Classical vs contemporary has always been one of the biggest issues facing the modern singer. By no means a new discussion, often the choice is made for us by the music department of the university/college/conservatoire that we choose to attend, or in some cases, the choice can be made for us by the singing teacher that we choose to study with privately. However, the issue is becoming more and more relevant for those singers who want to enter the professional market place.
Over the last few months, I have had the privilege to work with an extremely talented, classically trained performer and vocalist called Joanne Dennis (www.joannedennis.com). Joanne trained in one of the UKs leading classical conservatoires, The Royal Welsh College of Music, and is an operatic mezzo-soprano. To say her voice is impressive is an understatement. She could stop traffic! She literally has one of the most powerful, resonant and expressive voices that I have ever heard. And yet, Joanne has reported to me that over the years, the call for purely classical performances is drying up. People want to see a show that has a mixture of repertoire from Classical/Operatic to Musical Theatre to Cabaret and Pop. I recently visited Cork in Ireland for a week in order to run an intensive BAST Singing Teacher Training course for the Voiceworks Studio (www.voiceworksstudio.ie), ran by Gemma Sugrue. The teachers I was working with all reported similar issues as Joanne. They were all classical trained in various Irish Conservatoires, with the bulk of their work being in the contemporary music arena BUT many of them had successfully managed to "cross over", albeit with some initial difficult and trepidation.
"Crossing Over" as a concept can be a problem for those singers who have purely been "classically trained". Not just because of the different breathing coordinations or different vowel and formant frequencies that classical/operatic singing requires, but because often the culture around classical training is very conservative and can create a culture of fear amongst its participants that espouses that engaging with any other form of singing activity will be detrimental to their voices.
Luckily, and in my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. Once you understand the scientific principles behind vowels and formants and the physiology and anatomy of the voice, there is no reason as to why a classical trained performer can't successfully "cross over" and sing more contemporary forms and styles. Yes, it takes work and sometimes a considerable amount of time, but the rewards of exploring the voice this way in terms of diversity of repertoire and performance opportunities alone make the effort more than worth it.
A good vocal coach/singing teacher should be able to help a classical trained performer to navigate the different factors that make up the contemporary voice in order to successfully "cross over". In essence, a teacher that tells you that this isn't possible and shouldn't be undertaken is probably not a good fit for you if you sincerely wish to sing in a variety of genres.
I've been working with Joanne on exploring her contemporary chest voice, belt and mixed registers and we've been having huge success - so much so that she is now working on a very successful set of material that will cross genres and she would be the first to tell you that she was convinced that she wouldn't be able to use her voice in a contemporary fashion. It can work. So much so that Joanne is now convinced that the techniques that we've been working with have actually augmented her classical operatic singing as well.
If you are a classical singer and you would like to learn how to "cross over" or just want to explore the contemporary voice, get in touch!