May 24, 2010

Finding Tomatis

I stumbled upon Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis' autobiography The Conscious Ear in the beginning months of 1999 at the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts. I was fascinated by what I read. And in a marvelous bit of harmonic convergence,  Marvin Keenze brought Tomatis' protege Paul Madaule (the director of the Listening Centre in Toronto and the author of When Listening Comes Alive)  to a workshop at Westminster Choir College that summer. His lecture/demonstration opened my eyes, or perhaps I should say - ears. As a result, I went to Toronto to experience Tomatis' method of Listening Training first-hand.





It was an intensely fascinating experience. What happened? Practically speaking, I listened to filtered Mozart for two hours a day for two weeks. Doesn't sound like much, does it? However, after three days I had a curious experience- a sonic birth- as it were. I was sitting in a cafe while Vivaldi's  Four Seasons was playing on the sound system, and all of a sudden, became aware that I was hearing it in 3-D. And not only was I hearing it, I was feeling it too, as though for the first time. I could focus on an instrument like a camera zooming in for a close-up, and then back up- as it were - and hear the same instrument in context with the others. It was such a mind-blowing experience that I started to cry.

I also experienced physiological changes that were remarkable. My spine became more vertical: I felt as though someone was pulling my head back and up- a sensation that an Alexander Technique student will undoubtedly recognize. As well, the muscles of my throat- from tip of my tongue to my collar bone - felt very sore for about three days. This extension and release of tension resulted in a speaking and singing voice that had greater timbre, fullness and focus. When I got home, sat down at the piano and sang scales with astonishing ease, my voice felt very different. The icing on the cake was access to two more notes on either side of my range. All this from listening to filtered Mozart. 

Of course, the Tomatis Listening Training isn't a substitute for vocal training. But it does set up one to make use of the training one has had. And this is what I felt that it did. As Paul Madaule said to me at the time: "It connects the dots."  

When I went back for the second part of the training and spent more time vocalizing with the equipment, I experienced even more changes which lead me to the realization that what we call 'voice' is more than the sum of its parts, a perspective which is often lost in our 'down-the-rabbit-hole' (ie vocal tract & larynx) world of vocal pedagogy. That's not to say that singing is mystical. I don't mean that at all.  However, if singing was simply a matter of controlling the mechanics (what one writer - Edmund Myers - called Local Effort) everyone would be a singing sensation. And that is simply not the case. As such, the mechanistic approach has distinct limitations. Why? It's doesn't address how a person listens. And this is what Tomatis' Listening Training does par excellence.  

What does the training actually do, physiologically speaking? To put the matter simply, it exercises and balances the tension between the two little muscles of the ear. One of them, the stapedius, is connected to the stirrup and is an extensor, while the other is connected to the eardrum and is a flexor. According to Tomatis, extensors are harder to train. It takes a great deal of practice.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for this very interesting piece. I'd be very interested in doing a similar course - I was wondering whether you could tell us what the name of the course was that you did, and where you purchased it (the "filtered Mozart"). I see the Listening Centre's sells some CDs on their website called Earobics 1 and 2 - was it that?

    Many thanks for this interesting article anyway!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Orlando- thank you for comment. The Tomatis Listening Training is a 60 hour course in two parts (two hours a day) that is done at a Tomatis centre like the one I went to in Toronto. The CD's that you mention do not utilize Tomatis' invention The Electronic Ear which 'filters' the music of Mozart. You can find a centre near you by searching www.tomatis.com. In the meanwhile, I recommend reading Tomatis' book The Ear and the Voice.

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