The November/December issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “Healthy Minimization of Vibrato: An Exploration of “Straight Tone” by Danya Katok. You can read it in its entirety at acda.org/choraljournal. Following is a portion from the article.
Straight tone singing has many applications for the modern singer, from choral singing to twenty-first-century music. Some imagine straight tone as rigid and motionless; however, straight tone singing is not without vibrato. It is round and clear in quality. It has minimal vibrato, yet shimmers with energy and pulsation. Most singers are discouraged to sing with straight tone by their voice teachers, who fear it damages the voice. While it is true that singing with traditionally vibrant tone and using the tongue and neck muscles to “straighten” it out is harmful, a combination of flow phonation and low dynamic level can achieve sonance and healthfully minimize the perception of vibrato in a way that is not only harmless to the voice, but beneficial for vibrant, versatile singing.
When I moved to New York City in 2010, I followed the path taken by many emerging professional singers and took a job singing in a church choir on Sunday mornings. I ended up at a Catholic church that valued the English Renaissance vocal quality of boy sopranos. My fellow sopranos and I were encouraged to sing with as little vibrato as possible. At fi rst, it did not come naturally; I had to be mindful of my vibrato and recalibrate both my body and mind.
At the height of my choral career, I could sing upwards of thirty hours of rehearsals, concerts, and services in one week—most, if not all, requiring straight tone. It did not happen immediately, but after some time I learned how to lessen my vibrato without putting stress and strain on my vocal mechanism. Certain choral situations required more mindfulness than others. For example, when I sang with the small ensemble at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields, with only one or two singers on a part, it was important for me to focus on healthy production of straight tone, because dropping out due to vocal fatigue was simply not an option.
My “home” on Sunday mornings is the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, known for its wondrous, voluminous acoustics. The danger of singing with our eighteen-member choir is getting lost in the reverberant sound that the space produces and forgetting about the stylistic qualities that the music we are singing requires. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost all of my choral singing was virtual. I began producing virtual choir videos, and what I learned is that straight tone singing in the virtual choir setting is even more important than in the live setting. When stitching together the audio of twenty isolated singers, with varying degrees of home acoustics, a more minimized vibrato can provide an opportunity for a cleaner product.
Honing this skill has helped me in my choral endeavors but, more surprisingly, it has also helped my solo singing. Amid all the straight tone singing I do as a professional choral singer, I practice technical concepts such as resonance production, vowel placement, and breath support that I then apply to my vibrant singing outside of the choir. This strategy has ended up serving a dual purpose: I hone the technical skills necessary to make healthy straight tone singing second nature and I use my straight tone singing to improve my vibrant singing.
Read the full article in the November/December 2021 issue of Choral Journal at acda.org/choraljournal