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Snarky Puppy and Lalah Hathaway at Jefferson Center

John Wesley Reed Jr. By

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Snarky Puppy with Lilah Hathaway
Jefferson Center Shaftman Hall
Roanoke, VA
March 8, 2013

Lalah Hathaway gave an exclusive master class type performance in vocalese exercises in a featured track from the latest release on funk-soul act Snarky Puppy, Family Dinner (Ropeadope 2013). Family Dinner was recorded on March 8, 2013 at Jefferson Center's Shaftman Hall in Roanoke, VA, where the band performed a premier recording concert before 100 invited guests.

The benefit show brought attention to the non-profit arts center and included appearances from Lalah Hathaway, N'Dambi, Lucy Woodward, and Chantae Cann, also Malika Tirolien, Magda Giannikou, Shayna Steele and Tony Scherr. Snarky Puppy has unveiled all "Family Dinner" tracks on YouTube.

One standout track is the band's rendition of "Something" featuring vocalist Lalah Hathaway. The classically trained vocalist, and daughter of soul legend Donny Hathaway, impresses all the way throughout her dynamite vocal performance, but something happens during a scat session around the 6:10 mark that really blows both the audience and the band's minds.

Hathaway actually creates a chord of multiple notes with her voice. The band and audience seem to ascend into the heavens as Lalah transcends vocal mythology. This groundbreaking performance is truly a distinctive art form. We refer to this dramatic art form as "harmonic singing."

Vocalists are usually taught traditional vocalise whereas a performer sings syllables or other meaningless vocal sounds rather than a text to different musical pitches for singing or training the ear, as in solfeggio.

Harmonic singing is basically singing one rather low note and then use a resonance in the vocal tract to enhance the production of just one high harmonic of the low note. When it is much stronger than nearby harmonics, we notice it as a separate note.

How vocalists make this achievement is quite complex. One way to strengthen the second resonance, at the expense of the others, is to make a small mouth opening and also a relatively tight constriction between the tongue and the roof of the mouth. However, it requires a lot of practice.

In traditional practice, some singers hold the fundamental pitch constant, and then tune the vocal tract resonances to choose one or another harmonic. They can therefore play the 'instrument' using the natural harmonics, similar to brass or woodwind players.

Skilled practitioners can vary the voice pitch and the resonant frequency independently. For instance, the fundamental has been lowered and the resonance has been raised, with the result that it is the twelfth harmonic, is amplified. Truly, this performance was noteworthy and illustrious.

As you listen, try to stay in your seat.

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