Maybe, just maybe,
we don’t need to be told what to do with our voices
so much as we need permission to feel.
For me that sentence is loaded with so much goodness that can be explored, from emotional to physical, to developing the ability to feel the voice produced by our bodies and relying on it more than hearing when we perform.
First, the emotion side of feeling. As in, your feelings.
As artists it is imperative that we have access to the full spectrum of emotions and the ability to bring those emotions to our work so our audience connects and is moved.
But, what happens when you grow up in a culture and/or family that is anything but encouraging of having feelings? Well, we find ways to NOT feel. We eat, we watch tv, we engage in destructive behaviors, we avoid etc. You may have your own unique behavior of avoidance. Sometimes that avoidance happens on a subconscious level – you may not even connect that rather than feel your frustration you shove a handful of chocolate chips in your mouth (not that I’ve ever done that. Like, ever. Really.)
Feelings can be hard. It isn’t easy being human.
That avoidance though, doesn’t translate well on stage.
To illustrate I’ll tell you a story about me.
In between my first and second years of graduate school for vocal pedagogy, my father committed suicide. My reaction wasn’t just to his decision, which is a rug yanked out from underneath you moment, but also to the sum total of our relationship, which I would characterize as primarily difficult. He was a hard person to know because his depression kept him from being truly emotionally available and present both physically and emotionally.
The way my being dealt with that experience was to feel numb. It was a survival mechanism that allowed me to keep going and get through my second year of course work.
However, when it came time for the dress rehearsal before my final recital, I’d done all the work of learning the music, but one of my committee members offered feedback that I wasn’t really conveying emotion.
When I tried to access emotion in my lessons and coachings, no matter the timbre of the piece, all that came out was tears. I’d done such a good job at putting the grief I was experiencing away, that when I tried to access any emotion it was the only one that was available. Crying for an hour on stage wasn’t an option, so I went back to my largely expressionless singing.
When I listen back to the recording of that concert I can hear the ‘flatness’ in my voice. It took me time and space to be able to open the door on grief and allow it to begin to move through me so I could express emotion on stage. If I’m being honest, expressing emotion has never been a strong suit for me – I think I did it very well as a child, but that wasn’t always met with a positive response and I learned to tamp it down, as so many do. One of the great places of work for me as an adult has been a return to both allowing feelings and expressing them (hopefully more skillfully than I did as a child!).
No one, in that time or any other, ever really talked to me about the concept of embodiment when it came to singing. In the work I do now I work to find ways to encourage singers to feel emotion through the vehicles of the body and the voice and then communicate it. Sometimes the simplest of practices, like feeling the breath coming into your nose is a powerful place to start.
I’ll share another post about physical feelings like the what we often call the ‘stretch sensation’, but I’m curious to know, how do you address making space for emotions in your lessons so your singers can be embodied on stage?