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Head - Full - Falsetto - Reinforced Falsetto in Mass singing (Tenor)

I'm new to choral music (2 years) and to singing but have been taking lessons for over a year now so I'm not a rank beginner.  I am a light tenor with a usable range of G2 - G#4 (full) and A4-C4 (head).   I am running into a problem navigating the passagio (suprise) in the tenor lines of choral Mass works.  The training I've received so far has taught the concept of entering the head voice early in a phrase that will peak (for me) above a G4 and I can do that effectively.
The problem is that a lot of times it's expected that a G#4 or A4 should be sung at a piano level.   Though I have had some success taking down the volume of my head voice notes, getting them to piano is a tall order. Also, they sound "opera-y" not church boy "tenor-y".   
So my question is, will I eventually get to a smooth passagio transition where even the A4 or Bb4 will be light and soft enough to be considered piano or should I switch to a falsetto or reinforced falsetto (to keep the ping) since those registers are naturaly quieter?
Replies (6): Threaded | Chronological
on April 16, 2015 4:32am
Hello Mark,
I'll make two suggestions, one immediately applicable and the other on longer term.
The immediate suggestion would be to make the falsetto notes more "breathy".  It's not the greatest of suggestions in that it takes a lot more breath (unsurprisingly!) and it tends to dry your vocal chords more. On the other hand it works, it's immediately applicable, and -- what's more -- it will keep your consonnants crisp and clear.  (You could be shouting the consonnants on a piano vowell, which makes for an intense mysterious piano). Moreover, it blends very well: a whole tenor section making a breathy sound always blends!
The longer term suggestion is an exercise that, over time, helps blend your chest and head voices, thus giving you more control over the falsetto dynamics. 
The whole exercise is to be performed softly.
Start on a high falsetto note; in your case an A4 or A#4 would be fine.
Pick a pure vowell; I suggest "oo" (rhyming with "new") to start with. (In time, you may wish to do the same exercise on other closed vowells, gradually moving to more open ones.)
As sostenuto as you can, very slowly, go down your two-octave range, always aiming to remain falsetto: it is not possible to remain falsetto all the time, but the point is to make the (upper and lower) passagios unnoticeable (even to yourself!).
Don't despair if this doesn't work at first, and your voice switches dramatically from head to chest.  It may take weeks before it feels comfortable.
Keep trying, aiming at "lighter", "softer", "heady-er", etc. In time, this becomes so seamless that you may even perform it mezzo-forte or forte.
I hope this helps!
on April 16, 2015 5:40am
Hi Mark, 
I'm a tenor myself, and I found that as I continued working on my voice, especially through the passagio it did become less noticeable.  It's something that just takes a lot of time and work.  Focus on the transition from high to low and low to high, and it should gradually become less of a problem.
on April 16, 2015 8:15am
This is a problem which all choral singing tenors face. It's one thing to practice, over and over again, in the studio a solo passage which includes singing up into the upper reaches of the mixed voice and quite another to negociate it in a choral music situation. Few young singers with solo potential or experienced older tenor chorister call manage to get the mix right going up. The answer is, sing as lightly as possible through d to f# and then simply go into a gentle falsetto. You won't hurt yourself and, if there are a sufficient number of singers on the part, it will make zero difference to the overall sound. I sang in a chamber choir (four tenors) and everybody sang in a quiet falsetto-ish mix above the staff and that included two guys who have sing sung dramatic tenor roles at the Met.
David Fawacett
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 16, 2015 10:07am
I think very few tenors can sing a full voiced (speaking in mixed or modal register terms) High A piano enough to work in a choral setting.  Piano notes in the solo literature simply have to be quieter than a forte dynamic, whereas in the choral repertoire they have to balance a piano dynamic of other voice parts, usually ones that are singing in mid voice or lower.  Balancing an alto singing piano on a mid voice C# is not going to work singing a full voice high A for a most moderately trained tenors.  It's also worth asking what repertoire you are performing; before the 1830s, well trained tenors were NOT expected to sing full voice above what is about today's G#.  Register mixing in the high tenor voice (what we call covering today) wasn't invented until the 1830's (I think 1827 was it's first public premiere).  Tenor voices were expected to remail light and falsetto-like throughout most of their range.  Rossini preferred it; he's said to have hated it the first time a tenor performed one of his roles using the cover technique.  So it's probably historically appropriate to falsetto high piano passages in renaissance through classical literature and even still in most 18th century literature; I doubt the technique became widespread immediately.  
You may be able to get away with some form of voce finta, but I wouldn't recommend it- it tends to sound unvibrant and even sad.  You can however work your falsetto to the point that it becomes strong enough to mimic the sound of an alto singing piano in that very range, which the conductor will probably like as it will aid in blending.  It takes time and muscle development, but I think this is what many choral singers divert to.  Just don't do it for extended periods of time and remember to hydrate as it dries out the folds.  
Also, it's remarkable that a light tenor has a usuable range at G2.  I know some that can vocal fry down to that note but none that would feel comfortable putting lower than a Bb on stage.  Most bottom out around a C.  Are you sure you are classfied correctly?  What are your passagio points?
on April 22, 2015 3:05pm
My lowest note (untrained) was a D3 and highest was G4 but I wasn't comfortable above D4...raised larynx and all that.  So for most of my life, I had a pretty usable octave range.  For me now, my C3 and below is actually what my teacher calls my Baritone extension.  I do a "flip" that's like relaxed singing forward instead of down (and it feels like it's at the top of my chords) to access the lower notes.  Learning to use them was as hard as learning head voice and resonance drops off below the G2. 
I've never been too sure about passagio points.  Between G#4 and A4 I have to "flip" into head voice.  If there was a lower point, I'd say that my tone suddenly becomes very bright at E4.  So much so that a lot of effort has been put into bringing the ping down into the lower notes to even it out.  I think I may be this ( because I can, if placed in mortal danger, sing an Eb5.   On the downside, there are still a lot of holes in my range where I struggle with vocal closure and getting a consistent tonal quality throughout.   Then again, I didn't sign on to be an opera singer but my teacher is not to be swayed by my reluctance.  "Ah, mes amis" is on the agenda...
on April 16, 2015 10:43am
Hi Mark,
Great question!  In my experience both as a tenor and a voice teacher, the transition will work itself out with time as your voice develops.  In the meanwhile, go ahead and "switch" to a lighter production for your high notes in choral singing.  Otherwise you run the risk of training yourself to sing high notes with tension, which is the last thing anyone needs!  What happened to me is that as I worked on my OVERALL technique and my voice matured, I got to a place where I no longer thought, "Where do I switch registers?" but the voice began to adjust almost automatically according to the sound I wanted.  I didn't spend tons of time working just on the passagio; instead I worked on ease and efficiency of production throughout the range.
And by the way, I'm also a light tenor, and I can also can sing down to a G2 reasonably comfortably.  It's an uncommon type of tenor voice, but not unheard-of!  
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