Letting Go

When I was studying singing with my last (and my eighth) teacher, he told me “not to do anything” in my throat, just let go and sing. I thought this was the craziest thing I had ever heard. If I didn’t do anything, there wouldn’t be any sound. Sound is volitional, after all. How could I do nothing and do something at the same time?

In point of fact, I wasn’t trying to do anything deliberate with my throat or my sound, not once, not ever. I sang as freely as I knew to do. I tried my best to do whatever I was asked to do in a voice lesson, even though many times I had NO IDEA what I was being asked to do, as the instruction itself was wacky. (“Make the sound vibrate as if it were outside your cheekbones.”) I did not feel that my jaw was tight, although I had been told it was many times. (It is CROOKED, and that makes it look odd, but it isn’t and wasn’t tight. It was, however, not yet capable of opening to the maximum without strain when I was young. That took a bunch of years). I did not “hold on” to my tongue, either, although I had been told that it was DEFORMED by a very famous classical dramatic soprano.

My teacher instructed me to go buy “Zen in the Art of Archery”. I did not know what zen was. I had never even heard of zen. I had, however, done archery in high school and liked it a lot, so I bought the book. It was wonderful. It was after I read it that I understood, dimly, that you could let go and something would happen anyway……spontaneously.

The first time I really did “let go” (beyond anything that I had done in the past) I noticed that I was very anxious. It was a free-floating anxiety, not something specific, and it seemed to have something to do with the sound, although I certainly wasn’t afraid to sing. I had been singing all my life, in front of all kinds of audiences. When my throat muscles finally released, a rush of emotion came flooding out, and I couldn’t stop it, nor did I understand where it came from, as I hadn’t been upset. After that, my singing greatly improved. I could really feel the freedom in my singing and it was exhilarating.

Then, unfortunately, I followed my singing teacher into new territory, as he continued his quest to further free his own voice. He took up a new method and as he taught it to all of us who were his students, we began to sound different. I gradually found that it made my voice heavier, louder and more impressive (for a while) but then I began to have all sorts of weird problems that I had never had before. Eventually, these problems became very severe and I ended up pretty much unable to sing. So much for “letting go”. A passing fancy?

At that point, I had had so many teachers, so many coaches, so many approaches, that I was completely confused. I just gave up taking lessons (which I had been doing by then for 13 years). I just withdrew into myself, got depressed, and contemplated giving up singing. I let go of outside guidance. Slowly, I got better all on my own.

What’s the point of all this? The point is that 98% of singing training asks the student to “do something” and most of what the student is asked to do is manipulate (see previous post). You can’t manipulate and let go at the same time and you can’t express emotion deeply and freely at the same time you are driving your larynx around like a Hummer. You can’t develop all of the voice’s capacities without training but you have to be lucky to find someone to train your voice and allow it to remain true to itself and natural sounding during that process.

You can even try to hold on to letting go. Good luck.

If you enjoyed this post please like & share:

One thought on “Letting Go”

  1. I appreciated your post on letting go. I am a classic example of one who needs to be “untrained”. I’ve had teachers tell me things such as: “Pretend you’re a banana and sing to the top of the banana.” Or, “I want you to sound like hot fudge.” Another one, “Sing as if a string is being pulled from your nose.” Although some of these images “helped” me find a better placement (another manipulative word), I’ve never, ever been able to sing freely. I am a voice teacher now and I worry that I am teaching my students the same way I was taught. It’s all I know. I will read Zen in the Art of Archery in an attempt to find that moment where I feel the letting go. I want to be true to myself, my voice, and my students. Thank you for all the wonderful blog posts that continue to give me direction and confidence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *