singer and teacher of singing? First, it seems to me, with respect to the individuality of the human voice. Each of us readily recognizes the voices of those with whom we are intimately familiar, as well as those often in our stream of consciousness (opera stars, TV personalities, political figures, and the like). It has long been established that a voiceprint is as unique and readily identifiable as a fingerprint, even admissible as evidence in a court of law. Thus, it becomes readily apparent that each of us brings a unique quality to everything we sing; my rendering of Dichterliebe is as valid, worthy, and distinctively mine as another artist's is to him or her. This tenet, of course, strongly mitigates against imitation as a technical and aesthetic absurdity, and is as well a repudiation of one's individuality.
As a not entirely unrelated aside, shortly after learning the theme for WVD 2012, I had emergency retina surgery. Following the procedure, I spent my waking hours for the next ten days staring at my shoes (assuming a posture of humble contrition that would make any Dutch Calvinist proud!) and the semicircular space of an approximately six foot radius surrounding them. During that period, I spent a great deal of time listening to CDs and audio books. In the latter instance, not having read the novel for some years, I listened to classically trained actor and famous audiobook narrator Frank Muller read Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities. Over a few decades I had read the novel three times previously, but Mullers inflection, color, turn of the phrase, gave new meaning to many familiar passages. In a voice that really counts, he brought perfect expression to the music of Dickens's delicious prose.
A second application of the motto, "Your Voice Counts," derives from the first. Indeed, it perhaps can be expanded to "Your Voice Counts-Count on Your Voice." Because one's voice is uniquely one's own, it is incumbent upon us to care for, nurture, and preserve it. That means a correct, secure vocal technique, healthy dietary practice, avoiding unhealthy acoustic and atmospheric environments, and shunning abusive habits. And we need to communicate these values to our students. Too many young people, in a typical attitude of invulnerability, have compromised their voices through smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and use of recreational drugs. The human voice has remarkable recuperative qualities, but there are limits, and one must not risk irreparable damage.
Finally, know the vocal instrument in general and your own voice in particular as thoroughly and intimately as possible. (Curiously, ours seems to be the only performance arena in which a knowledge of the instrument is not an a priori assumption.) That concern, in fact, is central to the mission of this journal. I encourage you to read widely and voraciously in these pages, from a broad spectrum of vocal matters. Do not eschew voice science, for example, as so much hocus-pocus, but strive to expand your expertise, insight, and awareness.
If, dear reader, you will allow one additional application of the WVD 2012 motto, let me suggest that "Your Voice Counts" as a contributing member to our association. That means active participation by you and your students in chapter, regional, and national venues. It would be both a delight and a privilege for me to meet and greet you at the Orlando national conference in July. NATS counts on your voice.