What It Means to Be a Singing Body
Mar 07, 2022
Your voice is everything you are.
It encompasses your mind, your physical body, and your feelings. Its expression is informed by all your life experiences, aspirations, and fantasies.
From your voice’s point of view, it is impossible to separate the role your mind plays in singing from the role played by your physical body. Your brain is, after all, a component of your physical body. And if your imagination originates in your mind, aka your brain, it follows that your imagination is a component of a component of your physical body.
Consider for a moment that, rather than being a musician who makes music with your body, you are your body. A body that sings.
It is the body that breathes.
It is the body that feels.
It is the body that is vibrated by sound, when we listen to music.
It is the body that vibrates, when we sing.
You are the only one who knows what it is like to live as your body—how it feels, how it likes to move, the varieties of stimulation that please or disgust it, where things feel free or stuck, the variety of experiences likely to energize or calm it. Others may be able to help you condition and coordinate your body, but they cannot experience what you are experiencing.
Learning singing technique involves conditioning and coordinating your body. You can condition your breathing anatomy to improve range of motion and elasticity in your abdomen and rib cage, and you can coordinate your breathing so that your voice responds to it well. You can condition your body to expand your kinesthetic awareness, and then use that awareness to coordinate the precise and nuanced movements necessary for skillful phonation and articulation. You can condition your whole body in ways that expand your physicality, and then use these expanded movement options to decide how to inhabit a character you are performing or the overall presence you want to project.
But it's still your body that you are conditioning and coordinating, your movement options that you are expanding, and your feelings that you are expressing. It could not possibly be otherwise.
The way I was initially taught singing technique unfortunately did not acknowledge or respect the reality of this in any meaningful way. Instead, my teachers told me what I was supposed to sound like. What things were supposed to feel like. How I was supposed to hold myself. How I was supposed to look.
I was an obedient and dedicated student, so I did my utmost to sound, feel, and look the way I was told I was supposed to, in the service of my dream to someday enjoy a singing career. Which largely meant ignoring, suppressing, or even subverting the ways in which my own body wanted to move, breathe, vibrate, and otherwise express itself. I did my best to bring my body to its metaphorical knees and bend it to the will of my mind, in accordance with the advice of my instructors.
Most of them had the very best intentions. They had enjoyed successful performance careers and believed it was their job to help me sound, feel, and look like all the successful performers they had known, so that I could join their ranks.
I believe they had good intentions because I know that as a teacher, I have always had the best of intentions. But for many years, those “supposed to’s” unconsciously informed the way I taught. While I always framed my instructions in terms of what the anatomy actually does, and always exhorted my students to channel their authentic intentions through their voices, I was also always trying to get them to make the sound that would get them hired, and to comport themselves in a way that prospective employers and collaborators would find familiar and reassuring.
In other words, to be other than themselves.
Any pedagogy that encourages you to be other than yourself can never lead to the most empowering, fulfilling, and generous experiences of expression that are possible for you. Through strenuous work and will, some of you might be able to achieve that “correct” sound, look, and so on, enough to garner attention and career success, but only at a very high cost to your soul, or however you would describe that part of yourself that has ended up ignored, suppressed, and subverted.
So be, and celebrate, yourself.
Be, and be kind to, your body.
You can condition and coordinate everything you are, to be the best and most fulfilled singer, and person, it is possible for you to be.