January 22, 2014

listening, singing and audio-vocal control

I went to the Listening Centre in Toronto in the Fall of 1999, then again in the Spring of 2000, spending a total of 60 hours receiving Tomatis' listening training which changed my voice and life, and ultimately led me to look at the teachings of the Old Italian School in a new way. Subsequent visits only deepened my experience. 

When I went to the Listening Centre, I was a decade into my career at New York City Opera, and felt like I was losing my grip on my technique. No wonder. Sustained exposure to loud sound environments doesn't just lead to hearing loss, it can also affect the singer's audio-vocal control. That's what was happening to me, most likely as a result of already having minor hearing loss. 

Singer's often experience loss of audio-vocal control, if only from having had a colleague sing right into the ear at close range. This momentary deafness is quickly forgotten. What is more annoying however, is the incipient hoarseness which often follows—a sure sign that the ear has shut down to protect itself. Normal  singing sensations then seem dim and far away. In fact, the singer's audio-vocal control has effectively crashed, but this is usually passed off as nerves or a sudden attack of allergies. But it is neither. 

Much has been written about the effects of air travel on the singing voice; lack of sleep and repeated upset of biorhythm being the culprit in the singer's vocal decline.  However, no one seems to think about the effect a noisy airplane cabin can have on the voice. Even with hearing protection, bone conducted sound can cause the ear to close, the two small muscles relaxing, leading to a loss of audio-vocal control. Regaining audio-vocal control usually entails a good night's sleep—even several. But what does the singer usually think? That he/she hasn't had enough water while in flight, or drank too much (alcohol also affects audio-vocal control). 

Experiencing Tomatis' listening training in Toronto made me aware of how the voice is a dynamic system in a sea of sound. There really is a huge difference between hearing and listening, the latter being the means by which the singer does his/her thing. Old Italian School teachers seemed to have understood this matter intuitively with their insistence that students sing scales and exercises for a protracted period, which was nothing more than a mechanism for learning to listen. This took time, usually more time that the singer was willing to give. Now all bets are off, since the university system does not allow for it. 

Once the listening faculty is fully open, all kinds of sensations can arise. I've not forgotten the day at the Centre when I could feel my pelvis respond to my own speaking/singing voice in a way that I had never felt before. That was something. Down there was really down there! With it came a much stronger sensation of voice placement. What does science have to say about all this? Not much, if anything. 

For more information on listening and singing from a Tomatis perspective, I encourage you to read Dr. Alfred A, Tomatis' The Ear and Voice and Paul Madaule's When Listening Comes Alive. You can find both in the  Tomatis resource section in the right hand corner of this blog. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome your comments.