When I played Eric Ewazen’s Down a River of Time a few weeks ago at a small house concert, the number one comment I got for the audience members – over and over – was “How does a little tiny person like you produce so much sound?” It struck me as a really strange thing to comment on. But this past week, as I played Porgy and Bess with the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra, I began to understand it.
Because our large choir necessitated a complex arrangement on stage, I was seated very close to the front. We had two wonderful vocal soloists, and as I watched them from not very far away, I was reminded of how impressive good support is. Kim Jones, the soprano, is not a large person. She would take a deep breath, collect her body, and produce an enormous, rich, vibrant, shimmering sound out of seemingly nowhere. It looked effortless.
I know what it feels like to produce that kind of air with that kind of support. It feels like your whole lower body is engaged and involved, and YOU can be relaxed because the intensity is coming from somewhere much deeper and much stronger. Since your face and shoulders and neck are not involved in physically producing the sound, they are freed up to act, or to emote, or to just be normal looking and human. When I’m playing well, that’s what it feels like.
I teach this, of course. I talk about it all the time with my students. But it’s a hard thing for a student to grasp. We talk about it constantly, but I seldom see it up close. They’re working on it, but they don’t get there. Generally, young wind players look uncomfortable, as though they are straining with their entire upper bodies to force air through the instrument.
From the outside, great support looks like nothing, but it sounds amazing. It sounds like you know what you’re doing. It sounds like an unexpectedly giant voice coming from a little tiny person: almost superhuman. I think that must have been what the guests at my salon concert were seeing and hearing. Performing in such an intimate space really let them see what I was doing, and I seem to have been doing it right.