With a client base as varied as her own experience, encompassing a myriad of vocal professionals like actors, singers, voice actors and musicians, the multi-talented Ilaria Orefice embodies her own personal goals and what she has to offer students in the vocal arts in one succinct statement:
“I wish to formally introduce the modern singing technique to the ‘Difonico’ style, ultimately using this approach as an excellent tool for making the human voice richer with regard to vibrations, warmth and excitement.”
A modern singing professor since 2011 and overtone singing professional since 2016, Ilaria hails from the sunny shores of Italy, having studied modern singing techniques under the tutelage of multiple internationally-renowned instructors. She entered the foray of overtone singing exploration in 2014 while simultaneously conducting research on vocalism and achieving its extreme limits, but it wasn’t until 2016 that Ilaria found inspiration to fuse modern singing with overtones courtesy of a collaboration with Giovanni Bortoluzzi of the Sherden Overtone Singing School in Mogoro, Sardegna.
Regularly working alongside a team of vocal professionals, Ilaria offers unique voice lessons to even seasoned singers, this incredibly gifted young woman remaining the only female “throat singing” teacher in all of Italy. In 2019, she presented throat singing research at the Pacific Voice Conference in Cracovia – research that would go on to be published in the scientific magazine Journal of Voice in 2020. Currently, Ilaria is continuing her research into the throat singing methodologies and regularly expands upon her own knowledge of extreme vocal techniques in the tradition of Sardinian throat singing, Tuvan and Khosa, widening the overtone singing approaches from a compositional and polyphonic perspective. In working with European and Tuvan masters like Chodurra Tumat, she has also been exhibiting her overtone singing bravado during live performances, theater events and studio sessions.
Interestingly, the musical style of cantu a tenore – or Sardinian throat singing – remains something of a mystery across most parts of the world. Evoking visions of barbershop quartets, traditional Mongolian drones, political messengers and bar bands, this example of an unusual vocal strategy almost doubles as a wild anatomical experiment.
“To talk about cantu a tenore, we first have to talk about the human voice – a truly amazing instrument capable of an astonishing range of sounds,” Ilaria explains. “The human voice has the same weakness as all breath-powered instruments including woodwinds and brass: only one note can be played at a time. This is where the art of throat singing comes into play; such singers have tapped into a way to control the muscles in the vestibular folds (or false vocal cords), constricting or relaxing them to produce noise as air passes by. I often call this a ‘body hack’ that creates harmonies out of some internal bits that few people realize can even yield sound.”
There are multiple ways of manipulating these false folds, a harmonious approach called a subtone, or bassu in Sardinian – but there is something also referred to as contra, made by tensing the false cords: a sound that cannot be produced in any other way, immediately noticeable as “something unusual.”
Throat singing has some roots in various musical traditions, the most famous of which is Tuvan, originating in a remote Russian republic bordering Mongolia. For reasons that remain a mystery, it seems to appear most often in the native music of cold-weather communities such as the Sami people of Scandinavia, the Inuits in Canada and among Buddhists in Tibet. Sardinia seems to be an exception to this rule, what with its sun-kissed Mediterranean climate; Sardinia, like much of the Mediterranean, was conquered and reconquered throughout history by the Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines and others, yet the region has always remained somewhat separated from those empires, boasting more autonomy than its history might suggest.
Over the past few centuries, cantu a tenore has become drinking and dancing music, considered the true form of Sardinian throat singing to many older Sardinians in the same way that punk is often played in low-ceiling venues exhibiting the instantly recognizable scent of old beer.
For Ilaria Orefice, the Sherden Overtone Singing School, founded in 2016, represents her swan song – no pun intended – for teaching workshops and putting on performances, what with the facility boasting more than 100 students, most of whom are in their 30s and 40s. Meanwhile, younger groups such as Tenore Su Remediu de Orosei are pushing the form’s envelope, at times adding instrumentation and influences from beyond Sardinia.
“As with any other very old tradition, there’s a balance to be struck between remembering the way it’s been done for centuries and exploring new ground,” concludes Ilaria. “Either way, cantu a tenore feels ripe for global discovery, and we are very much looking forward to introducing this cultural phenomenon to a wider audience.”
To this day, Ilaria teaches numerous students who want to rediscover and enhance their voice, regain a sense of wellbeing or simply get involved in a new discipline. In continuing to offer master classes to one and all, she has also been targeting conservatories and universities, dividing herself between instinct and spirituality, science and technicality, in a relentless search for balance between all of them.
What’s more, she is part of a Mediterranean jazz quintet getting ready to record their first album, with Ilaria herself writing lyrics and vocal lines for their songs.
Though Bortoluzzi remains a partner with Ilaria at the Sherden school, he has since moved on to pursue other interests in the wake of the pandemic, providing Ilaria the opportunity to reimagine her image on her own while partnering with several other professionals.
More information about the Sherden Overtone Singing School and what overtone singing is all about can be obtained by visiting www.cantodifonico.eu.