Alex is a 60-year old singer who has been challenging, but ultimately, rewarding voice student for the past five years. If you read the number “60” and decided he was to old to be of interest to you, I ask that you take a hard look at your ageism prejudice and see if there is something you can learn from him.
He loves classical music, especially the unusual contemporary classical genre (I was elevated to heroine status after he found out I had worked with John Cage,) and sings in an auditioned, non-professional choir. He had had studied with the late James McDonald at one time and is a professional composer and pianist.
He has many beliefs (things that he thinks of as true) that hinder his singing.
Alex harbors the belief that he is just a few voice lessons away from being able to sing perfectly at every choral rehearsal and every performance because “others seem to be able to do so.” When I first became aware of this belief, I said,
“Expecting to experience The Ineffable every time you open your mouth to sing, every time you practice, rehearse or perform, is setting yourself up for disappointment…”
To which he replied with the very hilarious
“well, maybe that is why I keep experiencing the F-able when I sing!”
Singers seem to be the only musicians who don’t understand that building a vocal instrument to sing the music you want to sing, and keeping it in shape over a lifetime, are two different tasks than developing musical skills. If you come at singing more from a theater perspective, I highly recommend H. Wesley Balk’s books Performing Power and The Complete Singer-Actor, which explores this idea from your point of view.
Alex views his world through the Autistic spectrum. Among other things, he sees many things very literally– very black and white. He came to me after he decided he wanted to develop more kinesthetic awareness of his body.
We have explored elements of Body Mapping, Andover Education and vocal sounds and patterns from a functional pedagogy approach. He does not like much else of what I have tried, but this method appeals to him. Many of the somatic release and awareness strategies I use just left him feeling frustrated and stupid. This was a new experience for me, too, to have someone not be able to discern differences and shifts from this kind of work.
We discussed what “balance” vs. “blend” means while singing in choirs, and I repeatedly had to remind him that he takes on too much responsibility in choral rehearsals. At first he liked this observation. It made him feel important. And because he can sight-read anything, including complicated scores in other languages, he thinks that means he is supposed to lead others.. For example, if 3 tenors of 6 are absent from rehearsal, he personally takes it on to make up volume, and ends up shoving lots of air through his vocal folds and fatigues quickly.
So his belief system hinders the already slow process of functional voice training. He understands the idea that in choral singing, one should be able to hear oneself, but not louder than those around you. This Ideal drove him crazy until I explained that the concept only works if everyone in the choir is of equal vocal ability. If your whole section is made up of people barely putting out anything, you can sing softly and still sound like a trumpet. When someone is singing next to you like a nasal brass band, there is no way you can hear yourself. “Loud” will always be heard over “Lovely.”
Alex started therapy and I asked him to bring up his basic trait to feel personally responsible for things that are out of his control. It is often a fear-based control response that requires great courage to look at and begin to heal with new behaviors and thoughts. I am also helping him find a low-key meditation instructor so he can begin to learn the art of mindfulness through another manner of working. He is resistant to studying other forms of somatic education or I would have him study with other somatic educators. Staying in the moment, focusing on what his body is experiencing, is actually very frightening to him, as he does not trust his body, and therein lies a dilemma for someone who wants to sing.
As a culture, we are just starting to return to what the ancient Greeks somehow KNEW about medicine, music and healing. A foundational element that Western medicine has yet to embrace is that our beliefs, experiences, environments and emotions shape our biology and therefore, our singing.
If you are interested in more, look up articles on the scientific fields of Psychoneuroimmunology and Epigenetics.
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