Vocal Styles: Stick to One or Expand?

Theater

About a year ago, pop sensation Ariana Grande sang Carpool Karaoke with Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane where she explained her heavy musical theatre background, after which she and her duet partner had sung “The Song That Goes Like This” from Spamalot. If you know pop culture, you know Ariana Grande and that she’s a belter; she has the range and she proves it. That was why it came as a shock to me when I heard her sing in this beautiful operatic voice, because this whole time, I had boxed her in as this pop singer who always belted because she was a diva. As someone who is not a fan of her music, I will admit that, in another world where she chose a path to sing opera instead, I would be an Arianator. Unfortunately for me, she chose the pop angle—which is perfectly fine, since that was the vocal sound she wanted to build for herself— but because of this decision, she has a huge fanbase now and makes millions. 

As a singer, I was never aware there was any controversy over how flexible a person’s singing voice should be, and maybe there actually isn’t. I just assumed people wanted to try out different things in their respective careers, because they wanted to evolve. I grew up singing choir as a soprano, always got the descants seeing as how I was one of the few kids who could reach the E6, and afterwards, started singing more belty songs since I was bitten by the Broadway bug. Because of my upbringing, it strikes me as odd that there are still people who would actively advise other singers to stay in their own lane. Trying to understand their way of thinking, I am literally Googling reasons why it is best to stick to one genre of music and all my results are irrelevant, and if they do have some connection, it’s in support of the variety in a person’s vocal training. 

Here is a handful of professional singers with mixed musical coaching—vocalists whom I’ve grown to respect and adore because of their ability to switch voices:

1.        Kristin Chenoweth

2.        Marin Mazzie

3.        Audra McDonald

4.        Brian Stokes Mitchell

5.        Megan Hilty

6.        Aaron Tveit

7.        Sierra Boggess

8.        Nick Jonas (not sure if he was “trained” to sing like the Jonas Brother he was before they broke up, but his Broadway voice seems much classier than his initial “rock star” voice) 9.  Charlotte Church (transitioned from classical to pop)

10. LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA!!!

Being able to provide vocals in more than one genre—especially in musical theatre—is not a sin; it’s an asset, because it strengthens the vocalist and hones their skills. Learning how to sing in another style teaches versatility. If you still don’t believe me, look at Robin Williams for a moment: he was known for his comedy, but his knack for drama was just as impactful in his performance as an actor.

To that same respect, if Ariana Grande had stuck to whatever potential she could have had in an opera career, she wouldn’t be the superstar we all know today. Moral to the story: how can you expect to grow as an artist if you are not willing to deviate from the plan just a little bit?

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