March 10, 2014

wanting and resisting change

For every sound that comes out of our mouths, there is an underlying psychology of thought that goes with it, the majority of which is unconscious. This is one thing I've learned having taken Tomatis' listening training and working with singers. 

Change really does come through extension in all senses of the word. You have to reach out, reach up, reach, reach, reach to go where you want to go. This takes a lot of energy, which is what you receive if you undergo a course of listening training—the audition of high frequencies providing the catalyst. 

In my own case, this resulted in intense—and I mean intense—dreaming, the kind of which you write in down in a journal and are thankful you did.  

I related one of mine earlier on these pages, but it is worth repeating to make the point: we often find ourselves wanting and resisting change at the same time. 

After hearing filtered music for awhile, I dreamt that I was standing at the edge of a cliff at night, high above a crashing sea, while the wind howled. I held a knife in my right hand which glowed in the moonlight, and was ready to throw it into the depths below me, when a voice behind me warned me that I should not do that. However, mildly lucid that I was, I knew that what I proposed to do—what I was doing in the waking world—wasn't be a bad thing at all. Then I awoke. Light up the darkness? I was excited about that. And I was not disappointed: my voice changed after that, as did the furniture in my head which moved.

Pedagogically speaking, active awareness of high frequencies changes the voice of the singer. But not everyone takes to this awareness like a duck to water, especially those who are mixed-dominant. Why? They have a propensity for engaging the world (and themselves) with the left ear, which, according to Tomatis, cannot actively process high frequencies the way the right ear can. After experiencing my own course of listening training, and observing students in the studio, I must agree with him. To fully open the right ear in such a student takes time—sometimes a lot of it (and here's an interesting sidebar: the trained observer will notice that the singing teacher profession is positively stuffed with mixed-dominant teachers, which is not a bad thing as long as the teacher knows how to open his/her own ear as well as those of his/her students). 

There are a couple of things to keep in mind in doing this work. You can't simply tell a student to use their right ear, even if I have witnessed cases where making the student aware of their right ear was a revelation. However, the student who can feel what this means already has a fully opened ear—so this approach will hardly work with your mix-dominant student who's right ear is not leading very well. There is also something else. This kind of approach works with a student who doesn't know too much, that is, doesn't logic out what you are saying. Kids? If you tell them to imagine they have tall rabbit ears, and the right one is pulling the left one higher when they sing, they'll simply nod and do it. 

The ears really can extend, as can the spine, even if most singers and voice teachers are not aware of it. Most feel the result, that is, they report feeling lifted up, fully alive, like they can do anything. One student reported feeling like a high speed train which hovers above the tracks, which is nothing less than the oldest of Old School terms: singing on the breath. 

You can't make the ear open, you know that right? That is, it's not something you can think about mentally and have happen. Rather, it involves feeling—which is a vestibular function within the ear; a coordinated use of the breath; and a canny use of vowels. That's the Old School approach. That it took place over the span of a year, the time spent singing scales and exercises which were then applied to repertoire, is not something we want to hear today. But I swear, the Old School approach was genius. Why? The work was systematic and enabled the student's ear to open with little resistance. 

In some people, it takes an intervention, that is, a formal course of listening training with a qualified provider. But don't expect it to give you a vocal technique. For that you need an experienced driver who can show you how to take your shiny new car for a spin on the right side of the road. 

I can say this much after long practice and observation in the studio (a trained observer can see how the student is listening): singing is easy when the ear is open and the right ear leads. If not, the student will feel like they are climbing a mountain with weights. That pained expression? It's not art, but rather what it looks like when you are driving with the breaks on, which reveals a lack of coordination of the inner muscles of the ear. 

See? Those Old School teachers were smart as blazes. Tension around the eyes? It was sure sign that something was wrong. 

Where do you think the facial nerve goes? The inner ear. 

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