Someone who knows the pressures tells you how to deliver the goods.
Jennifer John knows how to bring the most out of the singing voice.
She has lectured at Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA), performed on stage with Damon Albarn (Blur & Gorillaz], Imogen Heap and provided vocal arrangements for Thea Gilmore.
She also manages a choir of 30 a cappella singers called Sense of Sound Singers – they were Grand Finalists in the BBC Radio 3 Choir of the Year competition in 2006.
We’ve caught up with her to ask her how she helps others unleash vocal power.
You’ve led dozens of singers to great heights on a reality singing competition – how did you make sure their voices were strong as steel?
Vocal warm ups were always essential – both physical and vocal. but I think the most challenging aspects was the travel element – the late nights the loud speaking on the bus – the wear and tear to people’s bodies. Many were all working full time jobs and then cramming in these performances into their weekends.
So what advice do you have to handle the vocal strains?
You have to find some times just to be quiet and still – vocal rest – it’s just so critical – but my group were often too excited to make this happen! It was a learning curve.
So, what else could you do to help them sing powerfully for such a long time?
I think it is about being aware of energy levels when you are speaking and when you are singing. How much effort does it take you to speak? Now, as an experiment, try going straight from speaking into singing. It’s important never to over-sing.
Why is this transition from speaking voice to singing voice so critical?
I find that some vocalists sing with a completely different voice than they speak, not using their natural energies for singing. I am not advocating a certain method here, but just asking singers to observe what is happening between speaking and singing. This awareness helps to prevent vocal fatigue.
So, we should be aware of our natural voices?
Yes! So many people become something ‘other’ when they sing and this can use up valuable stores of energy. If your foundations are honest, then whatever you put on top are about real choices rather than affectation.
OK – any more secrets to unleashing the power of the voice?
Yes. We need to think about our bodies when we are singing – be aware of where your tension is. Is it in your throat? Back? Chest? Do physical exercises to deal with loosening these areas up. Awareness of breathing is essential to the release of physical tension.
I know that you use many exercises with your singers – any favorite ones?
I love “sirening” – when you are first learning to siren it is exhausting because it is so unfamiliar. I say to people, “Imagine an elastic band – it allows your voice to remain flexible in both directions – maintains elasticity – stops it from tightening up. This is what sirens help you achieve.” Try getting a little higher without pushing and a little lower without resistance.
Any final tips?
Well, there’s so much to say – but I do encourage singers to hum. Humming is about creating warmth in the voice – you should be able to feel physical sensations spread around your face and head, helping you to be more relaxed for singing. Also diction exercises are essential for developing clarity, making you much more understandable to your audience.
See Sense of Sound Singers in action – After setting the stage alight during BBC’s Last Choir Standing, Welsh Choir Ysgol Glanaethwy and English Choir Sense of Sound Singers are reuniting for two very special concerts this autumn. The choirs will perform both separately and together, singing in English and Welsh at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral on Saturday 3rd November (for tickets: www.ticketquarter.co.uk and at Venue Cymru, Llandudno on Saturday 24th November (for tickets: www.venuecymru.co.uk)
See more about the Sense of Sound