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,
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
Hi Folks -
Happy 11/11/11! It's a 1-der-full-day. I'd like to announce the release of my new single, "Undeniable!" Together with producers David Franz and Richard Erkstein we created a dreamy downtempo song. I hope you enjoy! The theme of the song touches on the feeling of longing for another person, being touched and moved by someone deeply. Also available is the a cappella and instrumental version.
Today the movie, "Thrive" that I cowrote the theme song for is having it's worldwide premiere. You can watch the trailer with the song on youtube. I will be performing at the official movie premiere in Oakland, California tonight. My hope is that this song can be an anthem of strength for all of us in this time of coming together and falling apart. If you haven't already, I hope you'll add the Thrive theme song to your music collection.
It's raining in Santa Cruz and I can feel the winter wind swirling. It keeps me warm thinking of all the voices rising around the world. May we each continue to get vocal with compassion and courage.
Happy Autumn! Leaves falling, winds blowing, whales circling, voices rising. Lots of people getting vocal around the world right now! Speaking of getting vocal, I recently co-wrote the theme song for the documentary, "Thrive" to be released worldwide on 11/11/11. You can watch the theme song video trailer and download the song from iTunes on my new artist site! I hope you enjoy.
Check out the thrive movement website as well.
I also have a new downtempo song due out next month called, "Undeniable." I created it with Los Angeles producer, David Franz at Underground Sun Studios. I'll let you know when it's officially available on iTunes.
My upcoming concert, "A Night of Song" on Dec. 9th at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz is just around the corner. I'll be joined by Barry Phillips on cello, Yuji Tojo on guitar, and Jim Norris on drums. A Cappella trio Mayim will also be there, as well as Austin Willacy, who I co-wrote the Thrive song with. Advance tickets can be purchased at Streetlight Records in downtown Santa Cruz at 914 Pacifica Ave. starting Nov. 10th.
Alongside my private vocal coaching, I'm enjoying offering...
I think one of the most empowering aspects to voicework is the opportunity to explore and observe our own relationship to our breath. How we breathe, where and where we don’t breathe is vital information for us on the path towards getting vocal and expressing our authentic voice in the world. I think most of us, myself included don’t often realize how limited our breathing can get until we experience some other form of limitation, such as back pain or digestive challenges. Breathing deeply effects every aspect of our life experience in each given moment.
Breath is known as prana by the Hindus, chi in Chinese, pneuma by the Greeks, and ruach by Hebrews. In India, creation of the universe is described as the “great breath,” and the words inhale and exhale have within them the word hal, which means “wholeness” (D’Angelo, 2000, p. 30). It is interesting to note that The Greek word psyche, meaning soul, shares the same root as psychein, which translates as “to breathe” (Newham, 1998, p. 107). American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “The human voice is the organ of the soul” (Maine Historical Society, 2010). Don Campbell (1997) wrote that breath is “the life force on which the voice rides” (p. 87).
After years of working with students and noticing the pattern of how people would arrive at my vocal studio literally out of breath, I developed a handful of exercises to assist people in slowing down and deepening into their bodies, even before we would begin making sound. Circular breathing is a breathing technique that I developed over the years. This exercise is usually done either in a circle of people or standing facing another person. Read more...
So I’ve been using my body as a rhythmic playground the past couple days. Clapping and stomping, throwing various rhythms over rhythms, walking around expanding my brain. Not sure what’s come over me. Rhythm rocks! So much to learn and unlearn. You’ve got to check out this body percussion group! The best singers are the ones who understand rhythm and have the freedom to step in, out and between the beats!
African music is known for it’s incredible rhythmic layers. I was at a guitarist friend’s house the other day having a music jam and was delightfully and mind-bendingly challenged by a bunch of new rhythmic ideas he was sharing. I got to play a really great shaker instrument called a Kayamb. It was a full body experience playing this thing! I felt like I was inside, in the center of the music. You can see Danyel Waro playing a Kayamb on YouTube.
Rhythm can be so easily thrown into our day in the in between moments and it can make for some fun discoveries. Try tapping a rhythm standing in a long line, washing the dishes, or walking somewhere. Look for the spaces in a rhythm that already exist, like the space between the sound of your turn signal, and click your tongue in between the beats. Have fun, it’s impossible not to. -A
Whales have always been a strong symbol for me. They are the slow, strong, intuitive adventurers of the unconscious. They are steady and speak in song. When I was in Hawaii a few months ago, I woke up at 4 a.m. to the sound of whales singing only about fifty feet from where I slept. It was amazing.
This past week I’ve been soaking in music. I don’t have a bathtub right now at my place, so I’ve been relaxing, submerged in sound waves. Although I can't breathe underwater, music sure makes me feel like I can. I started the week out with The Creole Choir Of Cuba, a stunning group of creative voices. Vocally, they are dynamic and gutsy, offering a wild harmonic and rich rhythmic celebration for the listener’s ear. I traveled to Cuba a few years ago and was amazed at the rich music everywhere I turned. Mid-week I found myself floating in Pierre Bensusan, a French guitarist/songwriter who for me represents authenticity and poetry moving in musical form. Bensusan is so Bensusan, if you know what I mean. I can’t really compare him to anyone. This is when I know a voice has found itself...when it is so undeniably original that it reaches in and touches me with an authentic resonance and I can’t bare to compare it to anyone, because it deserves to exist alone. I dipped into a bit of Fela Kuti, Lennon, and Sia as well. Musically, this week has been about as diverse as they come. Read more...
Author and therapist, Marion Woodman (1996) wrote, “In our yearning to be perfect, we have mistaken perfection for wholeness. We think we cannot love ourselves until we and others meet some external standard” (p. 66). This is one of the many illusions that we as a culture have bought into. Unfortunately many of the stories that we are fed, come from sources that have lost touch with their own authentic voice. These kinds of stories breed fear, pain, and silent voices. When we live by an external standard of beauty, success, or happiness, we imprison each other, and ourselves missing out on the rich diversity that we are as individuals, families, communities, countries, and as a planet.
One of the messages that I try to remember while songwriting and performing, as well as while coaching is the importance of allowing myself to be a beginner. It takes courage to experience the moment fresh, with new eyes, ears, and mind. Being a beginner means allowing myself to make mistakes, to fall down, to admit when I do not know. It means having an inquiring attitude about things, listening to my own voice and the voices of others in new ways, and being willing to try on or take off the various stories that I have created about what I can and can’t do, who I am, and who I'm not. Read on...
Yesterday I facilitated a singing circle in Santa Cruz, California. I was touched by the level of participation by the women in this circle. When I say participation, I am talking not just about the listening, singing, harmonizing etc., but also the depth of emotional presence that each woman showed up with. For a few hours we sang, improvised, listened, shared, and forgot to worry. It was as if we fell through the floorboards of our minds and into a territory beyond words. We let go of caring what we sounded like. There was no goal but to sing and be together.
I was reminded once again of the power of singing in a safe circle. Here, the inner child can emerge from hiding and the wise guru can take center stage. Singing is full body playing. The inner critic is pushed to the sidelines for the sake of something larger, grander, and more alive. Read on...