A Look at the Yod a.k.a the J-Glide

A common point of confusion in French Lyric Diction is knowing when to pronounce the -ill(es), -il(s) as a Yod [j], and when do we pronounce this double “ll” combo as just one “l” [l]. There is a method to this madness, and it is not so complicated.

If the term”Yod” or “j-glide” is stumping you, you can check out one of my past blog posts on the subject of semi-consonants to catch up!

First, we should look at when we pronounce “i” as a Yod.

i or ï is pronounced as a [j] when preceded by a single consonant when it is in front of an a, e, o, or eu. Beware: not when it is in the middle of a word -ie- in some verbs and their derivatives or as the last sound of the word -ie.

For example:

Avant de quitter ces lieux, sol natal de mes aïeux (Before leaving this place, native soil of my ancestors), Valentin’s aria from Faust by Gounod

[aˈvɑ̃ də kiˈte sɛ ljø sɔl naˈtal də mɛz‿aˈjø]

In the example above, in the words “lieux” and “aïeux”, the i and ï are pronounced as a glide. Both of these vowels are in front of eu.

But we do not make a glide in the future tense conjugation of verbs like “oublier” (to forget) [ubliˈe]

J’oublierai (I shall forget) also does not have a glide; in fact, the e vanishes in pronunciation. I often hear [ʒubliəˈre], but the correct way to pronounce this word and other words like it is: [ʒubliˈre]

When -ie- is at the end of a word, it is simply [i] unless the composer gave a note value to the schwa, in which case it will be [iə], and we should not hear a glide between these vowels.

il, ill, ll : When do these letters make a Yod?

  • il, ill, and ll make a glide when at the end of a word in the following combinations: -ail,-eil, -ueil, -oeil- and euil.
  • il sounds as a glide in the middle of words in the following combinations: -aill-, -eill-, -euill-, -ouill-, -ueill- and oeill otherwise, it is pronounced as [ij].

Examples:

Un deuil amer (bitter mourning) [œ̃dœj‿aˈmɛr]

but in the word fille, we add an [i] in front of the glide; otherwise, there would be no vowel in the word: jeune fille (young girl) [ʒœnə fijə]

List of Exceptions:

As anyone who has ever studied the French language or French diction knows, there are many rules to follow, but there are just as many exceptions to the rules, if not more.

When il(s) is at the end of a word and follows a consonant, the i is [i], and the l is sometimes silent and sometimes sounded.

The following is pronounced without an l or a glide.

  • gentil (nice) [ʒɑ̃ˈti] N.B: You should not confuse this gentil with its feminine version gentille [ʒɑ̃ˈtijə] which is pronounced with a glide.
  • fusil (gun) [fy’zi]
  • grésil (hail) [gre’zi]
  • sourcil (eyebrow) [sur’si]

The following is pronounced without a glide but with an l

  • cil (eyelash) [sil]
  • fil (thread) [fil] or fils [fil] (the plural form of thread and pronounced exactly the same as the singular form) and not to be confused with fils (son or sons) [fis], which is pronounced without an l, but with an s whether it be singular or plural.

You could memorize this list, consult a French dictionary for the IPA translation on these more special words, or refer back to this post.

The exception also applies to the ll in the following words and their derivatives:

  • mille (thousand) [milə] Derivatives: million, milliers, milliards…
  • ville (city) [vilə] Derivatives: village, villageois, villagoise
  • tranquille (tranquil) [trɑ̃ˈkilə] Derivatives: tranquillité, tranquillement

If you don’t want to forget, memorize this phrase: Milles villes tranquilles: “A thousand tranquil cities” then you will remember that every word belonging to the family of these three words in French are pronounced as [l] rather than a [j].

These tips should help you navigate the world of “glide or not to glide” when it comes to the YOd and how to avoid making mistakes while singing, or speaking!

My favorite French dictionary online

We don’t always have a dictionary in our pockets, and let’s face the fact that we are in a digital age, no matter how much we love actual books. My favorite French dictionary online is the Larousse: https://www.larousse.fr/ This dictionary has been my go-to since as long as I can remember, it has it all, and the online version is quite good to work with.

Vocalic Harmonization in French Singing

What is Vocalic Harmonization?

Maybe you have heard this term before, or perhaps it is new to you. When I coach people for the first time, it always seems like they are familiar with Vocalic Harmonization, but they are not sure how to use it. It is a term used in linguistics when applying the rhyming of closely related vowels in the same or words that follow each other. It is also known as “vowel harmony”. The practice of vocalic harmonization is most often used in the French vocal repertoire for linguistic refinement and ease of vocal production. Most frequently in French singing, we harmonize [ɛ] with [e] and [œ] with [ø]

For example:  “aimer” [ɛˈme] becomes [eˈme] or Heureux [œˈrø] becomes [øˈrø]

As you can see in the examples above, the unstressed, open vowel-sound closes to rhyme with the following stressed, closed vowel, not the opposite. Remember, it is the final syllable that is stressed in French, except when that syllable is a schwa-sound [ə] because a schwa can never be stressed. In this case it is the syllable before the schwa that gets the stress.

les, tes, ses, mes, ces…

the possibility of vocalic harmonization also exists in closing the [ɛ] in short words such as les, tes, ces, etc. (these are articles or possessive adjectives). When a closed vowel immediately follows these, they can be closed to an [e].

For example: les étés [lɛz‿eˈte] would become [lez‿eˈte]

The article “les” is harmonized to the closed [e] in “étés”

These harmonized syllables must never be accented or overly closed, and at times they only are slightly closed on the way to their closed neighboring vowel-sound, and over-closing the harmonized vowel can result in obscuring the text. The idea is that it should feel natural and sound authentic since vocalic harmonization occurs in everyday speech but not deliberately. Many native French speakers do not even realize that they are doing this.

Some French words are almost always harmonized. For example, the following words would have all open vowels in the first syllable if we followed the diction rules, but they are sung and spoken with vocalic harmonization:


aimer (to love) [ɛˈme] becomes [eˈme]
baiser (to kiss) [bɛˈze] becomes [beˈze]
heureux (or heureuse) (happy) [œˈrø] becomes [øˈrø]


Vowel harmonization should not be systematic. It is a completely optional choice left to the singer. In cases where it can help the legato line, it is recommended to harmonize the vowels as sometimes it is easier to get through a phrase with fewer vowel changes.

For example:

Let’s take a look at “Lydia” by Fauré. In this text we find this line: “Laisse tes baisers de colombe”

The “tes baisers” can be sung as all closed [e] but the “laisse”” remains an open [ɛ] because the vowel following it is not a closed vowel.

[lɛsə tɛ bɛˈze] becomes [lɛsə te bɛeze]

Speak it out loud both ways and see the difference for yourself.

I would also go further and say if you have an article or possessive adjective (les, des, mes, tes ses) and the following word begins with a closed [o] or any vowel that has a closed feeling such as [i], [ø] [õ] [y] or [o], you can apply vocalic harmonization.

Again in in “Lydia by Fauré:

“Lydia, sur tes roses joues” you can harmonize the “tes” which would typically be [tɛ] to a closed [te] to match the closed [o] sounds of [rozə]. But, the “mes” in “mes amours” in the same song stays [ɛ] because a closed vowel-sound does not follow it.

Here is the text of Fauré’s Lydia where I will highlight the vocalic harmonizations:

Lydia, sur tes roses joues
Et sur ton col frais et si blanc
Roule étincelant
L’or fluide que tu dénoues;
Le jour qui lui est le meilleur
Oublions l’éternelle tombe
Laisse tes baisers de colombe
Chanter sur ta lèvre en fleur.
Un lys caché répand sans cesse
Une odeur divine en ton sein;
Les délices comme un essaim
Sortent de toi, jeune déesse
Je t’aime et meurs, ô mes amours,
Mon âme en baisers m’est ravie
O Lydia, rends-moi la vie,
Que je puisse mourir toujours!

In this recording of Véronique Gens and Roger Vignoles, you can hear the use of vocalic harmonization as highlightede above.

Véronique Gens and Roger Vignoles

Try not to over-use vocalic harmonization. Remember, it should not obscure the text, and it should be helpful to the singing. If you are not sure if something should be harmonized or not, ask your French diction coach, or listen to several recordings to see what the consensus is. Just know that some coaches don’t apply vowel harmony and there are differing opinions on the matter. Since it happens in everyday speech, and I have seen it help so many singers in their legato and ease of singing, I generally encourage vocalic harmonization when appropriate.

What is Your Definition of Success?

What is success to you? We know what setbacks are, we have all had them. They are a part of being human and an important part of any worthwhile process, but why is it so difficult for us to define, or identify success? As musicians, we strive for perfection even with the full knowledge that perfection is not something realistically attainable in this field. There is no right or wrong, for that kind of absolute result, you have to turn to other disciplines. In music, sometimes the beauty is found or created through imperfection and setbacks.

Is success something that defines your happiness? Of course, we need some form of success as a motivator in life, I believe we are wired this way. What does success in your professional life look like? What does success in your personal life look like? Is being “famous” your idea of success, or is it making a good living doing what you love, feeling fulfilled and leading a meaningful life? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. It is all about self-reflection.

One of the aspects of succeeding is planning for setbacks and learning to identify them as your path to improvement and eventually achieving your idea of success, whatever that may mean to you.

Pitfalls of Perfectionism:

As I mentioned above, I think musicians have a deep desire to play or sing perfectly, without flaws or imperfections. One of the driving forces pushing us towards perfectionism is listening to studio recordings. They almost always sound flawless. Having been involved in recordings myself, I can tell you that there is so much which can be done digitally to fix even the tiniest imperfection. Even if one note is wrong in one bar, this can be spliced and replaced quite easily. This is normal, and it is part of the recording process. These recordings make for an exciting listening experience, but should not be used as the bar against which you measure yourself. This is when perfectionism becomes harmful to your process. I prefer to listen to live recordings made in front of an audience which show a true representation of what it is like to hear something being done in a performance.

This being said, just going for “good enough” does not lead you to reach the full extent of your potential. Striving for excellence can inspire greater achievements as opposed to perfectionism which is untouchable and never good enough. Seeking perfection and never reaching it can destroy your motivation and have psychological effects on your performance.

The following is a list of things I try to focus on to help me through setbacks or to help me reach my goals.

Realistic Goals:

Setting realistic goals is an integral part of any process. I often talk to my students in terms of the “short game” and “long game” Your short game goal should be achievable within weeks. Let’s say you have a very long phrase to sing. Your short term goal would be to try to do it with a few strategic breaths all the while doing it beautifully. The long game goal, which may happen in 2 months, 6 months, or a year, is to do the phrase in question in one breath. Making smarter goals for yourself will help keep you motivated and when you achieve them, they will give you a reason to be proud, and chances to succeed will grow. Many goals we set for ourselves end up as failures because they are unrealistic and we don’t give ourselves enough time to reach them. So, yes, try to get to the ultimate goal, but do it in stages with challenging and attainable goals in the interim.

Setbacks:

There is no such thing as a straight line to success. Setbacks are a huge part of the process. We learn from them, and we become stronger because of them. As you embark on your journey, accept that you will have setbacks -probably many of them. Permit yourself to fail. The only way forward is to work through these setbacks, and to not let them deter you from your ultimate goals. Maybe you sang an audition and you didn’t get the job or you received negative feedback. All you can do is learn from this, ask yourself what is constructive in the experience and what will help you reach your goals. Brush yourself off and get back to work. If you have chosen to be a singer, you have to be aware that you have chosen a highly competitive field where criticism is a big part of your everyday life. Setbacks are guaranteed. What is in your control is how you choose to react to the setback.

Goals attained?

If you have attained your goals, playing the short or long game, evaluate and ask yourself why did you achieve them, what was the formula? Sometimes this is hard to pinpoint but worth analyzing the results. This type of self-assessment can help you in setting more goals in the future. As you would do when you complete any project, write a list of what was successful, and what could be improved on in other projects. Celebrate the successes and learn from the setbacks.

You are your own success story:

Success is a personal choice and looking at it as such instead of measuring it against other’s successes, or an unrealistic idea of what success should be will help you find your path. Learn what success means to you. Does it mean a Fest contract in an opera house? Does it mean singing in a professional chorus? Giving voice lessons? Working in an academic function? A change in perspective about your idea of success can lead to greater opportunities for you, and more importantly happiness and a meaningful life. Be willing to evolve, adapt, and change your goals and your ideas of success as you go. As we evolve as people, so do our goals and our idea of what makes us happy. You may have a five-year plan set up for yourself, but many things can happen between year one and year five!

As the saying goes: “Success isn’t final and failure isn’t fatal”. It is how you choose to move forward that counts. The important thing in life is to be happy and fulfilled. As a musician, the peer pressure of being “the best” and getting a lot of work and attention can skew our perception of what success means to us. Remember that failure and setbacks are keys to your success.

Stay afloat

Our lives have been turned upsidedown and as we continue trying to find our way through this extraordinary time of social distancing, mask-wearing, and disinfecting, we are faced with some very stressful situations. At this point, it is fair to say that we have all experienced the sting of canceled performances and the stress that accompanies these cancellations. We are dealing with a new way of doing things online, which for artists is the complete opposite of what we normally do. The normal feeling which we once knew seems so far away as we are not capable of being completely submerged in what we are passionate about anymore. We are living for morsels of our art that we get to taste only now and then.

How do we fit into this new shift in the landscape? What are the emotional consequences of the changes in our lives and our careers?

Everyone copes differently and we are all trying to cope in the best way that we can in these unprecedented times. While it is true that we can’t control what is happening around us, or to our lives at the moment, what we can control is how we react to it.

We all have feelings

Anxiety:

I think this is the most common phrase I hear these days: “I feel anxious about the future”. Anxiety lives in the unknown or the uncertainty of what is happening, or what will happen. It seems like we have normalized anxiety, especially in these times. We live with it as part of our daily lives. Studying a new score for an upcoming contract is usually a joyful undertaking, but the anxiety of not knowing if the performances will happen, or how they will happen affects our motivation, our efficiency, and even our artistry.

Depression:

When anxiety gets worse, our mind goes to the worst-case scenarios. This is the way our mind tries to protect us from what will happen. If we expect it, we won’t have the element of shock. Expecting the worst in these times is also something we have grown accustomed to. When anxiety grows, it can lead you into a depressed state.

Panic:

When we start to panic, we can make rash decisions, or just freeze and not know which way to turn. Saying there is no reason to panic is also not helpful since for many performers out there trying to pay their rent and their livelyhood is slipping away while all the contracts get canceled is a reason to feel panicked. We are always waiting for the other shoe to drop! This panic risks becoming a lack of motivation due to a lack of goals and it is not our fault. More importantly, it can harm our overall health.

These feelings, to whatever degree, are normal. If you are feeling them, I am here to tell you that you are not alone. What can we do about it? As a vocal coach, I have to give advice all the time. If a singer is in this state, it is close to impossible to produce sound or to get through music so I find myself often just listening to problems and offering some points to consider. As I write this post, I am also reminding myself that it is OK to feel this way. Focusing on the things we can control can help us figure out how to navigate in this time. We can’t control a global pandemic, or the impact it is having on our daily lives and careers, but we can control how we choose to react to it.

  • Avoid the negative: Ok, this is easier said than done in these times because everyone, even the people who seem like they are coping well, is feeling the negative effects of this pandemic. Try to avoid taking the small problems and magnifying them because we are already just dealing with a lot, and that’s a fact! You can avoid the negative by being more discerning about what you choose to read, how much news you watch, and spending time with people you want to spend time with and who make you happy. These simple choices can help you change your outlook. If something makes you happy, DO IT! Many of my friends decided to just decorate their homes for the holidays on November 1st…if it makes you happy, DO IT!
  • Social media: I know it has been said before, but social media can affect us negatively even in good times, but in these times, it can be especially difficult to scroll through our favorite sites. Yes, we can find a community to share our common woes with, but our community should extend offline as well. Otherwise, it can take-over your outlook, and then we can find ourselves drowning in negativity. When you are scrolling, we try not to beat ourselves up if we see that some people are getting to perform and we are not. Everyone is just posting their highlight reels. Let’s celebrate that they are having a good moment. Our highlight reel will be up and running again soon!
  • Everyone is working on a solution: No matter what our situation is, if we are a working artist or a student, remember that nobody wanted this situation and everyone is doing their best to manage it. The word unprecedented is used a lot because this is a completely new situation. Once you understand that noone is doing this to you and that there are people who are desperately trying to keep things going while trying to keep everyone safe, we may find more rest for ourselves and not feel like we are alone in this.
  • Set a personal schedule and goals for yourself: Making plans and taking steps towards our career goals can be helpful to maintain hope. Everyone has the right at this moment to have some time which is not productive, and I fully encourage you to permit yourself to give your productivity a break from time to time. A bit of planning, making a practice schedule, setting our own goals and deadlines can help us feel more “normal”. I suggest that setting smaller goals that are achievable like tweaking your online presence, learning new skills, learning new repertoire or delving deeper into another language. I took a Dutch course over the course of the summer. I am fluent, but I wanted to understand more about writing in Dutch. The class was challenging and it was great to get out of my bubble fore a while twice a week.
  • Be resilient: We are open to new challenges when they come along. New ventures and a new way of doing things can be very refreshing and envigorating. Try replacing: “I don’t want to be online” or “It is not possible to do what I do online” with “Okay, let’s be creative and give it a try” or ” I want to be flexible”. You never know, you may just be opening a door to new worlds. For instance, I never thought I would or could coach online, but since I have embraced being flexible in this, I am doing a lot of online coaching from my home in The Netherlands with singers in North America and beyond. With an open spirit and some willingness to be flexible, you can always do good work, and it can be fun!
  • Breathe: Finally. I would say, just breathe, this is situation is hard and nobody is saying that it isn’t. We are all in the storm together, even if we are not all in the same boat. Breathing, taking a time-out from the difficult feelings, and the sadness of missing something that seems to be lost is so important. Whatever that means to each of us, we should remember to breathe as often as we can.

Making music and being an artist is a big part of who we are. Making music together is the fulfillment we get by connecting with others and creating a moment together through the wonderful feeling of that energy which flows between us, the performers and the audience.

I keep telling myself: “This is temporary” and I believe it is, I have to. There will be some serious ramifications caused by this pandemic, but on the other hand, I think we are also learning a lot about what possibilities we can discover when we are forced to think outside the box. The energy we long to share is still there, we just need to search for new ways to share it!

I saw this quote a few weeks back: “We are in the same storm, but not the in the same boat” I did some research to find out where the quote came from and it lead me to this poem written in the pandemic by Damien Barr. The poetry speaks of being kind to each other and to ourselves, respecting that every person is dealing with things we don’t even know about, empathy and seeing beyond what we see at first glance. It spoke to me, and I hope it speaks to whoever is reading this post. Damian Barr: We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat

Featured image:

Choosing Your Vocal Coach-Pianist

Singers, maybe more than anyone else in the performing arts, are bombarded with people giving them their opinion on the way they sing. Everyone seems to have something to say, and they regularly voice their opinion to the singer whether or not the singers wants to hear it. Because singers are not technically able to hear themselves when they sing, it is easy for them to fall into the trap of believing all these opinions. All day long, singers are put in situations where they are set up to receive feedback. The conductor gives them comments, the stage director and/or the stage manager gives them comments, the diction coach gives them comments, the coach gives them comments, the teacher gives them comments, and when they perform, the audience and the critics give them comments. Those are a lot of COMMENTS. This is just a normal day in the life of a singer. It is important for singers to surround themselves with a team of people they trust completely to help them weed through all of the comments and all the outside “noise”. A good coach is a great help in figuring out which feedback is useful.

The coach

What is a pianist-coach? A pianist-coach is a skilled pianist who specializes in vocal coaching. Mostly we know them as coach, opera coach, vocal coach or collaborative pianist. You see your coach regularly, you trust them, you let them see you in the beginning of your process and they stay with you until you are ready to step onto the stage.

There are different types of pianists who specialize in working with singers. You can collaborate musically with a pianist by being both equal partners, you share your musical vision, prepare recitals and recordings together. This is when when the pianist plays the role of a “collaborator” or a “recital partner”. There are also “rehearsal pianists” who you call when you want to run through repertoire without much or any input. You just want to repeat things ad nauseum until you feel ready. Sometimes, a coach can play that role as well, mostly after the preparation is complete and the singer is about to start the job. A coach is not someone who will teach you your notes and rythm. There are pianists who do that, and sometimes singers do need this kind of help, but this is not a coaching, it is more like a practice session, or what is commonly called a “note-bashing” session. Most coaches do not want to do this. “Spoon-feeding” is considered a waste of resources, so don’t just show up expecting your coach to do this. If you are a singer who needs this from your session, you can kindly ask the coach first if they would agree to doing this kind of work, and if they don’t, then ask another pianist you know for a session (often younger pianists or students do this for extra earnings).

When you properly work with a true coach you can expect a more of a teacher-student type of relationship. They provide you with valuable feedback and information. You go to a coach when you want to prepare roles, work on recital repertoire in detail, work on language and text, work on your audition preparation, get to the finer points of character and the music.

Some things to consider when choosing a coach:

  • Your relationship with your coach is an intimate one, so most importantly, find a coach that you like as a person. The work you will be doing will be intense. It demands a lot of trust from both sides. You should feel comfortable making mistakes, and they should make you feel comfortable about being corrected.
  • Find a coach who meets your skill level. If you are an experienced singer, find a coach who has been working in the field for at least the same amount of time as you have, but preferably they should have more experience.
  • When you sing repertoire which is advanced, you want your coach to be able to play it (or at least sight-read it well) and make comments on what you are doing in order for you to improve. If a coach does not know your repertoire, they should not pretend to know it. When I am confronted with unfamiliar repertoire, I am honest about it, I still work on it, but the next time I see the singer, I have learned it. If you are doing something that you suspect is unknown, giving a heads-up is a good idea.
  • A coach, should have excellent pianistic skills, they should inspire you to sing and make music, and if you are singing opera, they should be able to conjure up an orchestra from the keys! My favorite compliment is always: “You play like a full orchestra!” This does not mean loud and “bangy”. Playing “like an orchestra” is about the texture of the sound and supporting the singer fully.
  • A coach should have quite advanced language skills, they should be able to speak or at least have a firm grasp of the lyric diction in a minimum of four operatic languages: French, English, Italian and German. Their ear should be developed enough to hear even very subtle language inaccuracies.
  • Find a coach who understands style and tradition, as well as current trends in performance practice. Whether you bring bel canto, baroque, romantic or contemporary music, your coach is well versed in all of the styles in order to guide you.
  • If you are preparing a role, it is of the utmost importance that your coach is able to play the score while singing all the other parts. It does not have to be beautiful singing (trust me!) but it should be audible. If your coach can’t do this, and you have a role coming up, find one who can.
  • Your coach is not your voice teacher. A coach can support your vocal technique, but please do not go to a pianist to learn how to sing, or to get vocal technique. This is what a voice teacher is for. Confused? See this previous blog post: A Voice Teacher and a Vocal Coach-Why you need both! A good coach who has years of experience working with singers will be able to point out something that needs technical attention, and then suggest that the singer address the issue with their voice teacher.
  • When you work with a coach, they can also be your collaborative partner. If you have musical chemistry with your coach on all levels, then by all means collaborate with them on stage, too!
  • It is important that a coach treats you like a person. Yes coaches teach, but you should feel comfortable in your session, not only with the singing, but with making a contribution to the session. A good coach asks questions, wants to know what the singer’s opinion is on the music, text and character, after all, you are the one who is singing it! If you feel like your coaching is a one way street, find a coach who lets you get a word in edgewise.
  • The coach you work with makes you feel respected. They are on time and they should not cancel at the last minute (unless it is an emergency…it can happen…but not regularly) and you should do the same for them.
  • Look for a coach who has worked with great conductors, organisations, opera houses and singers. They will have first-hand knowledge of what is needed in the world in which you aspire to work. That being said, do not expect that by working with someone attached to a house, that they will get you auditions, work or any kind of exposure to where they work. When singers come to a coaching with the idea that they can get a contact, audition or a job from the coach they are working with, it is very obvious. Believe me, we spot it from a mile away.
  • Finally, the coach (or coaches) you choose to work with are accessible, you should feel like you can approach them for advice and have confidence that they will be honest with you. A coach who only tells you what you want to hear is not a coach you need. There is no time to waste and honesty will help you improve, even if it doesn’t always feel great to hear the truth. A good coach will tell you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear!

Coaching fees-How much should you be paying?

I think every coach needs to come up with a fee that represents what they think their time is worth. Other than the points mentioned above, the following can help you along as you are considering hiring a coach:

  1. Level of education and/or experience: The longer someone has been working as a coach, the more knowledge they have to share. You are basically paying for their experience and knowledge. As you record your session (always ask first if it is permitted. If not, take tons of notes!), you will be able to refer back to the session for the rest of your life. You will, in turn, most likely use the acquired information in your own teaching and get payed for it yourself in the future!
  2. Repertoire: With experience, comes a vast knowledge of repertoire. Imagine how many hours the coach in question has spent behind the piano learning repertoire over the years. There is no way they are really breaking even financially!
  3. Supply and demand: Prices can vary depending on if they are in demand. Some coaches prefer a lower fee and work with many singers, and other coaches like a higher fee and fewer singers.
  4. The bundle: Some coaches like to bundle, meaning that if you take several sessions, they will give you a lower price. You can ask if they have something like this available where you book a certain amount of coachings ahead of time.
  5. Student prices: If you study at a school, hopefully they provide a coach, if not, ask about a student fee. Most coaches won’t charge a student the same price as someone already in the profession.
  6. Online sessions: With the corona-crisis, we are now being more open to the possibility of online coaching. This means that coaches can open up their studios world wide. It is still early days, but maybe there is a different fee depending on what is offered. As the technology develops, we will see how far this can go, but it is an exciting development. It means the planet is a little smaller and you can work with people who are on another continent!

You are paying for advice and expertise and you want the best help you can get in order to do the best you can do. If it feels too expensive, then find someone that is more affordable for you. Ask around and see what the rates are. Every country, city, region has a going rate so answers will vary depending on where you are. I don’t advise haggling on the price of a session. Everyone who offers private coaching has thought long and hard about their fee and it is not customary to try and bargain.

As you go on in your professional career, you can and will work with more than one coach, you can have a list of different coaches for different aspects of what you are working on. Some coaches have specific strenghts that stand out of their vast skill set. When you are a professional singer, you will sing everywhere and have a list of coaches for all the cities where you work-a set of ears you trust everywhere you go!

When Does a Nasal Vowel Lose its Nasalization?

The four French nasal vowel sounds

If you have taken any French diction course in your life, you know that in French there are 36 sounds to master and 15 of them are vowel sounds (and then you have 18 consonant sounds and 3 semi-consonant sounds). The most misunderstood of all French sounds is the “nasal” vowel sound. In the French language there are four:

  • [ɑ̃] which is based on the french “dark a” sound as in the word “âme” (which means soul)
  • [õ] which is based on a “closed o” sound like in the word “hôtel” (which means hotel)
  • [ɛ̃] which is based on an “open ɛ” sound like in the word “mais” (which means but)
  • [œ̃] which is based on the “o e” sound like in the word “chacun” (which means each)

When I say it is “based on”, I mean that the basic vowel takes up approximately 85 -90 percent of the nasal sound, depending on tessitura, and the rest is resonance which passes through the cavities that are found near the nose, in the yawn space, more or less in the center of your head, but not in your nose.

The reason a nasal vowel is called as such is because the consonants which follow the vowel in question are the nasal consonants n and m. In order to produce these consonants, you must pass through your nasal cavity. That being said, you should not pronounce the m or n in a nasal sound unless it is in a “liaison*”. The combination of a vowel plus the nasal consonant is why they are known as “nasal vowels” and not because they belong in your nose. The m or n that follows every nasalized vowel-letter is silent. A nasal vowel is just that, a vowel. It is not a vowel-plus-a-consonant, a sort of m or n, or the faint “ng” sound which is nonexistent in French.

While singing, if someone wishes to sound “as authentic as possible”, they tend to over-nasalize the French nasal sound which results in a much less resonant sound-actually it can cut your sound in half leaving you feeling stuck. Thinking of the appropriate basic vowel, and focusing your attention on it while letting the resonance take care of the rest, will be more conducive to proper singing and will sound much less stiff to the listener whereas exaggerated over nasalization sounds a bit comical.


Now that we have had a brief look at how a nasal vowel functions, when does the vowel loose it’s nasalization?

Rule: Any vowel-letter(s) followed by m or n is usually nasalized unless the m or n is followed by:

1. a vowel-letter or a vowel sound in the same word.

Example:

immense (which means immense) [imˈɑ̃sə]. The double “m” takes away the nasal.

or

2. an m, n, or h in the same word.

Example:

bonheur (happiness) [bɔˈnœr]. Although the word “bon” is most definetly nasalized, the word “bonheur” is not.

So whereas the vowel-sound of the word “sein” [sɛ̃] (meaning breast) is nasalized the name of the river flowing through Paris, the ‘Seine’ [sɛnə], is not, since the n is followed by a vowel-letter.

Denasalization usually does not occur between words or words in liaison: mon amour (my love) [mõn ͜ amur] As you can see, even if the n is pronouonced because it is in liaison, the o stays nasalized.

Exception:

In these following instances, the nasal vowel stays intact even if the m or n is followed by another m or n:

emmener (to bring) [ɑ̃məˈne]-this word has a double m, but the nasal remains.

ennui (boredom) [ɑ̃ˈnɥi]-this word has a double n, but the nasal remains.

And remember what I said about this rule does not apply in liaison? There is an exception to that too (as there are exceptions to most French diction rules):

When you wish someone “Happy Birthday” in French, you say: “Bon anniversaire!”. The correct way to pronounce this is [bɔn ͜ anivɛrˈsair(ə)], without nasalization on the o or the a, but I notice that the pronunciation of this saying confuses the orthography and it is often wrongly spelled: bonne anniversaire. This of course cannot be, because “bonne” is the feminin form of the adjective “bon” and “anniversaire” is a masulin noun. So, we speak it one way, but it is written another way.

So the next time you want to write a message on your French friend’s social media, you can write “Bon anniversaire!” and you will know why we pronounce it differently than how it looks!🎂

*liaison: A liaison may occur only between a normally silent final consonant and an following vowel-sound. Ex: les ͜ amoureux (the lovers) [lɛz͜͜ ͜ amurø]

A Voice Teacher and a Vocal Coach- Why You Need Both!

Because singers hear themselves differently than the outside world, they need a team of experts around them to be their extra ears. Singers depend on others to let them know if what they are doing sounds right, if their diction is correct, and if they are actually doing what they are trying to do. Depending on others means that everyone will have an opinion about how you are singing and how you should be doing things. So, how do you know who you can trust? How do you assemble a trustworthy team to help weed through all the noise?

First, and in my opinion, most important, is a voice teacher. As a singer, you need someone who will go on your technical journey with you. This means someone with an in-depth knowledge of vocal technique and who knows how to communicate it in a way that you can understand. Vocal teaching is expressed through a language unique to each teacher and it can take time to understand what they are asking from you. Sometimes the technical work is excellent, but your personalities do not click. Can you work like this? Should you stay in this studio? Sometimes you get along on a personal level, but the technical gains are not happening-same questions apply. These are soul-searching questions and hard decisions, but the most important reasons to be with a teacher are making healthy vocal improvements, problem-solving, and maintaining a beneficial vocal technique. The outcome of your work is more important than just having a great time with someone during a lesson.

In addtion to a voice teacher, an excellent vocal coach who understands where you are coming from and where you are going is essential to any singer trying to have a career. It is important to note that a vocal coach is not a voice teacher. Though they may have the same goals for you, a vocal coach is usually a pianist which means there are no grounds for them to give you a full-blown voice lesson. I have been coaching singers for many years, and I have been in thousands (not exaggerating!) of voice lessons. As a vocal coach, I know many technical concepts, and I can identify what a singer is doing to produce a sound or if the sound is right or not, but that does not mean that I want to go in-depth with these technical concepts. My job is to support the technical work both singer and teacher are doing by understanding it and making musical and language adjustments that do not get in the way and often my adjustments may help technically, but this is just a by-product of my coaching. I may have some technical comments to make, and I do make them, but I am always careful not to steer the singer down the wrong path, and most importantly, I always try not to go against the technical road the singer is on with their voice teacher.

Voice teacher vs. Vocal coach

While both help you to improve your singing, there is a difference between each of the professions. Learning what they do will help you decide how to go about choosing the right people to be in your team.

• Voice Teacher

– Individually helps you to make the correct sounds, with proper pitch and tone

– Works on voice building and vocal registration

– Helps you develop your vocal skills, builds up your vocal production and chooses appropriate repertoire and roles.

– Lays the foundation to build your voice into its full potential and helps you to maintain your voice.

• Vocal Coach

– From the piano, they individually help (to coach) you on singing particular repertoire

– Focuses on style and diction – proper pronunciation of words, especially foreign languages

– Helps you interpret and perform your repertoire (works on character, meaning, sub-text – what does the song mean?)

– Along with your voice teacher helps you build your singing repertoire.

A vocal coach is a usually pianist who works almost exclusively with singers and who knows the repertoire. An excellent vocal coach won’t interfere with vocal technique, and if they notice any issues, they’ll explain to the singer what they think the problems are and recommend that the singer discuss it with their voice teacher.

More than one of each?

As you can see, the two functions at times cross over each other, but this should only be in support of each other. As you advance in your career, you may see your voice teacher less because you are traveling, and a weekly lesson is not possible anymore, and you end up checking in once or twice a month or when you start working on a new role. We are realizing, however, in this time of Covid-19 that voice lessons can really be productive in an online format if need be. But as you are working and travelling, an excellent vocal coach is vital component to your success. They will be your ears and let you know if something is not working. They can take you through your role and advise you on a multitude of issues. The best part is that you can have several trusted vocal coaches around the world. You don’t have to have just one, but with voice teachers, it can lead to confusion to have more than one-the equivalent to “too many cooks in the kitchen”- and in my years of experience, when I have seen singers try to have more than one voice teacher, it has rarely worked out if ever.

Can a Vocal coach be a Voice Teacher?

Some vocal coaches are neither voice teachers nor pianists. They are people with excellent knowledge of repertoire , style, convention, and integrating some technical concepts. They may call themselves voice teachers, but what they do is more like coaching. When you have a session with such a coach, you would normally have to bring a pianist and almost exclusively work on repertoire and not necessarily on voice building concepts.

Though singers can be coaches, I firmly believe that a pianist cannot be a voice teacher. If a singer or violinist offered me a piano lesson, I would be a little perplexed as they don’t have an in-depth knowledge of playing the instrument. Since most pianists have no real idea of what it is like to sing on stage or even sing at all (some of us can’t even produce a healthy sound), they should refrain from teaching someone how to sing even if they have some technical knowledge. There are pianists out there who have studied voice extensively, and they have sung in their life, and then if a singer chooses to work with a singing pianist and follow their technical advice, that is their choice to make, but these pianists are rare. Most pianists who work with singers have had some minimal voice training, but they are not voice builders, which is why my advice is to get your technique from the technical experts!

The bottom line is to know what you need and where to find it. Work with people who support you and each other because you don’t want your voice teacher and your vocal coach bickering all the time-Who needs that? Your number one priority is keeping your voice healthy and acheiving your musical goals!

As they say, “it takes a village” to develop great performers and artists and a great team is crucial to your development, so choose wisely!

What is a «tréma»?

The “tréma” and what it does

Technically, the trémaor diaeresis- is a diacritic sign made or two dots on top of a vowel. It used to be written like two accents (“), but is now written as two dots (¨).
If you know German, the tréma looks like the German umlaut and is known only as “tréma”, notaccent tréma”. The tréma can be found most often above E and I, it can appear over U and Y, but mainly in proper nouns for example: Louÿs. It is less common over O or A which would only occur in words borrowed from other languages. The tréma changes the pronunciation of French words. If you know your basic French phonetics/reading rules, you know that some letter combinations form a new sound, eg. “ai” = [ɛ], “oi” = [wa], etc. When the tréma is used, it means that you must distinctly pronounce the letter under it as well as the letter before and after it separately and you will also need to sound the last letter of the word if it follows the tréma. A tréma can also indicate that a vowel is silent as it applies to ancient spellings. For example in this famously mispronounced name of the French composer Saint-Saëns. The tréma over the E (ë)means that the letter is silent, so this name is pronounced [sɛ̃sɑ̃s] and yes, this is really how you pronounce it! The first syllable is the nasal [ɛ̃] sound as in the IN in the word matin (morning) and the second syllable is as the nasal sound [ɑ̃] as in the AN in the word maman (mother) and because it follows the tréma, the final S is pronounced!

Example of how it works:
The word “mais” (which means but) is pronounced [mɛ].
The word “maïs” (which means corn) is pronounced [ma’is] since you sound the A, the Ï and the S separately, and the stress falls on the second syllable.

For French Lyric Diction coaching send an email

What am I?

This sounds like an existential question, but it is one that bears asking!

For years now, I have been coming across social media posts or Youtube clips of singers which don’t mention the pianist who is clearly visible and audible. When I asked some of my friends who are sometimes responsible for announcing singers on radio programs, or for social media postings why this happens, some of the answers that I received were that they often try to avoid calling a pianist “accompanist” by saying “accompanied by” the reason being that they are worried to offend the pianist, but is being called “accompanist” worse than not being mentioned at all?

Let’s look at the term “accompanist” and why it has become, for some, such a derogatory term to describe the pianist who plays with a singer or instrumentalist.

The term “accompanist” is defined as the musician who plays a musical instrument while another person is singing or playing the main part. Is this what I do? Yes, all the time. The term has nevertheless been known to imply inferiority. Fairly recently, in North America, the term “collaborative pianist” has been in use to describe what I do. I believe the term was coined somewhere in the 1980’s and then gained more mainstream popularity in the 1990’s. This term has however not reached the same popularity where I am in Europe. At the Conservatory of Amsterdam, I am called “coach” and my official title is “correpetitor” this Dutch word is actually closer to the term “collaborator” (not to be confused with “repetiteur” which is strictly used for the rehearsal-pianist) as the prefix “co” implies to collaborate whereas the term “begeleider” is the equivalent to “accompanist”. Every time that I sit at the piano and perform, I am acknowledged with a variety of titles: Piano, Pianist, Accompanist…

It has been argued that the role of “accompanist” comes with a lack of appreciation, and anonymity. One of my all time favourite books, an excellent read, very witty and a book that first brought the “humble accompanist” into the light is Gerald Moore’s Unashamed Accompanist who puts this feeling of anonymity into words that I think we all (pianists) can relate to:

“We accompanists, have our minds above such mundane things as fees. But I would like people to realise what extremely important people we accompanists are. The most enchanting lady walks on to sing, and all the ladies look at her because of what she’s wearing, and all the men look at her because – well, all the men look at her. And nobody looks at me. And I can’t blame them. Nobody notices the accompanist at all. He looks so slender and shy and so modest that people think he’s there just to do what he’s told, to follow the singer through thick and thin. Well, there’s a great deal more to it than that.”

I know I have said this phrase many times myself as I am getting ready to go on stage and take a last look in the mirror: “Well nobody is looking at me anyway!” and I have often felt overlooked after the concerts thinking “Nobody is interested in the pianist”. The truth is, if no one is sitting at the piano, then all this beautiful repertoire could not be performed, and the same goes for the singer, it takes the both of us! There has been (and still is) a discrepancy in fees between the singer/instrumentalist and the pianist, and the latter is often the afterthought appearing in much smaller letters on billboards, posters, programs and/or recordings. A great article that I recommend by Tom Service Accompanists: the unsung heroes of music explores these subjects.

I hate the term accompanist,” says Iain Burnside. “You can’t deny there are connotations that it’s a secondary entity. But unfortunately I can’t think of a better one. If you insist on being called a pianist then people think that you’re comparing yourself to Sviatoslav Richter. That’s not what it’s about: you’re just asking to be taken seriously in your own right

So how do I feel about it all? I have no huge issue with being called an accompanist if that is what I am doing. I prefer to be called “pianist” because that is what I am. I don’t personally see any use for the word “collaborative” because it is obvious that I am doing just that. There are no “collaborative singers” and if we are doing a song recital together, we should just be singer and pianist. What’s in the name anyway, as long as you are an excellent player or singer? I am also a “coach” which is something quite different in my opinion, and a possible subject for a future post.

Obviously, on this matter, I only speak for myself concerning my preferences. So, how do you know what to call your recital partner? Ask them how they wish to be addressed (everyone has a preference), how they like to be presented on the program and/or recording. Always show them either in the photo or in the video and always make sure their name is published on everything alongside your own so they don’t feel like an afterthought. These pianists have spent their lives working, studying and devoting themselves to the art of making music with others, they are your colleague so honor your relationship with each other through respect.