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This App Wants to Help You Become a Better Singer

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A new app promises to make you just a little less embarrassing at your next round of karaoke. Vanido, which is billed as a "personal singing coach," provides daily lessons and real-time feedback to help improve your voice and your ear, as The Verge reports.

When you first sign up, the app—free on iOS with an Android version in the works—determines your vocal range, tailoring exercises to your natural vocal abilities. After that, the app assigns practice activities that involve various singing techniques, including chest voice, head voice, and foundational skills—though it doesn’t actually explain what those categories mean.

Fortunately, users don’t necessarily need to understand those categories to complete the tasks. Similar to playing the music video game Rock Band, notes appear as colored bricks that move across the screen. When they cross over the line, you have to hit that note, which you hear through your headphones simultaneously. A continuous orange line representing your voice illustrates which note you're singing, helping with adjustments.

However much you might want to turn this into performance boot camp, Vanido limits practice time. You can only take up to three lessons a day, although you can repeat them as many times as you’d like.

After a few days of trying the app, I have, disappointingly, not gained the vocal range of Whitney Houston. In fact, I can’t really tell if I’ve improved at all, even though the app records and scores every note I sing into my phone.

It’s hard to tell how well you’re doing based on your “VANI XP” level. And along with the score from each complete lesson, the app includes an encouraging note, meaning that I can’t really tell if I’m "doing great!" or if the app is just trying not to wound my pride. Based on how horrifying my voice sounds coming through my headphones, it's the latter.

Still, being able to see my pitch and exactly how far I've strayed from the note makes my lack of skills into a challenge to overcome, rather than simply an embarrassing disappointment. Each completed exercise feels like winning a game. I would often go back and repeat the same lessons immediately to get a better score. I looked forward to practicing every night, even though I refused to do it before everyone in my apartment was safely asleep.

Hopefully, doing all of these exercises means that someday my voice won't be quite so embarrassing. One day, maybe the app will even give me enough positive feedback to convince me to let someone else hear me sing.

[h/t The Verge]

All images courtesy Vanido

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between an Opera and a Musical?
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They both have narrative arcs set to song, so how are musicals different from operas?

For non-theater types, the word “musical” conjures up images of stylized Broadway performances—replete with high-kicks and punchy songs interspersed with dialogue—while operas are viewed as a musical's more melodramatic, highbrow cousin. That said, The New York Times chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini argues that these loose categorizations don't get to the heart of the matter. For example, for every Kinky Boots, there’s a work like Les Misérables—a somber, sung-through show that elicits more audience tears than laughs. Meanwhile, operas can contain dancing and/or conversation, too, and they range in quality from lowbrow to highbrow to straight-up middlebrow.

According to Tommasini, the real distinguishing detail between a musical and an opera is that “in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first.” While listening to an opera, it typically doesn’t matter what language it’s sung in, so long as you know the basic plot—but in musical theater, the nuance comes from the lyrics.

When it comes down to it, Tommasini’s explanation clarifies why opera stars often sing in a different style than Broadway performers do, why operas and musicals tend to have their trademark subject matters, and why musical composition and orchestration differ between the two disciplines.

That said, we live in a hybrid-crazy world in which we can order Chinese-Indian food, purchase combination jeans/leggings, and, yes, watch a Broadway musical—like 2010's Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark—that’s billed as “rock opera.” At the end of the day, the lack of hard, fast lines between opera and musical theater can lead composers from both camps to borrow from the other, thus blurring the line even further.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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History
Lost Gustav Holst Music Found in a New Zealand Symphony Archive
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English composer Gustav Holst became famous for his epic seven-piece suite "The Planets," but not all of his works were larger-than-life. Take "Folk Songs from Somerset," a collection of folk tunes composed by Holst in 1906 and largely forgotten in the decades since. Now, more than a century later, the music is finally attracting attention. As Atlas Obscura reports, manuscripts of the songs were rediscovered among a lost collection of sheet music handwritten by the musician.

The Holst originals were uncovered from the archives of a New Zealand symphony during a routine cleaning a few years ago. While throwing away old photocopies and other junk, the music director and the librarian of the Bay of Plenty (BOP) Symphonia came across two pieces of music by Holst. The scores were penned in the composer’s handwriting and labeled with his former address. Realizing the potential importance of their discovery, they stored the documents in a safe place, but it wasn't until recently that they were able to verify that the manuscripts were authentic.

For more than a century, the Holst works were thought to be lost for good. "These manuscripts are a remarkable find, particularly the ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’ which don’t exist elsewhere in this form," Colin Matthews of London's Holst Foundation said in a statement from the symphony.

How, exactly, the documents ended up in New Zealand remains a mystery. The BOP Symphonia suspects that the sheets were brought there by Stanley Farnsworth, a flutist who performed with an early version of the symphony in the 1960s. “We have clues that suggest the scores were used by Farnsworth,” orchestra member Bronya Dean said, “but we have no idea how Farnsworth came to have them, or what his connection was with Holst.”

The symphony plans to mark the discovery with a live show, including what will likely be the first performance of "Folk Songs from Somerset" in 100 years. Beyond that, BOP is considering finding a place for the artifacts in Holst’s home in England.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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