September 25, 2014

The Ear is the Spine 3

There are two muscles embedded within in the ear. One of them—the tensor tympanum—sits behind the eardrum, while the other one—the stapedius—inserts into the stirrup, the last of a chain of three bones within the inner ear. According to Tomatis, these two tiny muscles integrate with the muscles of the body, regulating the processes of extension and flexion.

Oddly enough, I first learned about this from Margaret Harshaw, long before I knew anything about Tomatis' work.

"The vertebrae separate!" She said, her right hand motioning from her upper back to the top of her spine.  "Here, I will show you." Whereupon she motioned me over to her, placed my hands on the back of her neck, and "opened" it with something more than a yawn—the likes of which I have not experienced since, the distention of her neck and spine being of immense proportion. "Now you do that!" She said. My eyes blinked and mind boggled. Try as I might, it was not something I fully understood until I had undergone Tomatis' listening training and experienced the extension of my spine from the inside out.

Was this one of the García School "throat" exercises her own teacher Anna E. Schoen-René had been given by Anna Schultzen von Asten in Berlin, the latter a student of Pauline Viardot-García; exercises which Schoen-René had been asked to demonstrate to Viardot-García, which she recorded in America's Musical Inheritance: Memories and Reminiscences (1941)?

Respectful and awed, I stood at last before that great and wonderful woman admired by the whole musical world! With a beautiful smile of encouragement, she turned to the piano and began my accompaniment. Playing from memory from "La Sonnambula" by Bellini, she watched me closely as I sang. 
"Sing the last aria you studied with Anna Schultan von Asten," she said, "for I can hear that you have not studied this aria with her;" and so it was. During my last three months in Berlin, on the recommendation of Schultzen von Asten and Hermine Spies, my patroness, in order to be well prepared from Mme. Viardot, I had studied Italian opera with Martini, assistant and coach to Francesco Lamperti of Milan, and oratorio, with Professor Ferdinand Sieber.
I sang the aria from "Mignon": "Connais-tu le pays." Mme. Viardot was very complimentary, but asked me to show her my breathing and throat and singing exercises. Then she said: "Now you are producing your voice again correctly. Forget that coach! I want to hear some German Lieder." After I had sung these, she liked my interpretation, my good middle register,—which she always considered the most important asset for a singer, and the quality of my voice. "A soprano with mezzo color—a real Rhenish voice!" she exclaimed, greatly pleased. 

The short answer is: yes. Based on my experience at the Listening Center in Toronto, which I have written about quite a bit on these pages,  I am certain that what I was shown was nothing less than the body's response to a fully-opened ear, which is necessary for beautiful singing, this very expression finding expression in the García School. However, it's something that has to be understood within the context of a student-teacher relationship, one that avoids positioning and manipulation—a paradox to be sure, since the exercise itself is nothing but manipulation, showing and knowing not being the same thing at all. 


  1. This article is a "teaser'!
    Any hint on HOW to realise this neck stretching?
    Except perhaps going to the school Tomatis created and trying the electronical ear? (I live in Paris, I can do it)

    But is their teaching is equal to that of Tomatis himself, and faithful to it?

    I have read his books.
    He describes a "posture d'écoute" which is very special...but singers cannot be all the time with their heads in that position. Very often they lift their heads .
    So, I suppose we could say : capture the right "buzz" of the voice with this position and then keep it , even if you do not keep your head all the time in that position , which is impossible anyway?

    1. Thank you for your comment, titania47. My post was not meant to tease, but rather, to inform. One can "stretch" the neck—as you put it—and still not have an "open" ear, so the matter is not about neck stretching per se. Equally, the posture that Tomatis writes about in his book should not be understood as keeping a position—as if finding and keeping a position is the end goal. Opera singers routinely must be able to sing in many positions. One good example is the character of Rigoletto in the opera with the same name by Verdi. A hunchback, the baritone who sings this part is often bent over. However, the spine can still be extended throughout its length, which simply takes practice and awareness.

      You note one key element, which capturing the "buzz," which is nothing less than the audition of bone conduction. This is every important indeed. It is found on the correct emission of /e/ and /i/.

      I have no experience with the Tomatis center in Paris, so cannot speak to that matter.

  2. Regarding "hints," you will find a great deal of information by clicking on the "open ear" label at the bottom is this post.

    1. Thank you for your quick reply.
      I was myself teasing you...I greatly enjoy Voice talk!
      I am going to re-read Tomatis.
      More comments later because the question of the head's position remains open for me.


I welcome your comments.