November 20, 2012

Wiggle Your Ears



There are five muscles of the ear. Three are external, while two are internal. Why is this knowledge important? Because knowing how to activate the external muscles also activates the two inner muscles. And why is this important to the singer? It's important because this 'opening' of the ear has everything to do with the 'opening' of the voice.

It may seem an oversimplification, but if you can wiggle your ears, you are experiencing the 'readiness' to sing. Really. It's that simple. The sensations you have while wiggling your ears indicate the readiness to sing. This readiness extends from the eardrum all the way to the pelvis via the vagus nerve. 

Ok.  So you can't wiggle your ears. What do you do instead? Here are some suggestions. For them to be successful, however, you will need to be able to observe your feelings, that is, develop an awareness of the feeling of the musculature of the head, face and torso. This should proceed out of a calm awareness rather than an attitude of judgement. 

  • With your mouth closed and your teeth separated, take a deep breath with the thought of real enjoyment, surprise, wonder or intense alertness. 
  • Hold your breath without effort. Better yet: suspend the breath. 
  • Place your attention on the external muscles of your ear. What do you feel happening there? 

There is a connection between the holding of the breath and the external muscles of the ear. They activate, or 'lift' when one is authentically surprised, shocked, sniffing for danger, in a state of bliss, or a deep state of meditation.

  • Place your attention on your face. What do you feel happening there? Don't be surprised if you feel like the muscles around your nose and mouth are 'busy'.  
  • Place your attention on your ribcage and torso. What do you feel happening there? Don't be surprised if you feel the muscles of this part of your body- all the way down to the pelvis-  are 'busy'. In fact, when the external ear muscles are raised, all the muscles of the head, face, neck and torso are felt to 'lift, the body itself feeling as if it is hanging from the ears. This feeling of buoyancy is to be encouraged. The Old School called it inhalare la voce.

Now sing without losing an iota of the lift in your ears and the buoyancy of your breath. 

Addendum: November 21, 2012

Years ago, after I had been to the Listening Centre in Toronto and had my own ears tuned up, I was standing in the 5th floor rehearsal room at The New York City Opera at Lincoln Center, and observed the most curious thing. Not five feet from me stood a tall baritone with a big booming voice singing the role of Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca. He took a breath, and in the split second before resonant tone filled the room, his ears rose a quarter of an inch. It happened over and over again, his ears staying up for every phrase. I felt the same thing happen when I was at the Centre. Needless it say, I've been looking at ears ever since.

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