Hope you can join us for a night of song...
The Healing Voice
The human voice is a healing tool. It is one of our most powerful tools for expression and one of the most intimate expressions of self. The voice has been described as an acoustic mirror (Silverman, 1988); the sound of our voice, indeed, is a reflection of the many layers of ourselves. Our ancestors have been using singing and voicework intuitively for thousands of years as a guide and a medicine. Bruce Chatwin (1987) described how the indigenous people of Australia used song and voice as a map. He wrote, “Each totemic ancestor, while traveling through the country, was thought to have scattered a trail of words and musical notes along the line of his footprints” (p. 2). Long before pioneers such as Tomatis, Wolfsohn, Moses, and Newham illuminated the voice and its healing properties, shamans all over the world used song and rhythm for healing purposes. In the Hindu tradition over a thousand hymns were written in Sanskrit, the oldest language of India during the third millennium BCE, and the Native Americans used song in practices of prayer and celebration (Gaynor, 2002, pp. 49-68).
Singing is a full-bodied activity that engages the mind, body, and spirit. It has the potential not only to assist a person in expressing a wide range of emotions, but also to affect the physiological and psychological state of an individual. Perhaps this is one reason that the rhythm and harmony of a song can open our hearts and move us to tears. In a recent online article, singer and author Victoria Stratton (2008) quoted Graham Welch, Chair of Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, who for the last 30 years has been studying the developmental and healing elements of singing. Graham stated, “Singing has psychological benefits because of its normally positive effect in reducing stress levels through the action of the endocrine system, which is linked to our sense of emotional well-being” (para. 5).
In working with people over the years as a singing teacher, I have witnessed both the fear around the voice that people develop when they are silenced in their lives and the deep joy that is born when a person is given permission to have a voice. When people open up and share that which has been cut down and they are validated and supported, the healing effect is tangible and potent. In “Moving Voice...Authentic Voice Work,” Adrienne Thomas (2006) has seen a similar effect. She wrote,
Motors, Slides, and Melodic Mirrors
There are many ways to warm-up the voice. Often the best warm-ups are the most simple. Motor lips, vocal slides, and melodic mirroring are three basic sound exercises that I engage in with people.
The act of creating a motor with the mouth involves blowing a strong gust of air and sound through closed lips. This act vibrates the lips and away we go! Try it. Perhaps channel your inner infant. As babies we all were born cooing and babbling through our full vocal range. I guess one of my purposes as a voice teacher is to remind people how healthy it is to just simply make weird noises sometimes. If motor lips is tricky, stick your fingers into the outside of your cheeks and that may help in your success at starting your engine. It's really impossible to be serious while engaging in motor lips; often laughter bubbles out from hidden corners of the body. Ah yes, sound making should be fun.
Another warm-up I like a lot, I call sirens or vocal slide. A siren consists of starting as high as the voice is comfortable with and sliding down to the lowest comfortable note, then back up again. Sirens can be done up down up or down up down. I will join with a person and slide alongside them so that they feel supported. If they seem ready, then I may let them try it on their own. Sirens can be done anywhere, maybe just not early in the morning when everyone in your house is fast asleep. On the other hand it could be a good wake-up call, perhaps better then an electric alarm.
And lastly, melodic mirroring is the act of making improvised sounds and asking an individual to repeat and mirror the sounds. This is like throwing a sound ball back and forth; it really is sound play. You can do this with friends anywhere. Just sing a simple, short melody and have the other person sing it back. Then switch and have them lead and you follow. This is both fun and good for training the ear. Improvisation can get the creative juices flowing and great songs often have come from improvisation sessions with my students. Sometimes the best melodies come when we are having fun and not trying too hard to be brilliant.
Each of these warm-ups invites a feeling of play and creativity into the room. Without that, we don't have much. Serious singing is something I try to avoid. Don't get me wrong, focus is very important as well as a passionate engagement with what's being sung. But learning to play and to take our voice/self a bit less seriously can be a way to find more vocal freedom and can often lead to rich vocal discoveries and unavoidable growth. Sing on... -A