Vocal Unity

[The following is an excerpt from the introduction for my voice class given at the Westlake Dance Center in the fall of 2017, a class which I chose to call "Vocal Unity." I have also attached an unedited video in which I speak at length about the voice. It is, perhaps, a bit rambling, but if you stick with it, you might find some of it useful.]

IT IS MY FIRM BELIEF that, based on the 8 years I have instructed singers, the development of the voice has more to do with the letting go of mind-body-spirit blockages than anything else. I believe that each of you has always had a big, beautiful, effortless voice, but that that voice has been beaten into submission by friends, associates, colleagues, family, and the media, AND with your participation. Those experiences, some of which are pretty typical and many of which are likely very specific to your individual memory, have had a profound effect on a specific area or specific areas of your voice, causing them to block the natural flow of energy that is the human voice – at least while you are singing, if not also when you are speaking. These areas should not be seen as the weak links in the chain (although lack of use could warrant some regular exercise), more accurately, they are parts of you that are temporarily disconnected from the chorus of your voice and require your attention.

Through all kinds of influence, each of us makes a choice, whether or not we are conscious of this choice, of what the voice is: where it is located physically in our bodies, what it is supposed to feel like, and what it is supposed to sound like. Often, the idea of what it is supposed to sound like is attached to specific singers who are not you.

Human beings are singing and dancing creatures. Before we could even intellectualize it, we sang and we danced because we knew that these were the actions that not only mirrored but also connected us with everything. From the quantum levels of reality to the farthest edges of the universe (if there are edges), the cosmos vibrates and undulates and puts on a great show in the process. When you sing and dance, you are not just creating vibrations, you are participating in the vibrations that are already present. Like waves and particles, singing and dancing are just two seemingly different expressions of the same thing. The fact that some of us humans don’t sing and dance on a daily basis is a relatively modern phenomenon that exists mostly in secular, industrialized societies.

Where is the voice? In its ultimate expression, the voice is everywhere. It’s you, it’s your listener, it’s the room or space you are both in, and it is the source of all things – it is all of these things at once. To believe that your voice is just this sound that you alone make is a limiting belief and will keep you from your voice’s fullest expression.

In addition to practicing music, I also practice yoga and I would recommend it to anybody, and most certainly to singers. The practice of yoga has for me been a practice in awareness. I believe that the journey of expanding awareness begins with first being fully aware of the “self”. In regards to the voice of the “self”, a lot of “zooming” may be necessary – that is to say, specific, localized focusing with the ultimate goal being an effortless, nearly automatic response to the intention of singing, moving from the strictly mechanical to a unified mind-body-spirit experience of the voice – Vocal Unity™.

Where is the voice? I think a lot of people would point to their throats and mouths, and, of course, these are parts of the voice to be sure. Some people with a bit more training might speak of the “diaphragm” and “breath support” even if they don’t fully understand the function or processes of these elements of the voice (I was one of these people at one point in my development).

More often than not, we come into this world with a perfect voice. More often than not, we emerge from our mothers making a sound so loud it hurts everyone in the delivery room. Where does that voice go? Where does that strength and abandon disappear to?

As soon as we have the cognitive capacity, we begin to learn to “be quiet”. It’s probably the one of the first things we learn as human beings. Ah, blessed silence, such a very important thing to learn, and so potentially destructive to your voice.

More often than not, it is some form of psychological trauma that causes us lose our voice. The fullest expression of your voice cannot happen in a state of fear. If you stand on stage thinking that it is now your turn to be judged instead of it is now my turn to play my part in this miraculous expression of love, your voice will never reach its full potential.

How liberating and joyous it must be to sing without fear, right? To fully embrace the reality that you are not here to be judged. You are here to facilitate a shared experience for which you happen to have a particular passion and skill set. That’s all. It’s not about you. It’s about You with a capital Y. It’s about the You that is everyone and everything: the singer, the listener, the space, the Source. You’re just here to do your part. It’s not less than or greater than. It just is.

Cultivate your awareness of yourself beyond what can easily be described in words. That is yoga for me, and that, I believe, is Vocal Unity™ 101.

Where is your voice? As I’ve said, I believe that ultimately, the voice is everywhere, but like any great investigation, you must set parameters and begin your search within those boundaries. For us, that is going to be the area from the base of the spine to the very top of your skull – essentially, your entire body excluding the limbs (although we will work those in later!). This, I believe, the physical area of study to master before anything else, and we will zoom in even closer to each of you based on your specific areas of need to discover your blockages, whether they are in your mind, your body, or your spirit. You must discover where that energy is trapped and release it so that you may once again participate in the energetic flow necessary for the voice’s fullest expression. Like yoga, we begin with awareness of the body and the breath, zooming in to specific areas through specific exercises, in preparation for greater and greater awareness, and ultimately zooming out to an awareness of our connection to the everywhere-voice.

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