January 26, 2013

Singers and Sound: An Introduction to Tomatis-Based Listening Training for Singers by Susan Hurley


Those who have been reading VoiceTalk for awhile now know my keen interest in the work of Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis -the Christopher Columbus of the ear, my having gone to  the Listening Centre in Toronto 14 years ago and experiencing the 'Tomatis Effect' firsthand. This changed my life, making me an advocate for Tomatis' work and perspective.

Not all are so enthusiastic, of course. I once spoke about Tomatis' work to a gathering of singing teachers and was met with adversary and interruption. You see, among a certain segment of scientifically-oriented persons, if you don't have fifteen studies to prove your point, you should not be making it, much less talking about it. The Old School is passé to these self-appointed gatekeepers. Voce Vista? Scopes down the throat? That's where it's at. You can see what's happening on the graph or through the camera eye. Tomatis? Too subjective. Too ephemeral. Not enough data. Seeing is believing after all! 

Do you see my point? The eye thinks itself more important than the ear, if only because it sits in front of its neighbor. Sight comes before sound in our expression and order of importance. It even comes first in scripture: But the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped (Isaiah 35:5). Yet we fool ourselves with this view since the faculty of hearing develops long before that of sight in the womb, and is the last to go before death. We also fool ourselves if we believe listening to ourselves as singers isn't important. We must feel ourselves, the important teacher says. Does said teacher know that 'feeling' is a vestibular aspect of listening and related to bone-conduction? That listening is an active rather than a passive matter? So Tomatis thought more than 50 years ago. 

Since sight comes before sound in our thoughts, is it any wonder that Tomatis' world has been so unexplored and under-researched? That is starting to change, I am happy to report. My friend and colleague, Dr. Susan Hurley, has written a must-read dissertation on the subject, being the first person to pull together the many strands of information relevant to the matter of 'proof', these same strands being known for decades, but overlooked, dismissed or forgotten.  As Dr. Hurley notes in her text...

According to Tomatis, the ear’s role in controlling the voice can hardly be overestimated: “Vocal emission is controlled by the ear.” The theories, which were confirmed in scientific investigation as early as the 1950s, are still generally perceived as being outside the mainstream. Tomatis and his pioneering work have engendered an aura of controversy since the middle of the twentieth century. Certain criticisms of Tomatis’s work appear regularly, according to Brosch: 1) a relative lack of thorough scientific studies, 2) use of listening training for too extensive a range of purposes, and 3) the fact that the preponderance of literature on listening training, rather than being published in the critical scientific arena, is addressed to a lay audience. 
Yet, documentation generated over a period of decades suggests not only that the theories are valid, but also that listening training may produce real and measurable effects on the speaking and singing voice. Tomatis-based listening training has generated more favorable evidence than the controversy surrounding it might lead one to expect.


Really? There's favorable evidence? If you are like me, I could not wait to read more. Of course, I am biased.  But then, I have reason to be having heard what Tomatis' methods have achieved in the studio and my own voice.

Find the rest of Dr. Hurley's fascinating text here. And get ready for this information to enter the main & mindstream.   

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