Occasionally one particular instrument maker produces an instrument so perfect that it achieves legendary status – even if you know very little about classical music you have probably heard of Stradivarius and know which instrument he is famous for. You may not be so familiar with names like Selmer and C. F. Martin, unless you have been hanging out with guitarists and saxophonists. I have had the pleasure of hearing a Martin guitar played regularly at my local Open Mic night in SE14 – even for an amateur guitarist like myself it is easy to recognise that the sound the instrument produces is particularly beautiful.
Anyone can learn to sing – all you need is practice…
I have been running a small one-woman campaign for many years to counter the somewhat entrenched idea that vocal quality is immutable, a gift rather than a skill. In fact a rich, resonant voice is available to anyone prepared to do the work of developing their abilities, but of course not everyone has enough interest and patience to put in the practice. I sometimes say that whereas any musician with enough cash can go out and buy a great instrument, singers have no choice but to build their own from scratch. My Embodied Voice course is intended to give anyone who wants them the tools and the sensory-motor awareness necessary to speed up the development of their unique instrument, and their ability to play it with skill – I always do my best to instil the curiosity and confidence necessary to explore the human voice to its full potential.
The final section of the course has always been about attaining an easy physical mobility that expands and enhances the voice rather than limiting and inhibiting it. It is natural to let go and find a more complete, tension-free, whole-self vocal sound when you are lying on the floor–gravity is one of our earliest and most constant teachers!–it is not so easy to have all of your voice available while standing, sitting and moving spontaneously.
I once heard this particular ability ascribed to Frank Sinatra, and I remember watching him on film shortly afterwards, singing some lovely song with his usual quality of effortless intelligence, whilst “drinking” at a bar, and lighting a cigarette that he had first extracted from its packet. Of course he was an actor as well, and they have always been required to walk while talking and talk while walking. This may be exactly why I have ended up teaching voice the Feldenkrais way more often to actors than to singers; they do seem to be more aware of the value of fully integrating the voice into the whole self, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I know with certainty that a richer, more powerful, more fully realised voice is one of the natural side effects of Awareness Through Movement – but I don’t get many chances to prove it…
Sound is Vibration Perceived By A Listening Device
One way to think about it is that sound is a wave travelling through a material, and the material it passes through can be responsive and resonant in a way that enhances that sound, or be rigid and unmoving in a way that diminishes and deadens the sound. Just as the human body is the most interesting shape maker the human voice is an unusually flexible sound-maker – there are some birds that rival us for mimicry, but nothing in the animal kingdom can compete with us for range of possible sounds and the communication of emotion that we are capable of.
Articulators of Speech
Tiny adjustments in the way we shape our vocal structures as our voice flows up out of us through our resonating chambers enable us to produce an enormous range of different vocal qualities. What I have recently begun to incorporate into my Potent Voice course is the way this huge range of potential vocal sounds seems to be directly linked to the way we listen to ourselves. We never stop hearing even when we sleep; sounds come at us from all directions; actively listening to all the sounds that can be heard at any one time could easily be overwhelming for the nervous system. In order to keep it all manageable what we consciously hear has often undergone a lot of unconscious editing. I am sure you have had the experience of noticing a sound because it has just stopped. Your nervous system is more interested in difference; if the information it is receiving from a particular sense is monotonous and repetitive it will often stop bothering to register it, until something new happens. This is Gregory Bateson’s “difference which makes a difference” – the inspiration for the original title of my blog site.
So hearing well is not just about the health of your hearing equipment, it is also very much about how easily you can switch from passive hearing to active listening. When you listen well to your own voice you begin to develop the potential to build a Stradivarius of your very own.
Hearing, Listening, Sounding, Moving–Four Dimensions of Voice
NB: This aspect of my teaching is now part of the HumanSong Workshop Series
In my mission to discover the full potential of sound-making, singing, and the human voice, it has become more and more clear over the years that the ability to maximise our hearing by improving the way we listen is a vital element of both the tonal qualities available to us when we vocalise, and the ease with which we produce our voice in speech and song.
The effectiveness of our hearing is hard to quantify, and the slow deterioration that happens as we age is not easy to recognise while it is happening – we may not know what we had until much of it is lost.
Consequently I have been interested in finding ways to enhance our hearing with Feldenkrais (in the same way that we can enhance our seeing) for many years now. I am still exploring what is possible in this sensory realm, but I am confident that we can all improve and develop our listening abilities, both in the actual perception of the glorious soundscapes all around us, and in the metaphorical sense of improving the way we focus our attention on ourselves, our family and companions, and our wider community.
This will be an exploration of possible ways to increase our ability to both widen and narrow our attention, using all our senses, but focusing on hearing in particular. We will use our own sounds–vocal, internal, and percussive–to increase our whole-self awareness, and from there focus inward in order to explore the different resonating spaces inside ourselves. Vibration becomes sound only once it is perceived, and vibration is everywhere. We will be using body-tuning forks, and singing bowls, and we will get a chance to experience and explore the vibratory effects of sounding our vocal harmonic overtones on our whole-self awareness.
We will also be discovering how to stay connected with this increased level of awareness as we explore moving with vitality and ease in Awareness Through Movement.
This will be a great workshop for anyone interested in voice, chanting meditation, enhanced self-awareness, and all types of performance, plus of course anyone interested in improving their listening skills–I have good reason to expect that with practice these processes can even enhance natural empathy, as I believe this is one of the effects of the way we as human animals vibrate in sympathy with one another, resonating spontaneously with the emotions of the people around us.
The performer’s job is to trigger that sympathetic vibration in the audience so that performer and listener become one for a few brief moments. Come along and pick up some ‘Good Vibrations’ that will be yours forever!
Contact me for more information if no workshop is currently scheduled.
Original 8.8.13–Update 14.5.19