“Singing by radar”

VAN: When we listen to our own voices on recordings, they sound very different than they do to us when we’re speaking. Does your singing voice sound different to you on recordings than it does when you’re singing?

Thomas Hampson: That’s a wonderful question—I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that before.

The fact, or the bane, of any singer’s existence, is that we can’t hear ourselves. We as singers are guided mostly by our sensations. Certainly we hear things in our head, but I sing much more by radar than I do by sonar. I actually teach that too. Because that’s the only way we can protect ourselves against very unpleasant acoustics. You have to know that your voice is vibrating and functioning, whether you get any kind of acoustical feedback or not.

Then, you start recording your voice, and most of us want to throw up. I’ve always had an ambivalent relationship to my own recordings; I don’t listen to them. However, I’ve enjoyed recording, and I feel very passionate about what I sing when I’m working on it. I’m very choosy about producers. I need a very trusting environment.

Read the entire feature at VAN Magazine.

Image: Bayerische Staatsoper