Updated: May 9, 2021
The new meaning of mask-singing in 2021, and what you can do make your life easier.
You need to accept it: we'll be continuing to sing in face masks for a while. Even with the vaccines starting to be distributed, it will take long until we can show our beautiful smiles around. If you are in school and have a partial in-person schedule, you might need to sing in masks in the choir, staging rehearsals and other ensembles. Now, how can you do that without feeling weird or sounding weird?
“You can cage the singer but not the song.” Harry Belafonte
Before we go on with tips, let me tell you about my experience doing opera scenes outdoors in the end of 2020.
I was playing Giulietta in the opening scene of Act 2 of Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi. During the staging rehearsals, we would be either outside or in a big large room. When in the room, we were instructed to mark only, which for me was actually better than singing. I always feel like the first scene rehearsals work better when we mark. You can focus on the text and the movement. Then, when you're used to it, you bring back the singing in full voice.
When the rehearsals where outside we could sing fully, but still masked until we where comfortable with the movement - meaning until we would get used to keep away from scene partners. Singing with full voice in a mask was very interesting for me! Apart from the irritating mask-falling and mask-being-pulled-back, I was impressed at how it helped me focus my sound. I guess I felt I needed my voice to come up and over the mask and get out from my eyes, the only part of my face that wasn't covered. All of a sudden, it hit me: "Wait, isn't that what basically all the voice teachers ask you to do?"
"Singing in the mask" is out. "Singing over the mask" is in!
Word-play apart, here are some good tips about singing while wearing a face mask.
Try to wear a mask that has a bigger length from the tip of the nose to the bottom of the chin. That will offer some room to open your jaw.
Give preference to 3D shaped masks that won't smash your nose for obvious reasons.
Use the fact that you can't easily super open your mouth, and focus on opening the inner space in your oral cavity. Try thinking of "pear-shape mouth" and "rising molars". You might discover that you have more space in there.
Open up your nostrils! That will help to get more fresh air in, and open space to create resonance when you sing.
Think of aligning the back of your skull with the sacrum. That will help prevent you from leaning mouth and chin forward into the mask and creating tension behind the neck.
Use less air. It sounds weird, but maybe it will help you understand appoggio better. To support the voice is the art of controlling the outflow of the air, as if you wanted to retain and release at the same time. That should result eventually in a seamless stream that will make your vocal cords vibrate evenly.
No matter how tired you are of this pandemic, keep wearing your mask, washing your hands and limiting contact and proximity with others. What is one or two years compared to a lifetime? Nothing! Be patient! That's another thing masked-singing can teach you.