“I think therefore I am”. This statement by Rene Descartes proposes a Mind-Body split where a person’s Mind is the sum total of his or her being. We can see how this statement holds true in academic subjects such as Mathematics and Science but whether its application in the Performing Arts where the machines we deal with are living creatures of heart, flesh, and bone?
Current voice pedagogy follows the scientific ways of Western medicine. We put something under the microscope. We examine it in the finest detail. We know how it works. We can recreate how it works. But do we really know it? Is a thing the real sum of its parts? Can we put a human being in an MRI or EEG and say that we know what it means to be human?
While we can ‘fix’ parts of the voice, we need to know that these broken parts arise from a mental, emotional and/or physical condition specific to a particular individual- his or her Truth. They are part of something bigger.
What do I mean? The voice is part of the body that is part of self-expression. The body is a beautiful cosmos that science has barely begun to understand. Self-expression finds many manifestations- dance, singing, painting, architecture, landscaping, there are as many ways to express the Self as there are stars in the sky.
If the voice is ‘stuck’, it means that expression of the Self through the vocal and respiratory mechanism is inhibited. Sometimes this inhibition may be at the conscious level. Most of the time, it’s at the subconscious level.
A subconscious is an interesting place where we keep our repressed memories. We remember that time our mother told us to keep our voice down. We remember the time that grandmum told as that ‘good girls don’t shout’. We remember the time when dad said that ‘boys don’t cry’. We take these memories and embody them. We become them. We can’t make those sounds. We’re afraid to make those sounds. We go to voice class and pay someone to give us space, to help us find those parts of our voice, of ourselves, again.
If we’re unlucky, we get a teacher who says ‘we’re doing it wrong’. ‘Your abdominal muscles are tight’. ‘Your breath support is wrong’. Instead of the space, love and emotional support that we need, we get more reasons to hate ourselves.
What is ‘listening from the Heart’? ‘Listening from the Heart’ means listening to the entire person, not just to the voice. It means listening to what the student tells you about his or her day. It means listening closely to the lyrics of the songs that the student resonates with. It means watching the student’s body closely for signs of fear and anxiety (e.g. sweaty palms, a pale complexion, a hunch, a breathy voice, tight jaw etc.). It means working closely with parents and caregivers. It even means calling for intervention when one is necessary.
Through the expression of the Body, the Voice reveals a plethora of clues as to what’s happening in the student’s life. As voice teachers, we stand at the front line of defense against any potential mental, emotional and physical disorders. It is our duty to help the student seek appropriate assistance where required.
Quiet your Mind. Open your Heart. Open your eyes. Open your ears. See the Truth of the beautiful being in front of you in its perfection. This body has come a long way- so many chances taken, so many chances missed; so many heartbreaks, so much joy; so much pain, so much happiness; so much love, so much hate. In this moment, all of it is perfect. This being is where he/she needs to be right now. Respect that. Respect all of that, not just the parts that you like. In your teaching, celebrate scars even as you celebrate beauty.
The Mind sees the parts. Love sees the totality.
Grace Ng Ee Wern is a holistic health practitioner in Jin Shin Jyutsu Physio-Philosophy and voice teacher.