SATA reviews…

Singing and the Actor (2nd edition)
Gillyanne Kayes

Published by A & C Black, 2004.
ISBN 0-7136-6823. Price: £14.99

Review by Jeanette Nelson, Head of Voice at the National Theatre*

My favourite book on singing technique is Singing and the Actor by Gillyanne Kayes. This is a thorough and knowledgeable work which teaches how to produce a free and healthy singing voice in various styles from Broadway Belt to Opera with Pop and Rock in between.

Jeanette Nelson is Head of Voice at the National Theatre. She has worked extensively as a voice and dialect coach in theatre, film and TV.

*This review first appeared on the National Theatre website under My Favourite Voice Books

Review by David Carey*

The second edition of Gillyanne Kayes’ Singing and the Actor retains the original’s commitment to providing an informed and practical training programme for the contemporary singing actor, and also preserves its essential structure, but in many other ways improves on the first edition. The text has been given a thorough revision to allow for new insights and further information, clearer presentation and a fresh tone.

In particular, Kayes has addressed the needs of readers who have different learning styles by including a range of ‘strategies for processing information and developing muscle memory’, and there is also a more detailed consideration of important aspects such as registers and gear changes, and of working with different voice qualities.

For BVA members who have yet to read this manual by one of our leading vocal trainers, it consists of three main sections: How the Voice Works, Training Your Voice, and Working the Text. How the Voice Works provides the reader with a clear and practical understanding of the functional anatomy of the voice, how it works (obviously!) and, perhaps more importantly, how and why it may not work. Individual chapters introduce the reader to the vocal mechanism, in particular the larynx, and to key concepts such as constriction/deconstriction, effort monitoring, laryngeal postures, and breath support. The reader is asked to engage actively with the material by means of valuable practical exercises that serve to develop awareness and control, and by song assignments that provide the necessary application and development of concepts and skill.

The second section, Training Your Voice, focuses on the real substance of a singer’s training – range, resonance, gear changes, vowel placement, and dynamic control. Further key concepts are introduced and applied incrementally through exercises and assignments: sirening and mirening (sirening while mouthing words simultaneously), opening and closing the nasal port, anchoring for vocal support, thick/thin folds, twang, and medialisation of vowels. While much of this work may now be familiar, particularly for singers and teachers with a background in Estill Voice Craft, Kayes not only presents it in a clear and accessible form but has also integrated it into a pedagogical process which has clear application to the singing actor.

Section Three: Working the Text takes the reader through the process of preparing a song for performance. Kayes demonstrates how to apply all the tools and concepts previously explored to the reader’s own choice of song; she addresses issues of singing the text, such as maintaining vowel integrity, bringing clarity to consonants, and communicating the text with meaning; she also considers advanced work on creating voice qualities such as falsetto, cry and belt and their use in song interpretation before concluding with a worked through example of applying a useful 5 point process to the song Anyone Can Whistle.

This is a highly useful text, not only for singing actors and their teachers, but also for all voice professionals interested in the specific development of the voice as an expressive instrument. The only criticism I have is that, while there is a number of very useful phonetic charts at several points in the text, these are insufficiently referenced or explained. In all other respects, this is a very well presented and illustrated practical handbook, which constantly engages the reader as a partner in his/her own learning process.

A new CD Audio Guide to accompany the book containing examples in both the male and female voice of all the voice qualities described in the book is in the final stages of production and will be available through Vocal Process.

*This review first appeared in the British Voice Association (BVA) newsletter ‘Communicating Voice’ and on the BVA website:

Review by Melissa Johnson**

“In the second edition of Singing and the Actor, author Gillyanne Kayes provides a valuable manual to help musical theatre singers develop a clear understanding of their vocal instrument. Vocal technique texts are frequently dismissive of musical theatre, insinuating that singing in this style will cause permanent vocal damage and is therefore inadvisable for serious singers. Instructors of voice in theatre programs will be encouraged by Kayes, whose technique focuses positively on the many different vocal qualities needed to correctly perform in the genre.

The first section of the book begins with the fundamental question, “How do I make the notes?”, and concentrates on the apparatus of the voice in a very detailed technical manner, complete with diagrams of the vocal mechanism. The author’s admonition to singers is, “to take charge of your own voice: to feel, visualize and to listen for yourself, rather than relying on the teacher to do it for you” (vii). The text strives to help singers become completely familiar with all possible positions of the vocal tract and understand their instrument’s full range of possibility, rather than be overly dependent on the feedback of voice teachers to make corrections. Issues of larynx position, vocal fold tension, and breath support are explored in detail. For every concept, Kayes presents several specific practical exercises designed to monitor and self-evaluate the concepts. Singers using the text must work through all of the exercises provided for each concept in order to discover which approaches help them connect with the key physiological and acoustic ideas being presented. If time is put into this part of the program, the results will show in section three. The payoff is a quite useful vocal technique.

Whereas the first section of Singing and the Actor explains the process of sound production, the second focuses on controlling the quality and character of that tone. Kayes gives detailed and thorough explanations of vocal issues such as resonance, register changes, nasality, and dynamics. Of particular interest in this section is the notion of external and internal anchoring of the voice, what Kayes calls “support [End Page 198] via a muscular voice-body connection” (75). Something completely different from breath support, “anchoring” clearly demonstrates the considerable amount of physical strength needed for projection of the voice. “Anchoring” offers a practical way to express to voice students the inherent athleticism of good musical theatre singing.

Section three, “Working the Text,” synthesizes the mechanical, physical, and artistic dimensions of singing the genre to focus on Kayes’s six voice qualities: speech, falsetto, cry, twang, opera, and belt. Kayes comments that she “expect(s) advanced performers to make straight for this final section,” though in fact the specialized vocabulary of the book could make that very difficult (119). Nevertheless, the author’s point is well taken: the most exciting and original part of the book is the discussion of voice qualities. First, Kayes describes the sound of each quality, using multiple examples of recordings to illustrate clearly the characteristic of each. For instance, an example of twang quality would be the song “Take Back Your Mink” from Guys and Dolls as performed by Kim Kriswell (155). Kayes then explains exactly how to make each of the vocal qualities in terms of the sound production concepts presented in sections one and two. For example, belt voice is explained as “a mix of speech and twang with a high larynx and tilted cricoid” (158). The technical information taught earlier in the book is now indispensable: “The tilted cricoid (the lower section of the laryngeal cartilage) helps you to sing high notes with thick folds without traumatizing the voice” (158). While this is a meticulous discussion of vocal production, after the preparation of sections one and two it is very clear and useful.

Kayes effectively demystifies good vocal production through her careful and readable explanations. Singing and the Actor requires thorough study and dedicated trial of all the exercises in order to reap the benefits of the material, and for that reason vocal students may still need guidance by a skilled teacher in order to take full advantage of the lessons. There is a pervading sense throughout this book that asking the voice to explore its limits and even to try “things that are normally considered poor technique in singing” will only give the singer a fuller awareness of what is possible (24). It is uplifting for voice instructors working in musical theatre to find a guide that is not fixated on the single, ideal sound of a voice, but instead teaches the flexibility of a well-exercised and technically-informed vocal instrument.”

*This review first appeared in the journal Theater Topics, Volume 16 No 2.