It’s been nearly a year since I took up singing lessons. It remains incredibly stimulating and rewarding work, on a musical and personal level. It connects immediately with all those Alexander Technique lessons I’ve had since 2001; for the voice to work well, like the body (or the ‘self’) it needs to be connected well. Not just particular components, but the whole self. Singing lessons have helped to highlight those connections that needed greater encouragement, or in some cases establishment from nothing! I’m still thinking about the lesson I had with Pedro de Alcantara last year, when singing was still a relatively new endeavour, and his advice and observations continue to hover in my thinking when I’m being coached or practising.
All my initial musical training gets in the way; the fear of getting it wrong prevents me from letting my body make the vocal sound it can make. I’m still working on the confidence to let it go, and let the vocal sound being something that I allow to happen rather something I believe I can control. It’s reminding me so much of inhibition – the concept of ‘non-doing’ in Alexander Technique. Something I used to be rather good at (as I think deep down I am happy doing ‘nothing’…). Making singing something physical and not mental. It’s muscles (far lower than I realise…) that help control and create the sound. Nothing I can do in the vocal cord region will help. I seem to think trying to control an instrument (the size of the end of my finger) is best down by thinking about my throat rather than the muscles in my abdomen.
I think I had a bit of a breakthrough in my last lesson where a connection seemed to be more secure; what I heard was so very different and felt as if I was hearing from not myself but from a different part of the room. ‘Never listen to yourself’ I’m told. I can understand this now, as we want the sound to be projected to the listener. What I’m hearing is not what the listener hears. Trying to trust this incongruence between what I hear and what the listener hears is difficult, but I think has ramifications not only for singing but for all of musical life. It makes me realise having a singing teacher is a great deal more than perhaps the other teacher-student relationships I have had during my training. There is no instrument to occupy your vision – you have nothing but the teacher to look at and they are eye-balling your every move as you sing. It is an incredible confidence building experience. More than ever the way I think about something is essential; my thoughts can prevent me from activating and sustaining the sound an aria might need for example. Ultimately how I think about myself, and how I contemplate how my body works and how the voice works dictates how successfully I can make the necessary connections to make the sound I want.
I’m taking part in a variety of singing performances over the coming months; a chance to try out the technique I’m learning but also to increase my confidence of using my voice. Some Mozart in an informal Opera Soiree presented by Harrow Opera (an informal training opportunity for singers who are part of the Harrow Opera group), some Handel as part of The Thomas Tallis Society Choir, some solos as part of an Oxford & Cambridge Musical Club Concert. I recommend singing to all – especially those who like me are late starters.