Evan Bortnick http://musa-vocalis.de/
There are significant advantages to having studied a lot of stuff over the years. When enough of it sinks in, it starts to form into something new. In the formation of cut-to-measure exercises in the voice lesson combining systems of pedagogy can have an almost ‘magical’ and instantaneous effect. The experienced teachers out there know the phenomenon; an idea for an exercise pops into your head, seemingly out of nowhere. Only after the student tries it out and notices its profound effect do you, as teacher, begin to understand what your teacher’s intuition knew in advance. Taking such phenomenon apart analytically for the student requires care. The last thing you want is for the student to ‘go mental’ on you while singing. That’s not the point. If done well, understanding the traditions of our art, combined with knowledge of functional anatomy, (plus one or the other discipline), STRENGTHENS intuition in the singer and in the teacher. In this case “Intuition” (difficult to define even for K.G.Jung himself) refers to parts of the brain which grasp and regulate far more factors than we could ever hope to consciously (good thing too, or we wouldn’t be alive!)
I’ll give you an example; a young professional singer, just having recovered from a cold complained of an uncomfortable ‘pulling’ sensation in the throat area singing just above the ‘Passagio’. Her doctor had diagnosed the left Maxilla sinus as being compressed and stuffed up, plus she complained of back pain and had a history of slipped disk. Her right shoulder was slightly higher than the left. Singing from middle e to g, she lost first formant strengthening. I asked her to sing a simple scale from c to g and back with a slight tenuto on the G and to describe her sensations of space and of resonance as an anchor for the comparison in the next step. Then I asked her to sing the scale twice more, the first time as before, the second time to raise her left arm high over her head while lifting her left heel off the ground. At the same time I asked her to take the pointer and middle finger of the right hand and to feel into and push gently the area in the middle of the left smile wrinkle. The pulling sensation disappeared, the tone on the f and g retained its warmth and increased the strengthening of the first formant, plus she reported a strong sense of soft palate lift. After integrating the positive changes I asked her how these movements could POSSIBLY have such a profound effect. Her own answers actually aided in the integration. The further answers I provided not only gave me a sense of how ‘systems’ and ‘methods’ melt together when applied functionally, but also allowed her a referencing experience for just what she was seeking in her singing.
What actually happened here?
- By stretching her left side, she mobilized her Psoas, Iliacus and Ilio-Psoas to exert a stronger pull on the diaphragm, creating more tracheal pull and a lower and more flexible laryngeal position.
- She expanded the left flank of her rib-cage, which she was holding slightly in a false sensory concept of stability and as a compensatory posture to avoid lower back pain.
- Raising the right shoulder stretched the omo-hoideus muscle, responsible for a low larynx position.
- Putting her right fingers on the smile line gives her sensory feedback to the levator labii and zygomaticus muscles, which lift and stretch the upper lip and belong to a tension chain which flattens out the soft palate. By feeling this more clearly, she abandoned the helping tension, thereby enabling the soft palate to lift more flexibly.
- The touch, or warmth, or pressure, or all three stimulate the maxillary branch of the trigeminal nerve, which heightens sensation and regulation in the soft palate, sphenoid sinus and ethmoid. It is also said that this maxillary branch stimulates connectivity between the middle and the outer ear.
- It’s also a modified version of the pranayama technique Anuloma ( alternate nostril breathing, which balances Ida and Pingala or the right and left passages). This not only changed the flow of air in the nostrils and ethmoidal air cells, but also allowed a strengthened resonance reception and regulation, which became clear through her heightened and conscious ability to crescendo in this area of her voice.
- The slight indirect pressure on the temperomandibular joint through the maxilla bone opened the important articular disc to allow more circulation and freedom for vocal tract tuning and sensory resonance regulation.
Of course, when the exercise initially occurred to me, I definitely did not consciously think of all the above points. I do assume, however, that having been passionately curious about such things over the years allowed the intuition to pick an exercise which rapidly addressed the singer’s presenting problem. The analysis of the above factors (and a couple more she mentioned herself) assisted, as mentioned above, the integration and repeatability of the tonal results. This we did through repeating the exercise (lower then higher, louder then softer and on different vowels) and noticing on point after another.
Important to note here is that this particular singer was quite analytical in her approach. Making all these points conscious with someone with a more singular focus and a simpler bent would just be overload. This cannot be emphasized too strongly. Singers perceive, store and access their information in profoundly different ways. Our job as a teacher is to support our students’ learning process, not indoctrinate them to ours! In my experience, a working knowledge of various models helps do just this.
Evan Bortnick http://musa-vocalis.de/