Monash University

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An exploration of composed and improvised wordless singing in performance: skills for the 2Ist century contemporary jazz singer

posted on 2017-02-22, 01:53 authored by Catanchin, Helen
The research embodied by this performance was designed to explore and develop the role of wordless singing in my music practice, in both improvised and composed contexts. I have defined wordless singing as any musical vocalisation using non-lexical (not pertaining to language) vocables and utterances, including some extended vocal techniques. By exploring various applications of wordless singing, this research has enhanced my understanding and use of this essential component of my performance practice. As an integral yet discrete element of vocal improvising, singing without words presents unique challenges to vocalists, as well as opportunities, and merits dedicated study and practice in its own right. Singers will often have established relationships between lyrics, their sounds and meanings, and aspects of their performance such as tone, affect, phrasing, contour, dynamics, rhythm and inflections. When making moment-tomoment vocable choices as in improvisation, a singer is often a position of unprecedented autonomy, which in many ways requires redefining of their creative process. This research has focused on promoting musically considered, informed and nuanced vocable choices in my improvisations, that support and work in conjunction with harmonic language. Whether singing, improvising or composing, through my music practice, I primarily aim to create external realisations and expressions of my emotions, thoughts and ideas, many of which transcend the verbal. Composing for wordless voice often enhances my creative and expressive freedom, for uniquely sonic and non-representational explorations of such concepts. In this research, composition has allowed me to focus, control, revise and manipulate my application and examination of specific vocables, as distinct from my improvisatory explorations, which by their nature incorporate significant indeterminacy of vocable use. As a singer and composer of jazz and contemporary improvised music, my original works also provide the most relevant and appropriate vehicles through which to explore and develop an individual approach to wordless singing and improvisation in my practice. I have composed and performed in a live recital, nine works for this purpose, which incorporate wordless singing to varying extents and in a range of musical contexts.


Principal supervisor

Thomas Reiner

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Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music


Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Arts

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