We’ve been writing tutorials on hard songs to sing for a little while now, but the Les Miserables song, ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ is more dynamic than any of the ones we’ve covered so far. That means quieter quiets, louder, beltier climaxes, and and a lot of variation in between. In that light, we’re going to make this one a two-parter, and the first part starts with active listening.
Listening to one or several versions of this song will help you get a feel for what you’re up against. The best way to start learning how to sing quietly or loudly is to observe how successful singers have sung quietly or loudly. Your goal isn’t to copy them—you’ll never discover your voice if you mimic a singer note-for-note, ornament-for-ornament—the goal is to listen to what vocal modifications they make and when.
Singing is all about modifying your voice along several axes (low to high, bright to dark, soft to loud, airy to clear and salient, etc.). For instance, want to sing louder? It’s most people’s first instinct to simply push more air out through their vocal folds without changing anything else. The truth is, a bunch of different aspects of a singer’s voice should change when he or she sings. When seasoned singers get louder, there are going to be subtle changes in the way they pronounce vowels, drop consonants, position their larynges. Even if you have a private vocal coach, it’s your job to eventually figure out what changes you should make, and when. The only way to do that is to observe what works for other people, and observe what works for you.
So here’s your mission, should you choose to accept it:
Listen to ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ all the way through several times. You can choose any version you like; the one I chose was the Original London cast.
Your first listen: mark down the times that you hear a change in the intensity of Fantine’s voice.
Your second listen: make a scale from quiet and wistful to loud and passionate. I thought I could hear 6 levels of variance in her voice, so I made a scale from 1 (quietest) to 6 (loudest). This is all subjective, so you can make a scale from 1 to 4, or 1 to 7, as long as you can justify doing so. Now, every time you hear a change in intensity, give it a number from this scale. Sometimes there are parts that steadily grow in intensity, and sometimes there are parts that stay constant for a while. Notice those times, and try to mark them down. It would be extra cool to make a chart like I did, but I get the funny feeling nobody’s going to take it that far. That’s alright.
Your third listen: Write down several adjectives and observations to describe Fantine’s voice in each part. Is it airier in some parts? Does she pronounce a word differently than you’d pronounce it with your normal speaking voice? How so? Does her amount of vibrato change at all between parts? Just do your best to be able to find what’s different about each level of intensity you marked.
Next week, we’re going to look at some key parts of the song, talk about some of those important modifications, and give you some exercises to make it work. Happy listening!
There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted
But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame
He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came
And still I dream he’ll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.