Welcome to the second installment of ‘ASK MTR’. In this series, readers can ask MTR founder Kevin Michael Jones any pressing questions they have about voice training, vocal styles, repertoire, and more. Use this contact form to ask a question.
Q: I’ve been following your blog posts about vocal cross-training, and they reaffirm a lot of what I do as a young musical theatre actress. My question is: Am I a soprano who can belt or a belter with a good head voice?
A: Thank you for this question! I cross-train all my musical theatre voice students, and this is a topic some of them have asked me about in the past as well. I’m thrilled to hear that you do vocal cross-training– that increases your marketability as a performer by a lot. Because I have not heard you sing in person, it is a bit difficult for me to provide a definitive answer to this particular question. However, one key point I will note is that man-made, voice classification terms like ‘soprano’, ‘mezzo’, ‘baritone’, etc. were designed by and FOR classical singers. Therefore, it can be problematic to apply these labels to singers from other genres. If you are truly doing equal parts belting and ‘head voice’/legit vocal work with your teacher (a completely valid choice), I would advise you to consider avoiding specific voice classification terms altogether. For today’s musical theatre performers, they can be extremely limiting. I would also like to share this related quote from Broadway voice teacher Joan Lader that you might find interesting:
“The field has changed so much since my time. In the sixties, we were separated into two categories in auditions: dancers who sang or singers who danced. If you were lucky, you got to sing sixteen bars of an uptempo and possibly a ballad. The standard questions were, “Can you belt?” and “Can you sing legit?” and the gold standard for belting was sounding like Ethel Merman. Today, you may be singing Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie one day and Maria in West Side Story the next… A healthy singer should be able to move from one style of music to another. For that reason, all of my pop singers dabble in art songs and all of my opera singers can belt.“
As you can see, you are not alone in the situation you’re describing. Many professional musical theatre performers today can belt, sing in mix or in a classical/legit sound and do well in all of them. It’s certainly not a bad thing that you don’t fit into any voice classification ‘box.’ In actuality, that is a very GOOD thing because it increases the number of musical theatre roles you are uniquely qualified for. As singers, we all have a ‘vocal identity crisis’ every now and then. Just remember that there is only one person in the entire world with your unique voice (and that is you). Later in life, you might decide on a voice classification label that fits you best, but there is no rush to do so now (if ever). Good luck, and keep singing!