I ran into something this week that I haven’t encountered in a very long time. A noted teacher pointed out how ineffective it is to tell a student that he has tongue tension. He said that pointing this out would only make it worse and cause the student to become stuck.
Clearly, not pointing out to a student that he has tongue tension is pointless. Should the student sail along, having various troubles, thinking it is because he hasn’t quite yet mastered “making the tone float up into the cranial bones”?
Only someone who has no clue, and I mean no clue, about awareness and what it really does, could make such a statement. Given what I know of this person’s teaching, it doesn’t surprise me.
Thinking about something is not the same as having awareness. The intellect (our society’s prized capacity) is not “in charge” of awareness. Thoughts, in fact, have almost nothing to do with awareness and can get in the way of same. Awareness, for many people, is something they have not ever experienced because they don’t know what inner silence is. The only time their minds are quiet is, maybe, when they are asleep.
The mind can be wordlessly guided to pay attention. Wordlessly guided. You can be fully present at any time without thinking any thoughts comprised of words. If you have never learned formal meditation, you might doubt that this is true, but if you have ever looked at a beautiful sunset or the ocean or the sky, only to sigh and fall into peaceful rapture, then you understand what I’m explaining here, even if you have never labeled the experience as “pure awareness”.
Allowing and awareness are cornerstones of my approach to vocal technique. We allow the throat to do whatever it does freely and easily. We notice what happens when we do that. From this, all else arises. The exercises that follow in such a state arise from the body itself through and as the sound. The responses the body is making while the sounds emerge are spontaneous and will, when not inhibited, move towards natural movement because that is what the brain is wired to do in order to keep breathing. Since the vocal folds protect the larynx, if the body has its way, it will do its best to release tension, so it can more easily breathe. This isn’t always possible, since most of us are stressed so much that our throats are squeezed with chronic tension, but if we rest deeply and fully, this response will surface, given enough time.
If you live by vocal mechanics alone, you can get pretty far if the mechanics are correct from a purely functional place. But if you want to be an artist, free to create, free to communicate, free to discover, you can never sing from a purely mechanistic place, because honest emotion can only be expressed in a freely moving and balanced mechanism.
Awareness is a bridge between watching and allowing. It is the place of poise where the singer is both making the sound and letting the sound emerge at the same time. It is the vehicle through which the magic of singing is married to the skill of singing. It melds the skill and the art into one unified whole. If you have never experienced this, reading about it will be completely meaningless and, if you are someone who thinks you have all the answers, you will dismiss this as so much malarky. Too bad.