Magic Choral Trick #70 Evolution of the Short Vowels and Vocal Damage
I was asked once which character from Literature I identified with most. Sad I know – but the answer would have to be Henry Higgins.
While other people are worrying about the economy, the environment and children’s literacy, here I am stewing about what we’re doing to the English language, and how as choral singers, we’re ever going to find any common ground.
For example, we no longer have a common understanding of the sounds of the short vowels.
‘a’ Often becomes ‘eh’ “Where do I put my beggage?” There is some hope for this one, because in words like ‘bath’ it’s usually ok. However, I have often heard this word pronounced ‘bayeth’ or even ‘buhaaath’ – with the ‘a’ then stretched out and the sound produced right at the back of the mouth (as CBC’s Promo Boy is wont to do.)
‘eh’ This one has been particularly hard hit. It has been unabashedly turned into an ‘a’. “That’s what he sad”. “The house has four badrooms” “Yoursalf” “He’s one of my bast frands” This is almost always delivered with a flaccid, back of the mouth placement, lots of jaw movement, and at a pressed down pitch – which is absolutely the opposite of what’s needed for healthy singing.
‘ih’ And this one has become ‘eh’. “I’ll be with you in a little bet”
‘o’ Slightly more unscathed – but again, usually produced right at the back of the mouth. “I bahd a new phone” and “What have you gaht?”
‘uh’ So far, the cleanest of all the short vowels. “Done, But, Nothing”
On CBC, Promo Boy’s vowels are all over the map. I often amuse myself by trying to analyse how many vowels he can put into the word ‘books’. This gentleman is a good example of wide, loose, back of the mouth placement. (Singers – Do not do this)
It’s usually only women that add the vocal insult of pressing the voice down to lower pitches, and hardening the quality. This leads to jaw tension and vocal tiredness.
Even the illustrious CBC host, Jian Ghomeshi, whose vowels are usually pretty clean, strangely, talks about painters or writers who produce great ‘ort’.
I guess what we’re witnessing here is the evolution of a language. So be it. However, please, please be aware that the vocal placement required for the currently fashionable way of speaking is leading to vocal tiredness and damage.