Somatic

This word comes from “soma” or body in Greek. Psyche means mind. Psychosomatic means  of the mind and body.

Somatic education, experiencing, awareness. All of these words imply that the body is directly involved in something that has to do with what is happening. Surely, if anything was ever “somatic” , singing is.

Yet one must go to acting work to find deep connection between sound and movement. It is actors (and occasionally dancers) who find ways to make sound while moving around, breathing. It is actors who work to find a sound that comes from the body’s free expression of the human condition. Why is it, then, that classical vocal training programs have no such courses? They might have dance (but maybe not) and they might have “stage direction or deportment” but developing acting singers or singers who act seems separate from vocal technique training and learning repertoire for juries. Why?

The very act of separating these things is foreign. When human beings are connected to their bodies in a conscious and deliberate manner, they can move and express a wide variety of emotions and ideas and their voices follow suit by coming forth with little strain. It is understandable that things need to be isolated and investigated both physically and intellectually in order to learn about them and assimilate them, but that separation needs to be acknowledged as a construct, not an end in itself. “You are over-thinking this. You are thinking too much.” This is a common criticism singing students hear. Of course, they are thinking too much. You can’t do something new if you don’t think about it!!!

It may be easier to produce a big, fat operatic sound while standing still. I have heard that said. Still, the great singers of opera and concert repertoire were able to move enough to convey the emotions of the characters in the music. Being a tree trunk isn’t very interesting and doesn’t work well for singers’ voices either. I have seen amazing performances of opera in which the star vocalists were very flexible and busy with stage movement but still sang well enough to give the audience chills.

If we study how human beings look and sound at dramatic moments, we will find that they all share many basic things. Martha Graham knew this and made excellent use of it throughout her career both as a dancer and as a choreographer. If you see someone kneeling down, head bowed, you assume something different than when that same person is standing up looking at the sky with amazement. So, too, do we assume something when we hear a scream that is different than a laugh. The primal sounds we all make, such as grunts, groans, shouts, screams, howls, laughs, giggles, cries, sobs, moans, sighs, and cooing, all convey some kind of emotion without any specific words or language. These sounds should remain available to us as undercurrents in all of our communications. Human beings who sing should not lose the primal quality of expression through body and voice that conveys authentic emotion, lest their singing be empty. They will do so, however, if they are trained to ignore their bodies and the information they contain. As I wrote the other day, classical singing can sound like empty howling. Who would want to hear that?

One of the reasons the great singers were great was because they were always deeply connected to emotional truth and authenticity. Angry music sounded (and looked, if you could see them perform) angry. Callas, Pavarotti, Hvorotovsky, Horne…..many more. Memorable because the voice, the person and the communication were always one and the same. All of it passed through the body, over which they had great control. Streisand, Bennett, Cook, and many other of the “old timers” all powerful communicators. Maybe this is not so much the case with the present generation of singers.  Amplification doesn’t substitute for emotional truth.

The path into the body and its consciousness is slow and requires dedication. You cannot get there in a moment or in several moments. You can only get there through patient, repetitive persistence, over a great deal of time, and with a desire to know and explore all that it has to tell you as you go.

Somatic Voicework™ is a way into your body through your voice and into your voice through your body.

 

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