Coming Home To Your Own Voice

There are a lot of people whose idea of singing is based on making the voice do something. They have never, not once, sung a free, unmanipulated sound that arose without interference. From the get-go they have been taught to “find resonance” and “open the throat” or “keep the larynx down” or any number of a million other things. They have accepted this behavior and allowed it to become their default, without any deep investigation of any kind.

People with big loud voices who can make a lot of sound and still sound halfway decent can manage that way. They can certainly fill the big houses of the world with sound and they can absolutely make an impression, sometimes even while singing without an ounce of real feeling or expression. They incorrectly believe that manipulation is good, it’s necessary, it is desirable. Many of them have careers, particularly in opera houses.

No accepted pedagogy book, however, agrees that deliberate manipulations of any kind is desireable. All of the books that are considered important in vocal pedagogy (for classical singing, as mostly those books are the ones that have any widely accepted credibility) all say that freedom is paramount. Above and beyond all other capacities, freedom has to be affirmed first and often.

Sounds that are squeezed, tight, pushed, swallowed, rigid, and immobilized ultimately don’t express much of anything and certainly don’t sound attractive and very often end up causing both musical and physical (vocal) problems. Yes, there are people singing like this in every walk of professional music, and there are people teaching in various situations who rest their entire approach on these ideas. There are even some people who think that singing freely is a hoax and that there is, really, no such thing. If they do hear someone who seems to be singing freely, they think that the person is a freak of nature. I have even been told that singing with deliberate tension is the only way to really know what you are doing. Yikes.

You cannot sing freely and also at the same time “hold your larynx down” or “put your larynx in a certain place” (up, down, back, etc.), you cannot “make your mask resonate” any more than you can “make your food digest” because both functions are by-products of other things the body does. They are not causes, they are effects. You can eat and you can make a sound, but you cannot deliberately digest or resonate anything.

Somewhere along the way, people never hear about the fact that the voice is a reflexive instrument. It reacts to the messages of the mind. It reacts to the intentions we have to make sound in a specific way (words or music). It produces sound and the sound is modified by the vocal tract in myriad ways before it emerges out into the world as a vibratory movement of air molecules. You can decide to sing, but you cannot decide to produce “resonance”. It just shows up or not.

In order to “come home to your own voice” you have to spend quite some time exploring all of its potentials and letting it do its own thing, even while you are learning to harness it. If you stop its natural movements or responses, it will push back and let you know it’s not happy by giving you a hard time and it can be pretty creative about how it does that. If you learn to partner it, with awareness and sensitivity, it will let you know clearly, in good time, what it likes to do and what it would rather not do. It will allow you coax it into new places that wouldn’t show up without coaxing and if you give it permission to react spontaneously it will show you places you didn’t know it could go. When the sound you make is the sound you want to make and the sound that gives you pleasure, believe me you will absolutely recognize it and you will know that you have found something that you were always seeking…something that you deeply knew was in there somewhere but that you had not yet been able to discover. Finding that sound is absolutely coming home to both your heart and your voice and there is no other experience that compares to that one. It is unique in its joy and its comfort.

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