An awful lot of people who think they don’t have a good voice love to sing. They would like to come to class and develop their voice, to share their heart and soul through a song that says something in a way everyday conversation never could. They would like to feel the physical energy and joy of creative spirit flowing from self to others through singing. However, they hold back because it seems pointless if they don’t have some special gift.
I look at it another way. Whenever I see Olympic athletes receiving gold medals I think it belongs to all the children they ever competed and played with, to all their peers along the way, to parents, teachers and coaches, to researchers and the evolution of the sport itself. Everyone and everything that inspired or supported those athletes went into winning those medals.
When someone with extreme hearing loss comes to class and learns to sing by feeling the sound, we all begin to feel the sound of our own and others’ voices in our bodies. We listen and sing in ways we had never imagined possible. It works this way when people are recovering from throat surgery or a stroke. And it works when someone sings with complete ease and abandon, when their voice soars with the beauty of an angel. We all learn something extraordinary we could not have found in isolation or ordinary dialogue.
If we don’t use our voices to capacity, we diminish not only our own greatness. The ones who rise to fame to be the focal voice of our generation, or culture or religion will also be impoverished. Cultures, religions or regimes that repress their citizens’ voices are impoverished. We need people’s voices and creativity. We need their artistic expressions of curiosity and wonder, of courage and love.
When heart and truth are in the voice it is always beautiful. So if you love to sing, go ahead and take that class. Risk growing into your wholeness and supporting others to live into theirs. Or if you love to write, or paint, or cook or bowl, then go do that. Whatever it is you long to do, assume it is yours to do, not because you are meant to earn money or recognition, but because you need it in order to be whole. And as you are becoming whole you help the rest of us to do the same.
We live in a world that is governed by certain physical and energetic laws, such as the laws of gravity and electromagnetic forces that make our lives possible. In the same way, whether we’re singing or speaking, laws of physics, acoustics and biological function determine how effectively the voice is able to travel into the surrounding environment. Laws of grammar, social interaction and developmental stages determine the degree to which we express our truth, inspiration and creativity.
If we tap into emotions without adequate physical function, they can overwhelm the voice, perhaps even damage it. When we rely on ideas and concepts but disregard the body, the voice can be just as compromised by the mind as when we give in to emotional excess. If we are obsessed with technique but lack inspiration or passion, the quality of the sound will be limited, dull, and lose its listeners.
All elements of physiology, personality and spirit need to be developed, balanced and aligned within the quality of a vocal tone for empowered expression to occur. The elements include:
- Physical function of the voice
- Mental clarity
- Emotional freedom and balance
- Inspiration and creativity
We honor the laws that govern these elements through rigorous practice, which develops every aspect of the instrument:
- Physically we work posture, breathing, phonation and resonance.
- Mentally we prepare the idea, the script or the score.
- Emotionally we use memory and projection to lend our passions to the content the mind creates.
- We improvise regularly to prepare ourselves to risk expressing the inspiration that comes to us whether in artistic performances or in personal relationships.
Knowing which element(s) to work on comes from listening. As we listen for physical function, for emotional and mental overtones, and for vibrancy, we can choose vocal practices that will develop what is weak, integrate what is missing, and balance what is strong.
Skilled voice teachers and coaches have endless practices for all of these elements along with the wisdom and imagination to adapt and combine practices for each individual. Vocal and expressive techniques are most effective when practiced repeatedly until they become part of our subconscious reflex.
For many people, noticing that they are in an inspired state is something of an accident. It seems special, maybe even mystical. For the artist, however, this state is a practice and it is entered into daily.
Throughout my life I have explored many paths. However, on my personal journey nothing else has opened or deepened me as much as singing does. It would seem to be my “way” through life.
Practice is the essential element that has made singing a reliable creative ally — rigorous, intentional, daily practice. I have given years of my life to practicing details like perfecting the overtones of an “AH” vowel on a certain pitch, or mastering the articulation of a consonant so the high note is easier. Mundane details that require such intense concentration that my mind is scrubbed clean of every other thought. My heart is open and receiving because I am submerged in curiosity and not replaying a past encounter or projecting a possible future.
All misgiving disappears and without a single strategy or logical calculation I seem to know what to try next. It is not necessarily the key that unlocks the doorway to “success,” but it always opens into the next thing I need to learn. I emerge renewed, inspired and ready to interact with what life brings my way.
Singing becomes an inspirational practice when it is done with the kind of concentration and awareness that stops time and opens into unbounded creativity, when it focuses the mind and liberates the heart from its brokenness.
You do not have to have any special powers to enter into this state. All you have to do is practice every day with focus, intention and curiosity instead of with drive, urgency and expectation. This is the difference between perpetuating what is known and creating something that moves everyone to perceive life as never before. It is the difference between pushing to achieve ambitions and tuning-in to inspiration.
Here is a link to Tony Robins interview with 108-year-old Alice Herz Sommer, a pianist and holocaust survivor. She inspires my practice!