Looking to Webster

I had a session with a brilliant breathing coach recently, and she gave me a great gift ~ she printed out for me various definitions of the word “support”.

Often for us obsessive singer types, we hear the word SUPPORT and we immediately plant our feet as if we’re expecting a blindside hit from a 300-pound linebacker foaming at the mouth, broaden our shoulders in a valiant attempt to withstand the impending catastrophe, bear down on our neck and upper back as we inhale in enough fiery breath to launch a missile, and only then do we feel as if we are dutifully fulfilling our obligation as an opera singer to SUPPORT THE SOUND. I’m not a voice teacher, but I do profess that it’s possible that this approach to support can often do more harm than good, as well-intentioned as we may be.

My favorite opening night flower arrangement ever.

I thought I might share some of these definitions as an invitation to you fabulous young singers out there to contemplate the imagery, and embrace the thought that breath is our friend. Breath is easy. Breath is natural. In fact it’s the very first thing we learned to do. I’d venture a guess that we are, actually, experts at breathing naturally and normally, considering the observation that if you are currently reading this, you’ve probably got it down. Sometimes our interference in trying to RE-learn what comes so naturally to us can wreak unnecessary havoc. (Slight interjection: same idea can be applied to how we are taught to fear, but that’s another discussion entirely.)

I’m picking and choosing phrases here, but I invite you to ponder:


*To favor actively in the face opposition

*To applaud, endorse, root, embrace, sustain

*To align oneself with

*To supply what is needed for sustenance

*To hold up in position by serving as a foundation or base for

*To keep from yielding, sinking, or losing courage

*To encourage, fortify

*To assist

*To comfort

From the Staten Island Ferry, a pretty useful image for "sustaining" or "offering courage"

What I love about looking at the various definitions of this word is how positive and uplifting all the images are. They are all ACTIVELY encouraging. Support becomes a word which assists rather than serves as a barrier that we must theoretically burst through, or hoist up with effort and angst. Maybe we can gradually give up the idea that it must feel like WORK in order for us to be good soldiers of voice. I find that keeping in mind this essence of the concept of “breath support” helps me stay flexible in my breathing and most especially in the release or outpouring of the air, which is everything for us singers.

This is a good point in the post to reiterate my earlier statement: I am NOT a voice teacher, but simply wanted to share a few concepts that I have found to be useful, so please take this all with a big grain o’ salt!

One other crucial, undeniable element to support which involves not the breath but is as equally (if not more so) important: your support network. It simply would not have been possible, truly, for me to have survived these past few months without an unfailing, unsurpassed, indescribable small, but oh-so-mighty army of people who have helped to sustain me, who aligned themselves with me, who favored me actively in the force of opposition, who supplied what was needed for my sustenance, who helped to keep me from losing courage, and who, indeed, fortified me in ways I’m probably not even aware of! When I stand on the stage, I am accompanied by so many other people who have helped me get there, but also by the few confidants and loved ones who truly SUPPORT me. My gratitude knows no limits.

My tiny bit of council? Nurture a healthy, positive, pro-active view of your breath support, and nurture with gusto and delight that circle of loved ones where the support flows equally in both directions.


  1. Meagan said…

    Thank you so much for your post. As a young singer, I’ve struggled so much in my studies with the concept of breath and breath-support, and as you’ve mentioned, I think it’s gotten me into more trouble than really helped. I recently began helping a fellow chorister in the church choir I work with learn about breath. It has been the most interesting experience in finding the right vocabulary in coaching someone to utilize the breath in a way in which I am still discovering myself. Your list of words encompasses so many of the words I am trying to use — apart from the word “support.” You’re right, singing is as natural as breathing. Thank you for sharing your joy and discoveries along the way. You are truly inspiring to those of us still learning and working toward a lifetime of music and song.

  2. Amaridis Quintana said…

    Thank you so much for this! I find it funny how often I feel I have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to support & there are so many ideas on this subject – some ideas even a little too wacky. I love looking up the definitions of words that we already know. often times I find that it doesn’t completely mean what I thought because I have warped it to mean somethng else. But having the definition like this, really keeps it simple. And this idea of support from close friends & family- that just tops it! thank you!

  3. Ava said…

    What great words about that all-important word: SUPPORT! It’s good to be reminded that there are all kinds of support, and we should nurture and give thanks for them all. I’m tickled by the synchronicity of this post — I’m going to see a breath coach (DB) for the first time next week.

  4. Dana said…

    Hurray for friends! They are such a blessing for providing that necessary breath of fresh air so needed for a sane existence, and the same breath of fresh air so needed for sound support!

  5. Ryan McKinny said…

    Reason 4,792 why JDD is the best singer in the universe.

  6. Margaret Harrison said…

    Just wanted to write that I loved your fabulous performance in Le Comte D’Ory on Saturday, saw it in the movie theater. My mother raved that you stole the show. That 2nd Act trio was especially thrilling.

  7. Ysabel said…

    Just saw you in Comte Ory in HD over the weekend– the show was so wonderful and fun, and you sounded magnificent. (Also, you look kind of hot dressed as a guy!) Everyone in the (packed) theater seemed to agree, it was a triumph!

  8. Sara Branch said…

    Two years ago I made a change – I left pop and rock singing behind and ventured into the world of bel canto. At first it was frustrating since the very first thing my voice teacher taught me was breath control and support. Then came the control of the soft palette and opening of the throat. But now I am totally enraptured with bel canto. On Saturday December 3 I make my classical debut with my local symphony orchestra. Joyce, I saw you at Spivey Hall in Atlanta and I vowed to emulate your style and learn the songs you sang. Thank you for your love of opera because it is evident not only on your face but also in your voice. I’m off to rehearse “Assisa a pie d’un salice.” Grazie.

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