by Masi Asare
Ed. Note: The following entry is part of a series of posts marking the 1-year anniversary of the Special Issue ‘What is New in Voice Training?’
As part of the act of commemorating and reanimating this exciting special issue on voice training, I am honored to share some notes on the voice study I am presently undertaking.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, isolating alone in my home in Chicago, I faced the challenge of pivoting from swiftly-cancelled plans for the rehearsal and production of a musical for which I am a co-author to diving headlong into my scholarly work on race, musical theatre, and voice—which suddenly felt arbitrary and removed from the specifics of a sharply reconfigured world. In April 2020, in response to these circumstances, I launched Voicing Across Distance, a new podcast on listening for voices and vocal sound in our historical moment, across social distance. Bringing together voice scholars and practitioners, I settled into a rhythm of structuring each episode in three parts—a reading from a theoretical text on voice, a conversation with a scholar on voices in our time of Covid19, and a practical vocal exercise from an expert. Reflections of my own are also woven throughout.
Across its 11 episodes to date, guest scholars have included musicologists Nina Sun Eidsheim, Katherine Meizel, Shana Redmond, Ryan Dohoney, and Dylan Robinson, media scholar Neil Verma, sociolinguist Anne Charity-Hudley, and theatre and performance studies scholars Donatella Galella, Elena Elías Krell, and Katelyn Hale Wood. Practitioners have ranged from virtuosic experimental singers Joan La Barbara and Abigail Bengson to theatre voice and speech educators Stan Brown, Julie Foh, Linda Gates, and Jonathan Hart Makwaia, Feldenkrais practitioner and voice teacher Robert Sussuma, musical theatre voice professor Jeremy Ryan Mossman, choral director Derrick Fox, and sound designer Andy Evan Cohen.
How might these episodes be useful for voice training? The vocal exercises are generative and wide-ranging, from Jonathan Hart Makwaia calling for “following the voice” beyond where the voicer can exert control (Episode 8), to Andy Evan Cohen coaching listeners on how to optimize Zoom settings for voice practice (Episode 9), to Robert Sussuma leading a meditative vocal experiment in pharyngeal ventriloquism (Episode 4). The theoretical contributions of guest scholars are also stunning, lucid, and timely, from Neil Verma connecting the kaleidosonic aims of 1930s and 1940s nationalist radio performance to Zoomboxed vocal performances of unity (Episode 2), to Katherine Meizel reflecting on what it means to understand voices as virus-aerosolizing agents of danger (Episode 6), to Anne Charity-Hudley inviting theatre educators to attend to language attitudes—racially-inflected beliefs about which kinds of voices are beautiful or strong, and why (Episode 10).
How does these sessions offer something new for voice training and study? I have found that they allow space for thinkers and voicers to grapple with what it means to do our work—and why it still has value—in the new and previously unimaginable circumstances of the pandemic and amid the full-throated, international outcry against racism. Whether figured as dangerous, Zoomboxed, or socially distanced, vocal sound still resounds. Voicing Across Distance is a love letter to ongoing practice and study of the voice, and to voices firmly situated in an ethical relationship to our historical moment.
MASI ASARE is Assistant Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies at Northwestern University. As a composer and writer, she holds commissions from Broadway producers and Marvel, and is a lyricist for Monsoon Wedding the musical; her voice students have appeared on Broadway and in international tours. Masi’s scholarly book project examines the impact of blues singers on Broadway belting and makes the case for the need to feel the racial history in contemporary musical theatre performance. She holds degrees from Harvard and New York University, and has published with Samuel French, The Dramatist, and Journal of Popular Music Studies,with forthcoming writing in Performance Matters, TDR, and Studies in Musical Theatre.