January 30, 2014

The Sound of Elitism

So a famous opera star will be singing at the Super Bowl this weekend, and the guardians of culture—both high and low—are putting in their oar. The discussion so far has centered around the elitism of opera (as if that is a bad thing), and the supposed supremacy of the common man and his "real' voice—opera being somehow artificial, beyond the pale, not of the people. 

My colleague Jennifer Rivera has written a defense that addresses the matter, insofar as it discusses the athleticism and training involved in opera. Rivera is spot-on of course. Having worked in an opera house for more than two-decades, I can tell you that it takes a hell of a lot of training to get to the stage, much less stay on the stage for a long career. 

But I want to address another matter here, one that is poorly understood, if at all. And that is the nature of sound, and the effect that different frequencies have on the body and psyche. I take the work of Tomatis as my point of reference since he, more than anyone, observed the effect different frequencies have on the body and mind of the listener. What did he observe? 

Higher frequencies stimulate higher thought, while lower ones bring to mind the body. 

The violin carries high frequencies to the ear, while the sound of a drum carries lower ones. Therein lies the difference in simple terms, which can be extended to the difference in classical and popular styles of music—musical styles, of course, being a complex matter, along with the cultural associations that company them.  To extend further, Tomatis observered that drumming can induce an altered state of consciousness as can the sound of high frequencies (something I wrote about here). However, drumming does this through the introduction of a hypnotic state via the deadening of the senses, while the audition of higher frequencies can take one out of the body and into an experience of Samadhi via the refinement of the senses. Are they the same kind of experience? No. But I'm not ready to say that one is better than the other any more than I am willing to say that classical music is better than pop. It's all a matter of where one is going and the road taken, even yogic thought recognizing that there are two paths to enlightenment. 

My own experience with coming down the "mountain of sound" after listening to higher frequencies at the Listening Centre in Toronto was instructive. As the process unfolded over the space of a few hours, I felt the tickle of vibration lower and lower in my body, starting from above my head and ending in my pelvis and legs. The sensation was one of becoming earthbound, and accompanied by the queer sensation that I was being weaned off precious nectar—the bottle being pulled straight from my mouth. "No. You can't have any more of that now! You'll have to sit on the meditation cushion until the next time!" Really. That's how it felt. 

To sing, the singer has to be open to higher frequencies. That's what makes singing happen after all. For the teacher, this means giving students exercises which allow this to happen. My teacher said it another way: 

When you sing, you are like a house with all the doors and windows open. Yes, It's like that. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome your comments.