Fach Dependency, Is It Good For Your Voice?

Fach dependency, is it crippling or good for your voice?

 

The fach system is not exactly liberating. Oh, how dare I say that? Wait I’m not done yet!

Our industry is so narrow minded! So limiting and so inhibiting in many ways!

There are bombastic declarations of how fantastic opera is. So liberating. Such grand scemes where you can do anything as long as you are trained for it.

Yea, right! It was not until I started to brake all the fach rules my voice became happy.

Listen to my story below!

 

It took many, many years of trying to fit into the mold of the fach system before I broke free. Those that heard me sing mezzo first, decided I was mezzo. But those that heard me as a soprano where firm in their believes too. All experts and all deaf! 😉

Fach dependency

Fach prison. Here are the bars and regulations.

During my training I went through a year long program where I only sang light, high coloratura like Gilda and Juliette. Know what? Stepping away from the darker and deeper colors of my instrument made those top notes lose their shine!

My Own Fach Cure

 

Well, I decided to “cure” myself. Therefore I put on a recital where I, amongst other things, sang Didos Lament and Brahms four serous songs, in alto setting. Lo and behold, the brilliance came back while in the process of rehearsing that repertory. I knew then: My voice can not be constrained into a single fach! Just like Yma Sumac.

Even if the industry met me as a dramatic coloratura while auditioning, I never stopped training the full range of my voice at home. It’s like the movie The Lion King. Don’t try to make yourself into something you are not born to be!

What About You?

Are you happy with your fach, or do you too sense there is something else within you that can’t come out right now? Could it be that your vocal problems are about trying to stay in the right place and be a nice, obedient little girl? Please tell below.

ps. Remember to download my free chapter on money. Finances should not stop you from discovering your true voice! ds

Categories: Singers & Singing, Singers Business Blog

33 comments

  • Kelly

    Hi Stella – While not a singer, I appreciate your story in terms of life & business lessons. Categories make everyone else feel good about what you’re doing. The fun is in breaking the categories, breaking the rules, and being true to your own voice. Good for you for finding your voice & being true to you!

  • Kamesha Larry

    Hi Stella, thanks for the advice. I’m 21 years old and I started voice lessons when I was 17. I have my breathing under control and my voice is very flexible in my higher range my lower range not too much. I find when I’m singing I can’t stop analyzing everything. I just want to find that place where I can relax and sing jazz,opera or Italian arias with freedom. I constantly have voice teachers in my ear saying focus on your vowel formation or watch your posture etc. I just don’t want to be focused on all of that. I want to break free and show them that I can sing anything. Every time I perform I’m nervous and my voice sounds soft and weak but. When I’m alone I sound like a strong opera singer. I’m very confused.

    • Stella Scott

      Hi Kamesha! 🙂

      First I want to say that genre and fach are two different things. When you talk about jazz and opera in the same breath it can become really hard and confusing for the instrument you are building. Very, very few can handle both. Actually I’ve never heard anyone that comes away with it in a way that I like to listen to.

      It takes 6-10 years to build a reliable classical solo voice that carries over the orchestra and chorus. Usually your voice will “land” within a some kind of a fach. Like soprano or baritone. But not all of us, like myself. During that time you absolutely must “focus on your vowel formation or watch your posture etc”.

      After that you stop analyzing and can start “creating” while singing. On the go, so to speak. Then your nerves will not interfere with your sound in front of an audience. Let me tell you, it is soooo worth the labour!! 🙂

      The classical voice is very hard to build as it is within your body, sensitive to every little whim your health and mind goes through. I suggest you find one (1) teacher instead of the many you’re suggesting are influencing you right now. And decide with that person if you want to go the classical or lighter route.

      Best of luck!
      Stella
      Stella Scott recently posted…Did you know fear of change is your greatest enemy!My Profile

    • Jeremy Bethea

      Hi Kamesha,

      It is very normal for singers with excellent technical training to be more internally aware of what is happening with their instrument while rehearsing and performing. It’s both a gift and a curse. The trick is to balance that internal “technical” dialogue with solid artistic interpretation (an understanding of the story you are trying to tell through song and your role in that story) so that you deliver a solid, integrated, comfortable, and dynamic performance. You basically want to “sell” the song- no matter what genre you are in. My advice is to keep working on the technical side of your voice and don’t worry so much about that inner technical voice. It’s a good thing to be technically aware of what you are doing as a singer. To balance the technical singer aspect I would advise finding a good acting teacher who respects your voice and your classical training – and work on learning how to develop a character and bring that character to life. It’s amazing how a solid acting technique (such as that taught by late master teacher, Uta Hagen) compliments vocal training and how calming it can be once you fully grasp it.

      Keep working hard. Practice lots! Go to as many live performances as you can. Listen to your teachers. And don’t worry- it will all come together!

      Cheers,

      Jeremy D. Bethea

      • Stella Scott

        Hi Jeremy! Great to have you here, interacting and giving your perspectives. 🙂

        I wholeheartedly agree with you on the acting part. No matter what repertory, gengre or style you sing, understanding what is behind the text or creating a subtext for any song is of great help no matter what you interpret.
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  • Stephen

    Thank you! As a determined Zwischen-fach and voice teacher here, I must agree with you 1000% percent! I spent over 15 years being shuffled around between teachers who could never quite decide “what” I was, as if I was a problem to be solved. Depending on the day, my mood, the rep, and the alignment of the stars, I have Spinto tenor colored high C and a rather formidable lower extension that includes low Eb most days. Might go back and forth from singing Bolcom cabaret songs to Kurt Weill to Ives, Jazz and Puccini in the same concert and could really care less that some people seem intent that I am going to “destroy” my voice with not sticking to one style or fach at a time. In many ways, low to mid- range pieces like Bolcom’s “Black Max” were what ALLOWED me to open up and access my classical high range. For my students, I am hesitant to “assign” them a fach one way or other and we work from a range of collections until their voice “figures itself out” a bit more. Every one of my sopranos is perfectly happy to sing into bottom the chest range and most of my mezzo’s vocalize up to Bb or C almost every lesson. I firmly believe that the top of the voice is colored by the ease and access to the bottom and vice versa… to ignore and pigeon-hole a voice (particularly a young voice!) into one vocal identity is to deny the basic need of human beings to explore and cultivate a wide range of experiences and expressive capability.

    Best wishes to all who refuse to imprison themselves… and healthy singing!
    Stephen Jackson

    • Stella Scott

      Welcome here Stephen!

      Love your approach to your students. I think Vivianne saved me with that very attitude to let my voice “figure itself out”. Since everything else about us it totally unique and there is not one leaf like the other on any tree, why would voices be forced into that pigeon-hole?

      And as you too have experienced, my voice actually became better, fuller and more expressive when ignoring the fach, not destroyed!
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  • misty

    I to have been set as a mezzo by a choir teacher and a vocal teacher who would not let me sing in my brighter voice because she loved the darkness and strength of my mezzo voice…am not a stage singer or anything I just love to sing…I feel my voice can do so much more.

    • Jeremy Bethea

      Hi Misty,

      Singing in a choir is very different from solo singing. As a singer in a choir it is impossible for you to hear the overall tonal color that the choir is producing. It is the job of the choir director is to balance the group as much as possible and to enable the choir to deliver solid performances of choral repertoire. Is it possible that the other singers are not as capable of producing the lovely, rich, dark, tone of your mezzo voice and so the director has come to rely on you for that particular tonal color? It’s not a bad thing to be in demand if you can easily do something other singers can’t. If you absolutely must continue to sing with this group then you’ll need to learn to accept and embrace what the director is asking you to do. Otherwise you might become an unhappy singer and that can lead to all sorts of uncomfortable situations. Have mercy on your poor choir director. Choir directors are creatures of habit (like most human beings) and once they have formed an opinion of what they want from you – it is very hard to change their point of view. Are there any other venues/outlets where you can sing in your beautiful lighter/brighter voice away from this group?

      Best of luck,

      Jeremy Bethea

  • Ashlee

    Hi Stella, this is my first time here! I’m a 25-year-old lyric mezzo and people are starting to ask me to decide whether I’m a low or high lyric mezzo. I recently sang Hansel and Angelina, but I sang a lot of mother roles in school, so my audition arias reflect both sub-fachs. Do I really have to decide now?! 25 is relatively young!

    • Stella Scott

      Welcome Ashlee! So glad you came by and asked your question. 🙂

      According to me you don’t have to decide. You have to be comfortable and feel good about you singing! There is no place in nature that is 100% anything. How many red nuances can you find in one single rose?

      And if you place 100 roses in a row, colored from red to pink, exactly which one is THE transition from one color to another?

      I think 25 is young! I had not even started to sing at that age. As I mention in the video, I was 27 when my study began. Six years later I made my debut as Donna Elvira. I worked extremely hard to accomplish that, but the thing is I still encountered the “fach problem” every time I opened my mouth!

      In that very audition (It became a long one 😉 ) I was questioned and they had me sing Queen of the night too!!! Just because they didn’t believe it was possible for me to do that with my colors my voice has.

      I hope that answers some of your doubts and that you will find teachers more interested in your true potential than putting you in a box!
      Stella Scott recently posted…Why You Should Tell A Story On Your BlogMy Profile

  • Melissa

    I totally know what you mean. Some called me a mezzo in my early teen years, now I’m a lyric soprano. Supposedly.
    But I know that I can have a deep, rich mezzo tone…. but there have also been times when my “coloratura” came out (that’s actually what my voice teacher called it when it happened lol)….. I believe that my training, though it has made me a very precise and technically sound musician, has limited my scope. I feel like there’s more in there that I don’t know how to get at, or can only get at occasionally. When I was younger, my voice was much freer…. a range from F3-G6. A USABLE range! Now? Sure, I can hit the notes…. some of them only some of the time… but are they “usable”? Ehh… not too much. I’m really very upset with this, because I just KNOW there’s something in there! I don’t believe that I truly fit into the system either. Thanks for the post.

    • Stella Scott

      HI Melissa!

      What I started to do when I decided to leave the imposed fach of dramatic coloratura was to simply sing what I felt drawn towards. Just as you I had a very sound technique and I trusted that I would be able to discern if I was going down the wrong path. It was not easy, but loads of fun!

      Then I took that repertory and attended some high level master classes. Usually they frowned when I started out, but as the days passed, one “impossible” tune after the other, I could actually get some very good coaching. It was as if they understood I was a grown up artist, knowing what I was doing and not some insecure student looking for “help”.

      To have a big voice like this (Not volume) might be unusual, but there is still room for us! 🙂 Go ahead, sing what makes you curious!
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  • Lori Joachim Fredrics

    When I was an undergrad, my teacher trained me as a lyric mezzo, she thought my voice sat best in that range and that due to “it’s color” the mezzo repertoire was what I should do. I won all of the undergrad competitions I entered so I thought I was on the right track, but it never felt entirely comfortable, I never felt I could really assert my voice. My teacher head me singing through “Deh vieni” in a practice room one time and acted like I was doing something wrong by defying her, when I was just experimenting. The aria felt better for me than the Cherubino arias
    As the years went on, top experts all disagreed about whether I was a soprano or a mezzo. I kept singing mezzo rep and made the finals of everything I auditioned for, but didn’t win anything big(past my undergrad years). At auditions I often received comments that the color was not right for soprano.
    In 2005 when my dad died I stopped singing for a few months, for the first time since I was a kid.
    When I started singing again the habits and muscle built from singing in the mezzo range were gone and it revealed my rue instrument a full lyric soprano.
    These days I still revisit my mezzo roles and I am learning new soprano roles, I also sing jazz and musical theater.
    I think I can be a soprano or a mezzo, but I have to prepare differently and it takes a few weeks of vocalizing differently in order to switch between them.

    • Stella Scott

      Hi Lori!

      Your story just proves my point. We know best ourselves! I too knew something was not right until i left the fach I had chosen. It has too feel right and I sincerely think it should FEEL easy.

      Too be a full lyric soprano and KNOW that is right is a wonderful thing. Even if the color is somewhat mezzo. Whatever that is. As MezzoMama! says below, once there was only soprano and everyone not an alto fit into that category.

      Sing and Enjoy! 🙂
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  • Trish Shandor

    I gave up my fight with all the fach nazis. I started trainin in my youth 14-19 as a lyric mezzo. At 22 started with a new teacher who found I had color. i was singing the una voce poco fa and cenorentola and lots of flashy vivaldi. Constantly wanting to start YAPs, i.was told my voice just wasnt ready yet. It was always not ready. So, i stopped studying for awhile until i felt my voice was ready and mature enough for an experts opinion. Finally at 27 i went back to college where i was told I was a dramatic or possibly spinto soprano. Transfered to another colllege where that teacher said I was singing the wrong repertoire.and put me into dramatic coloratura rep. I worked repertoir until I graduated. Started auditioning for choruses, YAPs, and competitions. every panel of judges i sang for had their own fach definitions for my voice. You’re a full.lyric soprano, you’re spinto, are you.sure you are singing the riht rep? So i changed my rep yet again to full lyric soprano, did some more competitions and was told I.was singing the wrong rep. I am a dramatic coloratura..so now i am so vocally confused, i sing whatever the Hell i want and now I have moved to the jazz realm where nobody is ever worried about such things.

    • Stella Scott

      Your story just hurts Trish!

      If you love classical repertory you should go ahead and sing it! There is a problem when you want to dive into the roles of opera, but if you are anything like me you can start doing your own programs and chose any songs or arias you want.

      Today I break all the rules singing baritone art song if it pleases me. Or Händel and Tjajkovskij in the same program. I want to tell stories and educate, my way!

      Sing jazz, if it makes you happy, but not if it is “what’s left for you”, as it is simply not true!
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  • MezzoMamma1

    Well as they say know thyself. The voice often changes over time. I agree always vocalise through all of your range. Please remember “mezzos are sopranos”. In Mozart’s day there were no distictions between the two. He just put the name soprano over the names of the parts. P.S. I wish opera had written more good roles for the contralto. We have lost them all to gospel and pop music.

    • Stella Scott

      You are so right MezzoMama1. Voices change and the fixed specialization of voice types is very new. Mozart and those before his times wrote for voices and instruments they knew could handle certain challenges. Only afterwards have the repertory been stacked into certain piles where only some are allowed to pick and choose.

      Know your voice and experiment for yourself! Those that have been well trained will know if something right for them to sing. We can not rely on someone else if we want to fully grow up as artists. Learn to say yes and learn to say no. And be daring!
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  • Merrill

    This was validating. Depending on what teacher or coach I’m working with, I’m either a bass or a bass baritone, when the reality is I’m quite comfortable singing repertoire from both “fachs.” I’m very comfortable in my upper register and can sing a high G with no difficulty, but I can also do a low D that sticks out even in an ensemble.

  • Aaron Hunt

    What a fantastic story you tell! How very helpful. I was born with a good ear, a huge range, and lots of different colors in my voice. What was the result? Every teacher had a different notion of what I “was.” My first teacher said I was a tenor. My second, either NOTHING or a countertenor. I was then offered a full scholarship to Westminster Choir College to train as a Wagnerian tenor. (I declined, mostly because the rep didn’t speak to me then.) I switched colleges, where I was labeled a “French baritone.” (I’m still waiting to have that explained to me.) And so forth, from basso to lyrico-spinto tenor to coloratura tenor, and each time a teacher tried to train me to be SOMETHING that they heard in my voice, I lost either one end of my range or HELP ME, the entire middle. I would ask them to explain what I was happening, and the answer was either “It’s a process,” or “you just don’t have the talent to be a singer, you should become an actor.” So I would change teachers, and begin the horrid process anew. A few months ago I stumbled upon a copy of my Junior Recital, most of which I chose myself, and gave it a listen. Here I found what I believe to be as close to my “natural” voice as possible, since I had been “bent” so little at that point. The vibrato tenor-quick, the top notes easy, and with surprising round high notes. And I finally, at age 57, started to find my own voice. I thought I wouldn’t sing again, and of course there are some of the little losses that come with age, but I have the love back of which I was robbed by well-meaning teachers who thought I had to be button-holed. Unusual voices are so marvelous; let’s help the next generation hang on to them.

    • Stella Scott

      Aaron, I just LOVE that you are going back to singing!! 😀 There is also this age cage that drives me crazy. Sure Pavarotti’s top notes where not the same as he grew older, but the rest!!! The recording from his last performance is just so humbling. Age brings other qualities, just as important. Qualities youth cannot provide.

      Sing on my friend, sing on! 🙂
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  • Dalila Valentine

    Dear Stella,

    Well, my story is a long-ish one.

    As a child I sounded just like Julie Andrews. I always sang easily up to an A (below high C) and was put in the first soprano section in the glee club. At 14 I became a heavy smoker and my voice dropped (my speaking voice also is very low and always has been – I come from Brooklyn). I quit smoking at 26 and began studying voice seriously and was told I was a lyric mezzo. I really never was comfortable singing above an A, but also always felt more comfortable singing in the upper (middle) part of my voice than in the lower part of my voice. I sang for about 5 years with no pay opera companies (of the kind that don’t exist anymore; these were really for amateurs). I stopped singing at 30 and didn’t sing at all until I was “discovered” singing from the back pew of a Unitarian church at the age of 54. As the church choir was a “convenience sample” and I could still sing up to an A, I was put in the soprano section. I began studying again and have been studying now for 9 years (I am now 63) and some people say I am a dramatic mezzo, some say I am a lyric, but I still do not have a wide enough singing in public range for most opera roles. Things I am most comfortable singing are pieces that sit between middle C and the G at the top of the staff. This includes a large repertoire of “soprano 2” solos from oratorios as well as some of the higher alto solos (like “Erbarme Dich” from the St. Matthew Passion and “Qui Sedes” from the Bach B Minor Mass) and some of the lower soprano solos like “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth” and the “Laudate Dominum” from the Solemn Vespers. In opera there are scenes I can sing very well (including the second half of the Judgement Scene from Aida) but notes above A are dicey. At lessons I can vocalize up to a B (always) and up to a C (most of the time) but I can’t sing any note above an A on its own, only if I sing another note first to use as a “launching pad”. In the 9 years I have been studying (with two different teachers) every aspect of my singing has improved but my range has not increased really. Sometimes I wonder if I should give up opera (except for singing the occasional aria for fun) and just be a church singer but I have a very dramatic personality.,
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    • Stella Scott

      Dalia! So sorry your story went unnoticed! 🙁
      Out of some reason I never got to answer your visit and tell you I’m proud of you taking your love for singing and respect for your own voice to new heights by studying and performing. Who cares about age and repertory when you’re doing the right thing for you? I think as grown ups we KNOW what is right for out voices.
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  • Lynette

    When I was young (13 to 25), I was labeled a lyrico spinto. I had a very mature, but by no means heavy sound, but I didn’t have the flexibility of a lyric coloratura. I sang all of the Mozart soubrette roles–Susanna, Zerlina, Despina and some of the lyric mezzo literature such as Una voce poco fa from Rosinni’s Barber of Seville and Cherubino’s arias. However, in my late twenties, after my children were born, my voice lowered. They quality didn’t change, but the range definitely lowered. When I started graduate school (not until years after I completed my bachelor’s in vocal performance), they tried to get me to sing the dramatic Pucinni and Verdi roles and my throat would literally feel on fire after my lessons! I tried to tell my teacher that this literature wasn’t right for me, but she persisted. The next year I changed voice teachers and he had me singing traditional mezzo literature, all of it on the lyric side as well as some of Mozart’s spinto literature like the Contessa in Le Nozze di Figaro, and Fiordiligi in Cosi. I also sang the concert aria “C’hio mi scordi di te…Non temer amato bene” that Mozart composed for his original Susanna, Nancy Storace. All of those were perfect! I have developed into a “mezzo crossover”. I can sing mezzo as well as spinto literature and I love it because it gives me a much wider range of music to choose from!

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