Thinking outside the Fach

"Creative people create themselves." Rod Judkins. Step outside the Fach system to re-claim your voice descriptor. Here's 3 simple steps to creating your vocal business card.  What will your ™ be?

Hello Fach
The Fach System is a little bit like the Myers Briggs personality categories.  After weighing up the weight, colour, flexibility and range of the voice, the Fach System determines a type of singer and presents a set of suitable operatic roles.  Due to this binary framework established in the mid 19th century, opera houses all over the world have been able to ensure that the right voice sings the right part for over a century and a half.

The beauty and magic of this universal vocal casting system is in its effectiveness. It's a great convenience for the opera houses because it's targeted casting brackets create lean processes when it comes to managing resources and decision making.  It ensures vocal safety so a singer doesn't sing a role too big or small for their voice, and the sound world of opera is maintained worldwide.

A pause for the future
Sounds good so far. But there are disadvantages to this system in terms of future proofing opera.  The system drives the expectations of the operatic sound creating a fashion label that singer and audience aspire to.  In our ever growing visual world, Fach doesn't incorporate physical casting.  The vocal archetypes haven't been updated and therefore emerging performance practice is at best, off grid.  And on a personal level, some people are not very good at being put in a box. 

So this is when I find myself sitting on the No. 3 bus, heading towards Trafalgar Square, asking the question out loud to a surprised stranger: What would happen if, for one day only, there was no fach system? How would you describe your voice?

Or to put it another way: What's your voice's elevator pitch?  Or your vocal business card? How will we understand your voice other than the category, lyric mezzo or Heldentenor?

Hearing Sophia
The inspiration for this playful, summer blog post comes from a soprano who was singing for ENO's, The Sunken Garden .  She didn't describe her voice as a dramatic soprano.  She said her voice was like Sophia Loren.  I am assuming that when we chunk down this allegory we understand such details as her voice is full bodied with some flexibility, hourglass in shape (top and bottom match), sensual and beautiful.  And what this description does is move us away from something technical into something human.

"What we play is life" Louis Armstrong
So let's step away from the technical and go to the human.
Over to you: How would you describe your voice?
Inspiration: Is it like a type of car, body type, actress or actor, dancer, fine wine, chocolate, type of clothes, ice cream, flower, perfume, or a packet of crisps? Or something else?
Process: In the centre of page write MY VOICE. List what your voice sounds like above (smooth, focused, bright, dark, sensual, formidable etc...)  List the technical skills of your voice below (well balanced, flexible, huge breath capacity, great with text etc...).  Then at the right hand side of the page work out the metaphor that has all these qualities.
Length: If you were in a lift with a big Hollywood Director who wanted to do an opera but didn't know the Fach System, how would you describe your voice.  You've got 15 seconds.  Go....

I think of life itself now as a wonderful play that I've written for myself, and so my purpose is to have the utmost fun playing my part.  Shirley McLain


Headline blog image: Binary Face, courtesy of Wallpaper Panda, here
Binary Image: Shadows of our Ancestors; The Binary Graffiti Club.  Check out their inspiring work here
Sophia Loren image: Courtesy of Life Magazine. If you loved Walter Mitty, you can read more about the work of Life here
Change Your Mind: 57 Ways to Unlock Your Creative Self, Rule 10, Rod Junkins, Hardie Grant Books, 2013


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