“Vocal Advantage: Chiaroscuro” by Dina Else
Date: March 3, 2014
VOCAL ADVANTAGE: CHIAROSCURSO, by Dina Else (no. 28 in a series)
Chiaroscuro is an Italian term that was originally used to describe a balance between bright and dark in the visual arts. Somewhere along the line it became a term that is used to describe the ideal Italian Bel Canto tone.
In Eastern philosophy, the term yin-yang means a balance of opposing forces. In physics, there is the law of conservation of energy, which says that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. These ideas have far reaching importance for singers.
Neil Semer, in his article Applying Chiaroscuro to Your Art and Your Life (NATS Journal October 2003) sums it up very well. [“Rather than holding a “placement” in the attempt to feel vibration in the bones of the face, sensations in the masque are a result of balanced phonation. Seeing the problem in chiaroscuro terms, clarity of tone (which comes from clarity of speech), must balance with its opposite, openness (which comes from the length, shape and looseness of the vocal tract, otherwise called “open throat”.]
Richard Miller likes to say that tone is a very subjective thing but intonation is not. In order for a singer to sing in tune a balanced tone is needed.
I like to teach a balance up and down. They understand pretty quickly what I’m talking about when I say it’s very much like the balance knob on your stereo: if you turn it too much to the top, it’s too tinny; if you turn it too much to the bottom (bass) it’s too woofy. You want to have a nice balance between the two extremes. I also hold them accountable to the anatomy responsible for creating the bright/dark of the tone.
I would highly recommend that you hunt down Neil Semer’s article. He does an excellent job of discussing the ‘chiaroscuro’, the opposing forces, involved in tone, breath, as well as the life of a struggling artist in general.