Vowel and Consonant Modification
That last high note…
A student recently brought an assigned operetta solo to me with only one concern…a high C on the very end. She had already tried changing the words, so that she could get them out, but still felt strangled, and hated the sound up there.
The first thing we did was to look at the tongue-retracting consonants in the final phrase of the song: “Oh, silver light shine bright!”
Trouble was caused by the ending “r” on “silver”, so we softened it to an “h” (think Southern!).
Then we made certain all of the “t’s” and “l’s”were done with the tip of the tongue on the back of the teeth.
The consonant “n” in “shine” has a different effect—it lowers the soft palate, something that will prevent a high note from escaping the throat.
We made sure that the “n” was done as late as possible within the timeframe allowed, and with just a flick of the tongue on the top teeth, rather than allowing the palate to spend more than an instant in the dropped position.
Second, we addressed the diphthongs in “light shine bright”. In English our long “i” is actually sounded “eye—ee”. But an “ee” sound closes the oral pharynx too much for high pitches. There are also certain vowel sounds that resonate better on certain pitches: for women, in the vicinity of high G (G5), “ah” works best; at high C (C6), a short “a” as in “cat” is best. So…
We altered the vowel in “light” to “lot”.
The vowel in “shine” became “shon”.
The vowel in “bright” became even brighter—“brat”.
Problem solved! When she sang, “Oh, silvuh lot shon brat”, the sound came out beautifully.
Should you be concerned that the audience won’t understand the words, don’t be! They will have heard these words before, several times, at lower pitches, and will assume that is what they hear again!