This was the workshop that I had been waiting to do ever since reading Ron’s chapter Born to Sing in the book Curiosity Recaptured. Ron’s welcoming and gentle manner set just the right tone for such a potentially challenging work-shop, as we had been asked to bring a text that we wishes to work on! I was expecting that I might be a little out of my depth and be surrounded by professional singers; as it turned out we were all there just to risk learning some more about our own voices and voice work.
Singing was part of Ron’s upbringing in Nova Scotia, both at home and with his mother and at school. He acknowledged all his singing teachers, but said that when he came to study with Professor Frederick Husler he felt as if he had come home. In 1979 he qualified as an Alexander teacher. This workshop was based on the combined experiences of these trainings.
The suspensory support of the vocal cords was explained in detail, helped by illustrations from Husler’s book: Singing: The Physical Nature of the Vocal Organ.
The breathing and vocal systems need to be in balance: if the breathing is asleep or co-opted into holding you up then the vocal organ won’t work properly. Ron said that if you feel how much air you have taken in, then you’ve taken in too much. This reminded me of my experiences of applying the Technique to swimming, when I realised that I needed to take in surprisingly little air.
Ron showed us a simple way of doing a whispered “Ah”. With the mouth open, breathe out through the nose, then in the same breath route the flow of air through the mouth. hey presto–a whispered “Ah”! (not forgetting the smile in the eyes.).
I have already used this sighing-game for myself and in my teaching: sigh a few times in the usual manner (how easy it is to collapse), then sigh again choosing not to collapse. This takes me into a very different psychological space.
When we came to sing our songs, Ron let us sing them all the way through and then focussed on what wasn’t working, but with well-judged constructive criticism that people could take on board and make an immediate difference to their voice. Here he quoted Walter Carrington: “Good God, you can’t go around upsetting people: they are upset enough already!” He worked at getting the person co-ordinated in themselves, connecting to us, i.e. the audience, then getting them to hear the sound quality, and then being playful with it.
One of the means Ron used to get people to explore the direction of their voice was getting them to make the song into speech and consider the story they wished to communicate. This immediately gave it authentic inflection and made us want to listen more. He then asked for the vowels to be extended. He was looking for a steady stream of air, which meant that the notes would not be a series of single ones, but seamless. Each sound should come out of the one just made, coming over and in front of it. Notes are not up and down in space but part of a level stream.
When it came to my turn, Ron got me to connect to the ground more and use my arms. This gave me more spring in my breath and connection down into my lumbar spine, leading to a fuller sound with more lift to it. It became fun to sing!
Everybody’s voice improved technically, but what was more impressive for me was the improvement in emotional connection: their singing was more affecting, and even captivating. This alone makes me want to sign up for Ron’s next workshop.
STATnews May 2009 Vol 6 Issue 28