The Training of a Singer
Training to be an opera singer can be as rigorous as training for the Olympics, no? Check out this Operagasm Exclusive Article from Keith Miller (opera singer, former football player, and dreamboat extraordinaire) about training to be the best!
by Keith Miller
When I first switched over from football to opera I was faced with many, many challenges. The foremost being that everyone, EVERYONE, told me that there was no way I could continue to work out and train the way that I had, otherwise I would create tension and lose flexibility in my voice.
They were both right and wrong. I am a “find a way to do it” kind of guy and knew there had to be some way to be able to train properly for singing. So, I called upon the best people in the business and began what is now a 7-year journey to developing the proper training technique for singers.
This is not for everyone, nor is the business for that matter, but for those who wish to be the best they can be, physical training is a key component. Every singer will tell you how athletic our business has become and with the HD broadcasts, there is a greater importance than ever on being as fit as possible. Not only that, but I truly believe that it is our responsibility to prepare ourselves in every possible way to serve the audience through our music to the best of our ability. This means, yes singing at the highest level, but also to do things that others cannot. Sometimes that simply means surviving the most treacherous of schedules and career demands, and sometimes it means performing physical acts that colleagues and audiences alike marvel at.
“I’m a firm believer that it is our complete and total body that comprises our instrument. We can’t think of it only as the 2 flimsy vocal cords in our throat, but must add in the lungs and diaphragm, not to mention the neck and sinus cavities and on and on…where exactly do we stop connecting the dots? For me, I depend on my entire body to help me produce the sounds and colors that my mind and musical appetite demand. The stronger I am, the more rested I am, the more physical resources I have – the better I can sing. Then if we add into the mix the physical demands of moving on stage and appearing confident (and having to appear often 15 years younger than we actually are!) being in top physical shape is a must. The sooner you can conquer your body; you’ve accomplished one giant piece of the puzzle of becoming a professional singer. Good luck!” – Joyce DiDonato
This is a quote that my friend gave me for my company. It is absolutely true. Altitude and time zone acclimation, physical strength, cardiovascular endurance and MOST importantly, mental concentration, focus and dedication to training; these are things that separate us from our colleagues, and if you want to think of it, our competition.
So how does this really affect the voice? The bottom line is that it gives us a control. As we learn a role, our physical activity is minimal. Hours spent at a piano learning notes and memorizing phrases, but mostly static physical activity. Then as we move in to the staging process, especially roles like Rigoletto, Carmen and Lady Macbeth, the physical demands start to wear down the body and thus, the voice. This is why so many times some singers sound better in rehearsal than performance. By the time performance hits, they are physically exhausted.
By controlling our physical output we have a system in place to keep our voice unaffected by the change in our body’s demands. Example: while we are learning our roles, our training is at a high peak of intensity, strength and endurance, then, as we move into the staging phase, we back down the level of the workout to compensate for increased physical demand, thus keeping the total physical output very similar, and thus creating a more consistent environment for vocal production. In short, it means if we maintain a constant percentage of physical stress throughout the day, we will be able to have more consistent singing, something every opera company, and singer strives for.
But I strongly believe the most important aspect of physical training is the mental discipline achieved over years, yes years, of hard work. Just like developing a singing technique, it is hugely important to develop a physical technique. This is not an overnight fix and cannot be realistically achieved any faster than a young artist wanting to learn how to use their vocal instrument. Five years is the time period that I would say is long enough to really start to understand how to use the body effectively and understand mentally how to us the technique of the body to help with our singing. I am sorry to say, but there is no short cut to hard work. People always ask about Pilates and Yoga, which are better than nothing, but you need to be in a designed program for opera and singing. You don’t train a soccer player the same way you train a basketball player, so why think that mass produced videos and gimmicks can give you the same results as program designed specifically for you. Keep this in mind as you continue your journey to healthy singing. And always question yourself. How can this help me sing better? If you can’t find the answer then solve the problem, but for those old school minds who believe that they will loose their support if they train or loose weight: I have one thing to say. If being heavy helps your singing, then gain 50 pounds and you’ll be a great singer, gain 100 and you will be the greatest singer in the world, but remember that those who think something can’t be done, should leave those that are doing it alone!!!
After graduating from the Academy of Vocal Arts in 2006, Mr. Miller has since sung over 150 performances at the Metropolitan Opera. These include the Opening Night Galas of Madama Butterfly and Tosca, as well as HD performances of Madama Butterfly, Tosca, Il Trittico, Eugene Onegin, Macbeth, Turandot, Carmen, Armida, and Salome. Other Met appearances have been King in Aida, Monterone in Rigoletto, Jago in Ernani, with various other roles in War and Peace, Manon Lescaut, Rigoletto, Faust, Andrea Chénier and Die Zauberflöte. Mr. Miller also performed with the Met in the Parks this past summer in recital as a part of Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series.
Other performances include Ramfis in Aida and Monterone in Rigoletto at Portland Opera, Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro at Florida Grand Opera with upcoming debuts at Washington National Opera as the Bonze in Madama Butterfly, Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte at Seattle Opera and returns to the Metropolitan Opera next season as Zuniga in Carmen, Monterone in Rigoletto and Ashby in La Fanciulla del West which will also be broadcast on HD.
This is Mr. Millers second year as the Festival’s Artistic Manager for Opera and Opera young Artist Program. As well as his duties at Crested Butte he also serves on the AGMA Board of Directors and AGMA Budget and Finance Committee. Mr. Miller is also an adviser and mentor with Artsleaf, a performing artist mentoring organization.
While at Crested Butte Mr. Miller has sung roles in Rigoletto, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Don Giovanni, Gianni Schicchi, Falstaff and Le nozze di Figaro. This year will mark Mr. Millers 7th season at Crested Butte.
As well as opera Mr. Miller has performed in Concert as the Bass Soloist in Rosinni’s Stabat Mater and Handel’s Messiah with the New Choral Society, Beethoven’s Missa Solmenis with the Bucks County Choral Society and Fanshawe Chorus in London Ontario CA, Mozart’s Vesperae di Dominica and Requiem with the Blackburn Chorus and Symphony in Ottawa ON.
Mr. Miller was also a professional football player for five seasons and had the honor of being an Olympic Torch Bearer in the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta GA.