ALBERT BORTNICK on “La Lutte Vocale”:… evanb54 on Hold on! Let go! Task Positive… karenleiber on Hold on! Let go! Task Positive… evanb54 on “I wanna sound like that… evanb54 on “I wanna sound like that…
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“La Lutte Vocale”: The Battle that really isn’t. Thoughts on Linguistic Ambiguity and Reflexive Antagonism.
How many times have you expressed something, only to have it misunderstood? If you’re like most people, your answer is most likely: ‘frequently’! One of the advantages of language is that it’s flexible and multi-dimensional. One of the disadvantages of language is that it’s flexible and multi-dimensional. What I mean is that of all the advantages that language has given us, many words are filled with linguistic ambiguity. They can be understood this way or that. There are many examples of this. One of the most amusing and sobering actually happened to me.
Driving with my wife through the countryside, I was dozing lightly in the passenger seat. She came to a crossing where there were trees blocking her view to the right and asked me to lean forward to look. I said “OK”. As she began to make her left turn I screamed “SOMEONE’S COMING”. I meant “OK, I’ll look”, and she heard “OK, you can make the turn.” A simple enough yet potentially deadly misunderstanding.
Another good example is the “Bel Canto” term “La Lutte Vocale”. It literally means The Vocal Battle or The Vocal Struggle. It’s attributed to the great teacher Francesco Lamperti from his “Treatise on the Art of Singing.” I say ‘attributed’ because Bel Canto is an oral tradition. In other words, it has its origin by word-of-mouth from teacher to student and the term may have been originated by a colleague and/or teacher and written later by him. These were master teachers and master singers from the golden age. “La Lutte Vocale” describes a very specific balance in breath control. But as you’ve surely already noticed, “Lutte” or struggle, lends itself to profound misunderstanding. Is there really a struggle going on while we’re singing well? If not, what is really meant?
Lutte, as a metaphor for balanced breath control, is best understood by considering the word “Antagonist”. When we refer to someone as antagonistic, we generally mean that person is being hostile, engaging in enemy action or ‘struggling’ with us. But consider muscles. The bicep and the tricep are considered antagonists. I doubt if you would say that these two muscles are fighting or struggling with each other. Every muscle has its antagonist or flowing movement would be impossible. Just so with breath control. This is much easier to demonstrate than to describe, but singing, especially opera singing is obviously more than breathing in and breathing out. Because of the nature of efficient phonation, the M. Vocalis, M. Cricothyroideus and surrounding muscles, muscle chains, fascia and so much else, simple, high-pressure exhalation will not only damage the vocal lips over time, but also produce a less than aesthetic vocal tone. That means that the exhalatory impulse is regulated to a large degree by the inhalatory impulse. This is necessary to ensure optimal air flow and subglottal air pressure to the vocal lips. This balance is REGULATED by the vocal lips and NOT the lungs, rib cage or diaphragm. This cannot be emphasized to greatly. In a closed, or half-closed, pressure system, the regulator is the valve and not the motor. Those who misunderstand the breath function in singing often try to regulate the voice with the breath. A dangerous mistake. When the sense of phonation through the vocal lips is optimal, there is automatically a balance between the inhalatory impulse and the exhalatory impulse. The “Bel Canto” masters called this ‘inhalare la voce’. This inhalatory/exhalatory balance also changes within any given sung phrase according to lung volume and lung capacity. Exactly which pressure centers are activated or felt vary, of course, also according to the myriad factors of physical structure. In other words, the ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph (with so much in between) are going to develop different strategies for managing breath. Many claim that endomorphs have distinct advantages in singing opera. But there are enough counter examples that show clearly that any body type can develop effective strategies.
The implications for pedagogy are profound. If you, as a teacher, are long and thin and understand “La Lutte Vocale” only from your own experience and standpoint and you’re confronted by a student singer shaped like a refrigerator, you need to stretch your experience to match your students’ body type. If you don’t, you’re not teaching, you’re filtering. What I mean is, you’re sorting your potential students with a filter called: ‘who is most like me?’ I’ve seen enough of this to know that the bigger a ‘star’ you are (or think you are), the stronger the tendency for this filter and the more effort it requires to become aware of it.
“La Lutte Vocale” belongs to a whole class of vocal pedagogy terms, forged in the golden age of Bel Canto, which by their very nature are easily misunderstood. When you first hear “La Lutte Vocale”, “Coup de Glotte”, Vocal Attack or assorted others, you’d think singing was a form of martial arts! When accompanied by a true, accomplished teacher, demonstrated, heard in all its subtlety and integrated, these terms become linguistic anchors for masterful singing. Read about, bandied about or used superficially and without good singers’ instincts, they become an invitation to vocal abuse!
Not only can we learn about singing through the understanding of the essence of linguistic ambiguity and the principle of the ‘antagonist’, there are powerful lessons for coaching as well. I’ll give you a brief example. In a seminar I gave a few years ago, there was a young participant with a typical problem. One the one hand, he loved the idea of being super fit. One the other, he was something of a gourmand. Each and every meal needed to be not only scrumptious, but also excessive. To be sure, these are “antagonistic” and very human needs. To make both these important needs clear, I evoked a typical coaching complexity reducer and asked him to isolate in his consciousness the personality part which desires fitness. Admittedly, there are clients who find this kind of inner dialogue (inner child, inner warrior, inner archetype) somewhat silly. Not him, though. He isolated this inner ‘part’ with ease and carried on a lively dialogue. Then I asked him to isolate his “Inner Epicurus”, the gourmand. Here too, he enthusiastically made intimate contact. Then I asked him if these two parts knew each other. They didn’t. After he introduced them, I asked them both what it is they wanted. I kept asking until it was clear that they both worked in the direction of health, vitality and joie de vivre. Before the coaching it seemed to the client as if these needs were working against each other. After the coaching it became clear that these two needs and these two ‘inner parts’ were actually a team, working towards the same thing in differing ways.
Now imagine for a moment that any and all conflicts you yourself experience are nothing more than a simple misunderstanding. The moment that you realize that these inner ‘antagonisms’ were actually misunderstood ‘teams’, doing something vital and important for you, you’ve understood something profound about yourself and about life.
So “La Lutte Vocale” can be thought of as a metaphor for life and maturity. In actuality, it is not a struggle. It is the e-string on the violin of our life, pulled in two directions for the purpose of making beautiful music!
http://www.musa-vocalis.de Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden
I can remember it as if it were yesterday; puberty and that feeling of longing. I had to get a girlfriend. It completely occupied my daytime and nighttime thinking. There was something about this extraordinary, hormone-induced longing which sent out clear signals as well. Potential girlfriends ran in the other direction as if I hadn’t showered in 2 or 3 weeks. I’m rather sure we’ve all, in one area of life or another, felt a similar frustration. At some point, whether from frustration, or survival, I basically just gave up: “OK, there’s a secret here somewhere, and I just don’t get it!” Low and behold, there I am, with a girlfriend. And to my further astonishment, others are not running away any more. My shower frequency had not changed, but suddenly I’m getting attentions, where before there was just scorn.
Took me years to even approach an answer to the question; ‘what’s going on here?’
Later on, as a young, professional singer in New York, there was a role I was dying to sing. I learned it in Italian. I learned it in English. I went to as many performances as possible. I bought one recording after another (before YouTube, remember?). I called my agent (repeatedly). I called coaches, directors, conductors. I auditioned the arias again and again and again. No go! Months went by before it occurred to me that perhaps I just wasn’t ready to sing that role. Just like in puberty, I gave up and let it go. Low and behold, within a week, not only do I get a production, but 2 more offers come in for future engagements.
OK, so there I am, I’m a little older and a bit more self-reflective. The answer is starting to formulate. There is something about ‘holding on’ and then ‘letting go’ which is dynamic in the achievement of goals. Letting go isn’t enough and holding on certainly isn’t either. But some magical combination of preparedness and distance, of intense focus and loving release sends powerful vibrations within and without, which seem to increase the chances of success.
The most fascinating thing is that now neuro-researchers are getting some insights into this process. Of course, they don’t take it quite as far as I might, with my tendency towards archetypal, esoteric or magical thinking! Still…the combination of this research and my love of non-material energies has given me more to think about in this regard. These researchers speak of a dichotomy of organization within the brain that they’re calling “Task Positive” and “Task Negative”. They refer to it as a dichotomy because research has shown that these ways of organizing activity and consciousness are mutually exclusive. In other words, just one can function fully at a time. And of course, each has its advantages. Task Positive; clear conscious focus, holding on, grasping, pit-bull-like biting down (for me, at least), has an enormous motivational and learning advantage. Task Negative; dispersed multi-focus, letting go, releasing, zen-like non-attachment, has an enormous advantage in health and well-being, in work-play-life balance and extraordinarily, in the manifestation of goals.
Culturally speaking, at least in my corner of the jungle, “Task Positive” has a good reputation, while “Task Negative” is often scorned as a lack of focus, or competence or seriousness. The truth is, at least as I experience it, it’s the balance between the two that counts! I’m sure no one out there is a stranger to the fact that often the best, creative ideas occur in the shower, or while aimlessly walking, or just sitting and daydreaming. I get some of my best, new ideas early in the morning while half asleep, or playing my favorite computer games, or just closing my eyes and following my body’s natural breathing.
This has profound effects in any teaching or training. The optimization of a student’s neural network involves powerful introspection and self-knowledge. How many of us have heard, or said; “you think too much!” This is what is meant. Our ability to let our bodies, brains and resources do what they do optimally is an exact function of our own unique back-and-forth between “Task Positive” and “Task Negative”!
So if you do find yourself ‘thinking too much’ or pit-bull-like grasping onto a certain goal, the next question is; how exactly do you not think about thinking too much? How exactly do YOU grasp letting go? And there’s the rub. The techniques you develop for creatively, playfully and skillfully going from task-positive to task-negative and back again, are crucial for understanding both creativity and goal-setting!
Evan Bortnick Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden http://www.musa-vocalis.de
I doubt if there’s anyone who would deny that life is hard, at least sometimes. Yet these same individuals will also doubtlessly admit that on some hours, on some days, things flow with ease. One of my voice teachers, one of the true greats, used to say: “If it ain’t easy, it ain’t right!” Yet as every opera singer knows, as every “Life Artist” knows, the effort involved in mastery is often blindingly difficult. So here we are, faced with a dichotomy.
“Life is hard.” – “Life is easy.”
“Life is suffering.” – “Life is joy.”
As a voice teacher, THE most important thing to impart to students is the fact that it’s sometimes one AND sometimes the other! As a coach, in business, art or personal life, THE most important thing to impart to clients is the inner flexibility to anticipate and respond to this contrariety.
Both beliefs and their corresponding values have their advantages and their disadvantages. ‘Life is hard’ prepares the body and mind for concentrated work and the effortful expansion of habitual boundaries. Yet a bit too much of this belief, especially for the singer, induces by suggestion too much helping tension and effortful muscularity. ‘Life is easy’ evokes balance, flow and joyful self-expression. At the same time, it can discourage growth, by the tendency to take the ‘easy’ way out.
This makes me think of S. Freud’s definition of neurosis: ‘an intolerance for ambiguity’. This means inner flexibility and the ability to shift with the punches is a sort of anti-neurosis program. To paraphrase Nietsche: “What doesn’t kill us, makes us flexible!”
On a long walk recently, I noticed a hawk in a field. They never seem to look quite as elegant walking in the dirt as they do flying in the air. I got too close for comfort, startled him and with great effort, he took flight. He was one of those hawks with a large wing span and ‘sport-studio’ legs. And he really used them for that take-off; a powerful leap and strong, muscular flaps. I was close enough to see the effort involved. I was close enough to hear it as well. Hard to tell if the noises on take-off were air currents or hefty, hawkish grunting. Not at all hard to imagine that hawk making noises like a weight lifter going for that last lift…..hawk version, of course. I was so fascinated by the effort that I watched for a while. He flew his way to the center of the field, rising higher and higher with those robust wing strokes, grunting all the way. Then something interesting happened. When he hit the center of the field and rose to a certain height, he stopped flapping his wings, raised his head, flew in slow deliberate circles and kept rising higher and higher. Interesting, that. He sought and found a thermal. Finding it was effortful. After that, as long as he remained in it, flight, lift, air-flow and altitude happened as if by themselves. This was the birth of one of my favorite metaphors for singing and for life. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s hard. And it seems that the mere anticipation of easiness, of hardness or of a precise balance of the two, induce both muscle activation and psychological processes that allow us to rise in our own thermals.
I recently had the opportunity to work with a very talented student violist twice in one month in the context of 2 separate seminars; Performance Training and Mental Training. One of my initial questions revolved around the distinction between playing alone at home and playing solo for an audience. What exactly, precisely were this violists’ inner pictures, dialogues, sensations and movements between the two? When that became conscious and clear, I asked her to, as well as possible, alternate between the two. She complained about rigidity in her wrists, vague back pain and stiff shoulders. By alternating between extreme effortful playing, as in a concert situation and relaxed joyful playing, as if she were alone at home, it became clear that not only her belief, but also her habits revolved around the conviction that playing was invariably ‘hard’. It required great effort, always. Her body actively reflected this. No amount of rationalization or explanation would remove these extraneous tensions. The solution here is not to be found in rationalization or explanation, as interesting to some as these might be. The solution lay for this musician in her inner life, in how she represented her own playing to herself, in all its complexity. She spent a lot of time in nature. We had that in common. So my metaphor for the thermal had her nodding enthusiastically. That inner picture of rising in a thermal, combined with an imagined sense that she was already a successful professional, promoted an optimal balance between ease and effort. Her playing sounded, for her and for us, more natural, freer and generally more musical.
This metaphor and others like it, seem even easier for singers. Singers, especially Opera Singers, live in a world combining the auditory, the sensory and the verbal, in a way which instrumentalists don’t. That makes these kinds of inner pictures for most quite easy to produce. In a lesson just the other day, a soprano was having trouble with an OH vowel on a high note. She’d sung this phrase countless times to her own satisfaction, but something recently was bringing her to exert way too much effort in its production. Here the Hawk-in-the-Thermal metaphor induced the idea that the higher you get, the easier it becomes. This may not be always the case or the best metaphor for all singers, but in her case, it was money in the bank! After singing the high note a few times, she actually said: “It’s as if the tone comes by itself!” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
It’s always fascinating to me in my own life and in those I know, how the exquisite combination of Effort and Ease raises consciousness and increases effectivity. You know how it is to want something so bad that you clutch onto it until you cramp, only to have it manifest later through release. You also know how it is to wish and hope and long-for and yet do nothing for the longest time, only to have right effort bring it about. These are examples of exaggerated, one-sided thinking (if you can call that ‘thinking’). Maturity brings a more complex and balanced view. Self-Knowledge is synonymous with finding this balance. It is essential that we teach our students, our clients and our children to find it for themselves.
Evan Bortnick http://www.musa-vocalis.de
The idea of “Karma” as it was probably originally intended seems foreign to how we live our life. The idea that there is some mechanism by which our deeds come back at us is anathema to many of us, especially when we ask ourselves exactly who or what it is that regulates the process. The idea that this process might be mechanically built into the system often feels wrong. At the same time, the idea that there is a form of higher intelligence which concerns itself with the petty doings of human beings feels in many contexts even more false. There is a great deal in our education, at least in my corner of the world, which speaks forcefully against both an external mechanical agency and a higher-power, magical-thinking agency.
The reason the idea is valuable to me personally might be based on a much simpler agency. We human beings have, to a more or less greater extent, the ability to ‘feel into’ other people and other things. For better or for worse, we can get an approximate sense of what someone else is feeling. Have you ever watched someone fall on their spine, real or in a movie, and you get a kind of numbness, chills or goose bumps? Or you see someone eat something they find disgusting and you get kind of nauseous? There are thousands of examples of this and we’ve all experienced one or another of them. In fact, research implies that the absence of this is something of a psychological disturbance. In other words, it’s not ‘normal’ not to able to empathize with someone. It’s the result of a malformation in development or of a form of trauma. In other words, it must be actively eliminated for us not to have the ability.
Even when we ‘know’ that feelings are probably not there, we feel as if they were. Watching an ancient glacier fall into the sea or seeing an old house being demolished, things completely without nervous systems, evoke reactions in us ‘as if’ they had. So if it’s a given that we can feel another’s pleasure or pain, than it stands to reason that we can also anticipate the pain or pleasure that our actions, behaviors and even attitudes might bring. This anticipation sets a process in motion that subtly (or not so subtly) affects our consciousness filters. In other words, our expectation, at least to a certain extent, influences how we perceive what happens.
If you can accept even a little that empathy and our mirror neurons are a part of what karma may be, then there may be some very advantageous consequences involved. What I’m calling here “Instant Karma” is one of them. Doing something with the conscious intention of giving pleasure to someone or something becomes like throwing a boomerang. Sooner or later it comes back around at you. This is something of a double-bind, of course. The moment that you do something for someone else and it becomes obvious that you’re really doing it for yourself, the effect becomes less. Getting out of this double-bind takes practice, but is possible.
I believe this is a capacity which can be learned and can be taught. Just imagine in an extreme sense; we could feel pain or pleasure in someone else TO THE EXACT SAME EXTENT as they feel it. Overnight war would be eliminated. Prisons would be a thing of the past. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” would be completely outdated. It’s built into the system. Not as punishment, rather as “Pleasure Principle”. Wanna feel good? Make someone else feel good!
I often think this is not only our birthright, but the destiny of our species. It certainly would solve a lot of our problems.
Because my specialty is singing, speaking and The Voice, my own filter is primarily concerned with how this intention to give pleasure modulates the voice tone. Contrast in your own experience the voices of people you know who are generous and creative with those you know who are mean or sarcastic. Try it yourself, as an acting exercise. Speak the same neutral sentence in a sarcastic tone and then genuinely. Interesting to notice how the voice modulates and how the frequencies are strengthened differently.
In the realm of singing, especially opera, which quality of melodies and harmonies evoke genuineness and which meanness. This is, of course, the domain of opera composers and we can learn a lot from them in understanding speaking. Our very human ability to communicate multi-dimensionally has evolved our speaking voice to express myriads of emotions effectively. Making that conscious and tweaking our ability to communicate our highest values IS Instant Karma. The way we use our voice and envelope others in our sound and intention IS Instant Karma. Vibration and how our voices set it in motion IS Instant Karma.
Evan Bortnick http://www.musa-vocalis.de
You know that feeling of being charged up, ready for action, batteries all at 100%, yet at the same time feeling a profound inner stillness? In younger years, I thought the two states were mutually exclusive. Lately I’ve been experiencing them simultaneously more and more. Sometimes with coffee, sometimes without. Yet even without coffee, we can be sure that there are natural substances in our bloodstream and brain synapses that are very similar to caffeine.
The first time I experienced this powerful combination was, of course, onstage singing. Singing, especially singing opera, is synonymous with being in an extreme state of excitability or elation. After all, if the libretto didn’t have elements of extreme emotional states, there’d be no reason to sing about it. Singing in general and opera specifically IS ABOUT the lyric and dramatic expression of intense human emotions. The thing is, if you as a singer are in the grips of an intense human emotion, there is some loss of vocal control. That means that singing and acting is a big “As-If” frame and the singer does not go fully into the affect. Took me a while to really learn that. A long while!
My first experience of this degree of maturity was in a production of La Bohéme. It was the second time I’d sung Rodolfo and the aria had become a standard for me in auditions. The role and the aria had become so ‘second nature’, that I found myself relaxing into it. I happened to be on stage with one of those gorgeous, sexy, Las Vegas bombshell sopranos, that seem to be made in heaven for young, passionate tenors. So in addition to the role and the aria, I found myself in a rather realistic state of another kind of excitability. It was in this highly volatile mix that I first discovered Caffeinated Calmness. There is an increased sense of positive control and regulation, especially of the voice and body. The flow of time seems to change somehow. There is a grand sense of serenity, composure and inner peace. At the same time colors seem brighter, harmonies more intense and significant and sensations almost orgasmically expansive. I’m definitely not the first singer to experience this!
“Singen: körpersinnliches Erwachen im Lebensgefühl – Umwälzung im Bewusstsein – Mitschwingen im tiefsten Seinsgrunde…animalischer Wohligkeit zugleich mit der Lust am Klanglich-Geistigen….Aber niemals darf ein erreichtes Stadium stimmlicher Beherrschung etwa gegen den Verlust der Körperverbundenheit und Körperfreudigkeit eingetauscht werden.” Der Wissende Sänger – Martienßen-Lohmann
Singing: the physical awakening into a sense of what life is – a revolution in consciousness – deep resonance with the ground of being… an animal-like ecstasy with a passion for the spirit of sound… however vocal mastery should never, ever be divorced from connection with the body or physical bliss!” Martienßen-Lohmann (Author’s Translation)
Without spending too much time on what little I understand of Tantra, the principles and practices revolve around becoming so aware of natural, organic functions that they become directly or indirectly regulatable. Breathing, heartbeat, sexual response, digestion, sleep, the flow of various tissue fluids and regulatory substances throughout the body become not only more conscious, but less automatic and externally controlled. In other words, we are no longer a mere spectator or victim of uncontrollable internal or external forces. Put even more simply, we become mature!
In describing this to my teacher at that time, she said; “Ah, you’ve finally learned to sing with a warm heart and a cool head!” Right, as opposed to a hot head and a hot heart. Definitely a good way of putting it. However you put it, it’s got implications for an entire class of activities.
As a coach, to use one example, when I started out and a client, especially a woman, came into my practice and dissolved in tears, something in me dissolved as well. I went myself into a highly emotional state and at that moment lost my ability to coach. Caffeinated Calmness here implies entering into an empathic state with the client, yet maintaining enough perspective and distance to access resources and solutions with the client.
Maintain too much distance and coolness and the rapport with the client suffers. Too much closeness, on the other hand, and too much ‘sympathetic’ vibration and you become as emotionally blind as the client himself.
Another example is the balance found in sports and fitness activities. One of the most ecstatic and important aspects of “runner’s high” is finding this balance between calmness and agitation, between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. Runner’s high is, of course, not only reserved for runners! Swimmers, bicyclists, gymnasts, skiers and, of course, opera singers experience it regularly. It is inherent in any activity which has the potential of autonomically putting your system into overdrive or over-stimulation, yet with practice has the potential of great balance and homeostasis.
This is of momentous importance for the voice teacher as well. All of us have experienced voice students in the grip of some unbalancing emotion. A bad audition, a frustrating rehearsal, a stubborn conductor, some power game in one theater or another and the student comes to the lesson all in disarray. Since it’s always a good idea to begin warm-up in a relatively balanced emotional state, we’ve all developed strategies for calming ourselves down and getting into a good ‘space’ for singing. In my experience, one way or another, this involves demonstrating first a degree of understanding and then offering, either by example or with an exercise, a new alternative. This assumes, of course, that we as teachers know what Caffeinated Calmness is within the singer’s context.
My last example happened to me just this morning. After drinking two large cups of epicurean, earth-moving coffee and getting into an impassioned discussion with my wife, I realized that both our passions were tending towards long-windedness. We both wanted passionately to talk and to be passionately listened to. Perhaps one or the other of you, my gentle readers, recognize this particular expression of passion. Upon realizing that this combination could only lead to faster and louder talking on both our parts, I decided upon a radical strategy; I would caffeinatedly and calmly listen until the big wave of her passion hit the shore. Miracle of miracles, when it did, she asked me what I thought and actually passionately listened til I was done. It didn’t actually even take too long. Definitely not as long as if we’d both talked at once. Will wonders never cease.
Yes. Caffeinated Calmness!
Evan Bortnick Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden http://www.musa-vocalis.de
If I had a euro for every time a student asked me this question, I’d be a millionaire: “how can I sound like that?” Happened again in a lesson yesterday. A young singer listens to Freni and wants to sing like that. We all recognize this. Either we’ve heard it over and over or we’ve done it ourselves in earlier years or both. We fall so in love with a sound, that it feels almost impossible not to try and imitate. After all, not only is imitation the sincerest form of flattery, it’s the way we all learn as small children.
I can remember falling in love with Franco Corelli’s sound. One of my coaches would even say: “Ah, you’ve been listening to Corelli again.” Not that anyone would ever confuse my voice with his, (as much as I might have liked that back then), it’s just that many of the mannerisms and some of the formants and overtones were possible to approximate. I even remember my first lesson with the great Nicolai Gedda. When he asked me with whom I’ve been studying, I told him “with you”.
“How can that be, this our first lesson.”
“I’ve been listening and learning from your recordings.”
“AHA…let me tell you; not everything you can hear is what’s REALLY going on!”
Can’t say it better than that! We can learn a lot by listening to other singers, but too much is too much. The graveyard is full of tenors, for example, who tried to sound like Caruso. So where is the optimum here? What is the process of incorporating what we learn from the greats and making it our own? Teachers who spend a lot of time in their lessons singing for their students are encouraging this “Parrot Effect”. But as we know, it cannot stop at mere imitation. At some point the student incorporates the auditory and kinesthetic habits in such a way that it becomes their own. The voice finds its authenticity, its uniqueness and its freedom.
Much of this optimization has to do, in my experience, with a precisely felt balance between auditory and kinesthetic. In other words, when imitating, the sound impressions are more in focus, more in consciousness than the felt sense. It’s not that this is wrong, at all. It might even be for some a necessary step in the learning process. When it’s integrated, however, the sensations involved in singing have a higher focus than the sound itself. What are these sensations and how can we accelerate the integration process in our students?
First of all, sensations in singing can be divided into two categories; primary and secondary. Secondary sensations are MUCH easier to feel. They are the basis of our HeadVoice/ChestVoice metaphor. We feel resonance in those areas and refer to it as ‘voice’, even though we know it’s not the source. It’s reliable and easy to find. Primary sensations are more in the area of vocal tract tuning and M. Vocalis movements. They are more the functional and muscular fine-tuning of the mechanism itself. The optimum combination of these sensations, different for each singer, is the definition of integration.
This is just as true for speakers. As soon as a speaker tries to imitate another speaker (with some rare exceptions, of course), she sounds affected. Yet this is just what happens in voice training. The client tries out different modes of producing sound over and over again, until that moment when it gets integrated and authentic. Here too, the sensations of resonance and vocal function, solidly anchored in consciousness, make this authenticity repeatable for the speaker.
Another very important factor in speaking and in singing, a little more difficult to describe or evoke, is emotional expression. The physical sensations which signal to us our own emotions have a profound effect on our voice. As a singer or speaker, and especially as an actor, the fine modulation of vocal tone is what gives our voice its emotional impact. The fine tuning of our physical sensations, from the most to the least subtle, allows us an optimal regulation of our voice.
This could be a fine definition of emotional maturity; the desire and ability to fine tune our emotional responses to appropriately fit each of our life’s contexts……the consciousness of subtle sensations within our body, spirit and soul to such an extent that they become optimally regulated…..the evocation of intellect, emotion and instinct that allows growth and learning in each life domain. Getting close….but still not there. How would you word it?
Evan Bortnick www.musa-vocalis.de Gesangsunterricht Wiesbaden