Michael Slattery’s voices

I’ve been listening to Dowland in Dublin, Michael Slattery’s collaboration with La Nef, for a few years now.  I was lucky that someone brought it to my attention.  Since that time it’s been a regular feature on the CD player in my car.

While playing it for a friend the other day, there was a wonderful moment of recognition.

I had been trying to put my finger on the quality in Slattery’s voice, as he sings ”Come Again”.    

Come again! sweet love doth now invite
Thy graces that refrain
To do me due delight,
To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die,
With thee again in sweetest sympathy.

The youtube clip–unlike the CD– is a live performance, please note. Slattery makes lovely sounds, using his voice in the usual ways throughout.

But Slattery sounds different on the CD Dowland in Dublin.  At first listen it might sound like a bad thing..!? It’s unconventional and daring.  I was observing that as Slattery sang the phrase “to die” he sounds totally vulnerable, reminding us of the two meanings of the word “die”: both mortality and consummation.  He sounds as though he is dying in every sense, abandoning himself to the note not like an opera singer but sounding for all the world, like a boy, like a vulnerable human, unmanned by his orgasmic passion.  It’s wonderfully expressive.

Vocal pedagogue Carol Baggott-Forte

In fact the sound –the one on the recording that is– is falsetto.  My friend pointed this out, invoking our mutual vocal authority, Carol Baggott-Forte.   When you’re learning with Carol she uses the techniques of Cornelius Reid, who wrote –among other books—The Free Voice.  There’s a falsetto sound you’re encouraged to make, isolating one of the two registers.  It’s not a sophisticated sound, oh no. In fact it’s a sound unlike that of professional singers, a very strange sound for a singer.  This is not the sound in the youtube clip –where he’s singing full voice, in a live performance—but on the CD, we get a different sound.   Slattery has the nerve to use this odd sound, a wonderfully brave & expressive approach at the perfect time.

Slattery is a very skilful performer, employing several different sounds, combining his registers cleverly.  I’m looking forward to hearing him live for the first time Friday at the first of two concerts by Slattery & La Nef with the Toronto Consort at Trinity St Paul’s Centre.

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