„We now that each particle in the physical universe experiences its quality by the frequency, patterns and overtones of its special vibrations, i.e.by its ’singing‘. The same applies to all forms of radiation, to all strong and weak forces of nature and any information. Before we make music, the music makes us…the way how music is created is the way of the creation of the world…the deep structure of the music is identical to the deep structure of all things.“ – G. Leonard
In voice training and in vocal practice a lot is said about voice and technique, performance standards and essential skills – on these pages as well – so the focus is always directed towards an aim, and there is a risk that you forget about the prerequisite for successfully reaching that aim. This prerequisite is my own self, my being and my state of mind.
Coaching means working with these elements, and in my exchange with different trainers who train people in industry, I was amazed to learn that they often use exercises which are borrowed from artistic work (i.e. ’stage walking‘).
I have already described the discrepancy between the singers‘ own practice sessions and an audition elsewhere (see article: ‚Audition‘).
This disrepancy can arise if the area of ’self-management‘ is not taken into consideration, if an awareness of one’s own state does not exist.
In coaching, a description of a person’s inner layers has been established that the singers can internalize and make their own:
- Spiritual level
- Capabilities (skills)
- Equipment (work environment)
In the above list the levels range from the inside to the outside, while we want to choose the other way around in the following description, because it is more comprehensible and easier to begin with the exterior. Experiences in my studio work have shown that a failed audition – where the singer was well prepared for the technical and musical level – is always due to an inadequate treatment of these inner layers.
Equipment (the working environment of the singer)
The most important condition in the working environment is an acoustically adequate room to practice singing in that I can use as often as possible. As long as we are in training at an university etc., we give this little thought. But it is difficult when I notice in my own house that the neighbour will regulary knock on the wall. Unlike an instrumentalist, this can interfere with a singer’s practice and tie up his throat, and ‚reduce‘ his voice out of consideration for the neighbours, which is indefensible and counterproductive. Therefore it is crucial to look for rentable – and affordable – premises in time (possibly at a community center for which you can prepare a church music recital in exchange).
Singers with great voices must remember that the full quality oh their voice can be generated only in a large room. We have had the experience that a dramatic voice can sound less beautiful in a smaller room, because the individual resonances are truly mixed only in the air of a large room. The singer should therefore always use a bigger room as well and record his voice there to hear the sound objectively.
You can ask your piano accompanist to record your music or to tape your lesson – for later self-control and for better memorization of the respective exercises. Each vocal student knows the experience that one forget the individual exercises of a good singing lesson quickly, because the singer works on severas levels at the same time. With a recording you can teach yourself the particular lesson again by ‚practicing along‘ what is recorded.
The room which I use for regular practice must meet certain criteria which match my personal sensitivities.
What do I need to make someone else’s room my room so I can move freely within it, can develop myself?
How do I create a space to be creative, or one in which creativity is possible?
Only my inner feelings can guide me here.
Much is said about the goals: passing an entrance examination, winning auditions, getting a contract etc. Everybody generally agrees on that subject.
If I have created a space where I can express myself creatively, I must ask myself which skills I use to pursue this goal, which skills I have. Which skills from other areas support my work?
Have I mastered techniques to support my ablitiy to concentrate?
Since a vocally ‚high performance‘ is involved, do I also have the ability to really relax?
Exercises in the Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais and yoga are very helpful here.
It becomes increasingly clear: to successfully achieve my goal, I must know my own mental and physical state well protect it. According to Charlotte Seher, 1953:
„We must learn to feel, to sense, smell, speak, without any authority censoring our exchanges with the world…we must learn to communicate with our own living self, with the others, with life. Physically, we will feel our best when our body is ready to respond to our experience. We noticed in our work that nothing is repeated if we only go deep enough.“
Which method do I use to develop being a singer successfully?
Here is the moment to think about one’s own vocal work:
Do I use a specific technique, a particular tradition, or have I developed my own system, harmonious for me?
Which of the two is better for me?
Have I adopted a ‚method‘ from my teacher, and does he or the method follow a tradition?
Can I identify with it and trust it?
Has a particular method produced specific singers?
If so, can you hear characteristics they have in common?
Can I identify with these characteristics, and do I want to do that?
To my mind, the English word is more comprehensive than the German ‚Verhalten‘, because it works on outer and inner levels:
Since singing is a communicative act, I should now look at my own communication: how would I like to perform – and how do I perform?
Is there a discrepancy?
My stage appearance reflects my everyday life: how I deal with myself and with others, how I use my body language as an expression of my inner being.
In a master class David Jones gave all the psychological aspects of our behaviour in terms of our being singers in a nutshell:
– Be professional –
Each individual must decide in his singing whether he is satisfied with the ’student sound‘, or aims for the ‚professional sound‘.
One has to do with quickly reached sufficiency, the other with permanent will to work and grow.
This aspect is valid in the way we deal with our phone calls with agents, promoters, theatres, important and less important people.
It touches the vexatious subject of fee arrangements from the smallest musical performance to the biggest contracts.
The stipulation of fee has something to do with the appreciation of our own work, and this brings to the next point:
Here is the place to highlight the quality of our work and our singer’s existence:
Why do I want to sing at all?
Was this my own decision, or did someone advise me to do this?
Ho do I assess my skills?
What do I believe about my singing skills?
What does my vocal work mean to me?
What would I do if success comes to nothing in the long run?
What else can I do if my voice fails?
Is my own esteem subject to a restriction?
If so, does this restriction come from within me, or from someone else, i.e. from the outside?
I allow myself to imagine my real goal with all my strenght and all my heart.
What is the music I want to sing like?
What is the stage like where I want to stand?
In which place on it do I want to be?
At which houses do I want to sing, an with whom?
All this has nothing to do with arrogance, but with the spreading of one’s own wings – to be in the right setting in the service of music.
With this we enter the space of
Again the question on a broader scale: why do I sing?
What does theatre work mean to me, and how do I see my part in it?
What is the point oh theatre work for the community?
What is my purpose in life in general and how does that influence my work?
Why I am standing at the spot where I stand, and what do I have to do there?
Does this level exist for me – and what could it look like?
Is there an area which extends beyond my being – beyond my artistic activity?
„…Before we make music, music makes us…“
This brings us back to the starting point of this article.
Is there a higher level where we meet?
In her book „The artist’s way“ Julia Cameron said „the artist of the 21st century must be spiritual or he won’t exist.“
Here a bridge is forged between the suffering, penniless artist oh the 19th century whose art erupts from him – which was a invention of the genius cult of the 19th century – and today’s holistic and creative artist.
Singing is communication and we are now encouraged to forge that bridge.
Beside all the technical and interpretive work, the integration of these levels makes the whole person: an artist who has the authorization to be on stage, not just because he can sing well, but because he has something to say.
„Teachers open the door – you have to enter yourself!“ – Chinese proverb
What is the function of a stage performer in the 21st century?
In Greek theatre, they were regarded as guardians of truth.
The singers who I prepare for entrance exams or auditions have to face the issue at some point: what entering a stage means for us today in a society that sees its value in the individual, who, however, loses his presence more and more and is distracted from himself again and again by media omnipresence.
Where is the truth of the performer?
When there is a spiritual level, we must clearly distinguish between religious and spiritual: the spirit of spirituality is concerned with the present moment – but our thinking today is always directed at the nostalgic past and anxiously looks into the future while losing awareness of the presence in the now – the crucial point of any action on stage.
Action in the now (and an actor is an agent of what can take place on the stage) is a form of communication all people long for. The performer on stage has the task of creating this presence and communicating it to the audience: then a moment of connectedness occurs which one can remember for life because it connects us to our deepest aliveness.
Therefore the stage performer must be ready to give up his personal protection, which prevents him from opening up to his true emotion, to his connection to the whole experience, even allowing failure.
If an entire society is liable to lose that presence – and in the virtual world exactly this is happening today – it is a real job for the performer to become the keeper of the truth again, as the theatre has understood it as its duty since primeval times.
Especially in professional theatre the look into the future is not paticulary rosy, and many wonder whether they have the courage, and where they should take the strenght and the confidence to go that way nonetheless.
Again and again in long conversations I spoke to the students preparing in my studio for an entrance examination about the ‚right‘ college that gives a thorough training and thus ensures a successful start in this profession.
My answer is always that there is no school, where I can be certain to learn everything I need adequately, neither in Germany, nor in neighbouring countries and not in the U.S., either.
The only security lies in my own person. It lies less in contents taught than in my own attitude and approach to them.
It is about an energetic circle that I must be able to create. What character does this energy have?
„We are the ones we have been waiting for“
For the New Year 2000, the Hopi elders have written a word of welcome which states among other things:
„Banish the word ’struggle‘ from your attitude and vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.“
There is no ideal school, not even the ideal teacher we all yearn for.
We teachers are only human beings with our quirks and errors.
The desire for safety is always created out of fear, of which the object is always replaceable. But we must realize that this is a particulary German problem. Our foreign colleagues understand the concept of ‚German angst‘ and it seems that this quest for security is collective.
In our fear we then only squint at the result, and this must be a profit which gives us this security.
There is no external gain. There is just findig one’s very own gain this seeking provides. And this way also includes the experience of failure, of a comedown.
Almost every artistic biography reveals this, and tells about the force that is mobilized when you have gone through such an experience.
If we only move in our secure areas, the fear of failure will dominate us forever. If we now the feeling of a comedown, we also learn to banish it to its place.
We ourselves are the ones we have been waiting for.
Why the stage?
Why do I want to be on stage? Is it because of a sense of shortcoming, because as a child I did not get the love that I needed at that time?
If this is the primary reason, my motivation will disappear quickly: at some point I must understand that I cannot make anyone love me. This feeling of love is a give and take between two equal sides, and it transforms both, it cannot be demanded, only given.
There are many young people who are aspiring and ambitious because they want to be successful on stage. But they hardly ask what they are doing right now, and why they do it – because they only have their future and a successful outcome in mind.
But here again the energy is focused on one side only, there is no exchange between two sides.
Have I asked myself if I have something to say or give something away?
Is my talent worth seeing and nurturing?
Is my concern so important to me that I am mindful of it at every moment, with every word I speak, with every note I sing?
Kevin Spacey once put it thus: „It’s not enough to be ambitious. Am I willing to devote every thought and every breath to my project?“
This is what a spiritual teacher might say to his students, too.
Patsy Rodenburg, voice coach at the Guildhall School, London, and coach of many great actors, has described that there are three energy states, circles of energy, in which we move alternately. All three are necessary, but one of them is the basis for a successful stage actor’s work.
There is the ‚first circle‘, where the energy is directly inward, for example if we sit in the subway and read, because we have a need for retreat.
There is the ‚third circle‘ where the energy is only directed at the outside – these are the people who brag and are always a bit too loud, always a bit too close and we often fell that they rob us the air to breath.
And there is the ’second circle‘, a state in which there is an even exchange of energetic give and take. In this field, I move in my very own presence and am connected to everything: to my breath, my body, the space, the audience, the music, the partner on stage and the role.
Patsy Rodenburg has discovered in her coaching work that all the great stage actors live in this ’second circle‘, or at least move into it when they enter a stage.
This ’second circle‘ is a natural gift, and children are born in it, so our job is to find it again and maintain it.
Technical skill is important for the profession, but it should not have an end in itself. Behind it is the way to stage presence, which one can tell, and for me that is the real job of the stage actor in the 21st century.