Not A Surface Thing

Many people understand the basics of vocal function. They “get” that the vocal folds vibrate, they change pitch, the resist the airflow, they affect registration. People understand that we breathe in the lungs, that the abdominal muscles pressure the air from below, through the viscera, as we release air while singing. They understand that the vowel sound shapes are what we sustain on pitches and that  accurate shaping of those vowels makes for efficient acoustic behavior. None of this has anything to do with one person, one method or one approach. It is just factual info. The rest is personal……you shape the /a/ like this, I shape it like that.  If we could agree on these things, 95% of the confusion and rancor amongst singing teachers would go away. Don’t hold your breath (no pun intended) until that happens…….

My work, Somatic Voicework™, however, is much more about the human being, the person. It is about helping someone learn to be present in their body while experiencing making sound directly. It is about mindfulness as it applies to all kinds of singing, without judgment, and to singers. It is not about “making” the throat do things — pushing, pulling, squeezing or yelling — as a way to sing. The work trusts the body and its reflexes. It trusts the singers and their minds and hearts. It is not about impressing anyone, it is about being vocal artists. It is about service.

The platform of the work is science and functional behavior, but what it “launches” is a methodology that takes time to learn, not a pre-set bunch of syllables and notes on some random vowels. It isn’t interested in “breath support and resonance” as the answer to every vocal issue. It looks at singing much more broadly than that. It looks at people who love to sing and want to do it very well. It asks for respect, dignity, honesty, authenticity, simplicity, insight, depth and many other spiritual qualities, in both the teacher and in the artists. It isn’t about the “exercises” although many people think it is.

If you have taken one or maybe two courses with me (either where you received a document of certification or not) and you believe you understand everything about what I am teaching, I would beg to tell you, as nicely as I can, that you are absolutely not correct. What happens in a lesson between me and a student, and what I am told repeatedly, is that the attitude with which I come to the lesson is not something that you just “pick up” from a weekend (or even a week’s) course. If you use the mechanical principles (and they work well no matter who is using them) with understanding, surely that is better than not using them or not knowing how they work; and you will absolutely get results. If, however, you really want to go deeply into the process of guiding someone to sing, you have to know much more  than that to understand how to be transformational. Even the people who have worked with Somatic Voicework™ for a long time (a decade or so) do not always grasp that. They, too, sadly believe that the work is in the exercises. Wrong.

Finally, if you are going to teach and you have no interest in or only minimal interest in your own singing, and you do not work on it and on your own vocal performance, you cannot possibly understand Somatic Voicework™, because part of being a teacher of my method is also being someone who is a superb vocalist (any style). Far too many people who teach don’t care about their own singing at all (just that of their students). In my work, it’s not OK to have that attitude. I don’t consider that a serious commitment to the principles of Somatic Voicework™. It is nearly impossible to teach what you can’t or won’t do yourself.  If your own singing is flawed, your teaching will reflect that, whether you think so or not. Being a very good singer is hard work and nothing substitutes for that in this method. Nothing.

The depth of the work reflects the depth of the person teaching it. If you cannot illuminate a song from your own heart, if you are not willing to risk revealing what life means to you in a piece of music, if you do not bother to address your body, your throat and your connection to both, if you walk through the exercises thinking you have “learned enough” (which is never possible), you totally miss the point. Better to go take one of those courses that teaches you to put your larynx somewhere, or yell, or move your false folds or sing a bunch of syllables on some pitches.  Those courses are resting on very different points of view than mine.

You can buy a cookbook and use a great chef’s recipes and get very good at all kinds of cooking and baking, still knowing that when you put the cookbook down, you are lost. If you cannot create wonderful delicious food on your own….without a recipe at all……you will never be a world-class chef or even an interesting cook.

Not everyone can become a master teacher. That’s fine. But everyone who sings can come to singing with complete commitment to be the best vocalist possible and never stop working towards that goal for their entire life. Excellent teaching comes from excellent singers. Committed teaching requires a solid connection to committed singing and performing. If you believe otherwise, please show me how this is wrong. My door is open.

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One thought on “Not A Surface Thing”

  1. Beautiful! Several years ago I took a workshop with one of the Pilates ‘elders’, now 84 yrs old, who said it takes 5 years to BEGIN to know you are as a teacher, & only then can you START to be a good one. I actually felt a shift in my 5th year, & now after 13 years, I still feel I’m constantly ‘beginning’. You can’t learn the art of teaching from a book. Thank you for so beautifully reminding us with your words, & your inspiring example.

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