Early Morning Voice Warmup

Oxley at 6.30 am

Such a beautiful day, the autumn air here in Oxley on the south side of Brisbane is soft and cool.  The sky is totally blue from every angle, and the birds are taking turns at singing its praises.

So I thought, why not join in?  Here’s a podcast I created to share with you. I am doing my early morning vocal warmup, just to get some blood flowing to the larynx, warming up the vocal folds so that I can give them a bit of a gentle stretch.  It’s a fun way to bring your voice from that scratchy, croaking sound it tends to have first thing in the morning to a more full-bodied sound that you can take into your professional day.

[powerpress]

Have a listen. Sigh, hum, brrr and aaahhh along with me (and the birds, planes and trains). Let me know how you find it. Too easy?  There’ll be more sustaining (and demanding) stuff to follow.

Doing it anyway, in the face of fear

Just watched a very disturbing Ted Talk, in which the speaker proposes that if we all lose our fear of failure we can change the world – and that’s all you have to do. She’s speaking from the position of working with one of the world’s best funded Defence research institutions, where the failure concerned doesn’t seem to have any personal consequences other than the odd night of disturbed sleep.

As for the rest of us, especially performers, fear of failure generally involves more than that. First and foremost there is the fear of looking like an idiot in front of an audience. There’s the financial cost, the time and energy lost as well as the disappointment that can be caused to friends, colleagues and loved ones when a project fails.

So let’s look at what ‘failure’ means, in the artistic sense. As a general rule, it means that the aim of the project was not realised. Either it was not well enough executed, or well enough promoted, or well enough realised in any way, shape or form to be well received, or well remunerated, or both. Maybe the originating idea was doomed from the start, being not well enough developed.

How can you tell, before you start, whether an idea is well enough developed?  The simple answer is, you can’t. So here I agree with Ms Dugan, that fear of failure is not a good enough reason to not go ahead with developing an idea. However, let us look at the underlying assumptions that she fails to mention. What factors are essential to have in place, to justify attempting some “impossible” task or dream:

1 the necessary skills and training to be able to understand why you have failed

2 the necessary resources to at least take the project far enough to be able to learn something useful from the attempt

3 TOTAL COMMITMENT

And of course, it is No 3 that she is wanting to inspire in her listeners.

No disagreement there.  I speak as someone who has lived most of my life with fear of failure.  Then one day I found myself performing, just for a tiny fraction of a second, with TOTAL COMMITMENT. It was shocking, exhilarating and revelatory.  It took me another twenty years to learn how to have those moments with something approaching consistency, and I ain’t there yet!

So I agree, it is not failure that is the problem. As Ms Dugan proposes, fear of failure is the problem.  For a performer, holding back, just a tiny little bit, will almost inevitably ensure failure. And by failure, I don’t mean that you won’t get work, that you won’t create interesting work. I mean you won’t be working to your full potential, and you will miss out on the satisfaction and the thrill that goes along with it, and you’ll be short-changing your audiences.

David Mamet points out in his little book True and False : Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor. (1st ed. New York: Pantheon Books, 1997) that what audiences really respond to is the courage of the performer.  That doesn’t mean we should show them how brave we are. It is not our job to make them admire us.  Our job, as creative artists, is to share our innermost selves, in the act of communicating whatever text or action the production requires, with total honesty, and to allow the audience to make up their own minds about what we are sharing. If they don’t like it, or respond to it, that’s their prerogative.  Performing with skill, imagination, intelligence and TOTAL COMMITMENT is our job. When we succeed in doing that, there is no failure.

So fear of failure is pretty much a given in our line of work.  Doing it anyway is our job.

 

The Ending is just the Beginning

My thanks to The Living End for the headline above. I adore their latest cd, it keeps me bopping in the car (when I’m not listening to podcasts from the BBC World Service).

So, The Voice Class 2012 Term 1 has concluded.  This was quite a stunningly eclectic class, with students from very different walks of life, and different directions for their vocal needs.  Live theatre, voice overs, seminar presentation and choral singing – our common ground the unique and wonderful voice of each individual.

Preparation are now in hand for Term 2, which begins on April 16th.  As I explained to the students last night, we will return to basic principles, the foundational work for developing and caring for our voices.  Every time I do this, I learn something new about my voice, and my practice as a creative artist. Fab!

We will also take the time to explore our voices in the body of language. Phonemes, vowels, consonants, how they construct themselves into words, how we shape our unique voices into those words, and how to stay true to ourselves as our voices transform our thoughts into those sounds with clarity and free expression.

I can’t wait.  More details on the website, or just fill in the form here to express your interest, and get more information.

It’s hard work, so it had better be fun

The Voice Class has just passed the half-way mark.  We’ve established the basic principles of good posture, self-awareness as against self-consciousness, the physics of sound and the relationship between breath and voice.  We’ve learned the mini-vocal warmup, and begun the process of expanding it into the vocal maintenance program.

A week ago, I introduced the students to my full vocal warmup, the one that was originally developed in Scotland by the members of the Golden Age Theatre ensemble. And we really were an ensemble, sharing ideas, energies, skills, experience to make theatre together.  The warm up began as a purely physical warmup, but I have developed it over the years to be a total, all-in-one program that serves as training as well as a device to bring into focus the body, voice, brain, emotions, imagination and anything else that contributes to the YOU-ness of you.

We fudged some of the more challenging physical aspects of the warmup last week, but last night it was the full whammy. Hard work, but also fun. The fun part kicks in when you actually know what you are doing – as with anything – and you can begin to play with the different elements while respecting the integrity of the structure.

So today, I’m just a little bit sore. But my heart is full.

You’re the Voice! Try and Understand That

Yes, I’m quoting John Farnham. Actually, I’m quoting Chris Thompson, Andy Quanta, Keith Reid and Maggie Ryder   – the people who wrote the lyrics.

You’re the voice, try and understand it
Make a noise and make it clear
Oh-o-o-o, whoa-o-o-o!
We’re not gonna sit in silence
We’re not gonna live with fear
Oh-o-o-o, whoa-o-o-o!
(repeat until end of song) (courtesy of LyricsFreak)

I was reminded of this, yet again, by a recent discussion on VASTA (Voice and Speech Trainers of America) about the way some people can learn an accent (in the USA, this is referred to as dialect), for a role in a play, do it perfectly in rehearsal, but then slip up in performance.

Changing the way we speak is a huge undertaking. It may seem, to the uninitiated, like a superficial action, reshaping a few vowel sounds here and there, jiggling the intonation pattern of phrases, but those of us who deal with these things understand that it is never that simple.

Whenever we speak, or give voice to language, we express something of our very own selves. Many complex combinations of muscles are required to perform the most amazing dance within our bodies to allow our sound to be revealed to the listeners. We have spent a lifetime perfecting the way we do it. Trying to learn new ways of doing that incredible inner dance requires months of dedication – not just on the part of the voice coach, but on the part of the voicer.  It requires agility of mind and body, listening accurately, staying alert and focussed, and forgiving every perceived error so that we can start again, and again and again.

When non-performers (also known as “regular people” :-)) try to modify their accents, they very quickly learn that they are modifying part of their culture, their social behaviour and their very sense of who and what they are.  Actors often make the mistake of thinking its just a matter of learning new muscle memory. BIG MISTAKE.  If you learn an accent purely technically, you are not learning how to inhabit it, how to be someone who speaks that way naturally. As well as the physical technique, you also need to understand WHY the character speaks that way, what cultural mores and attitudes go along with it, as well as all the psychological and emotional life you explore as part of the rehearsal process.  When you understand, at this deep level, what you have in common with the character, and where you are different, you can begin to give yourself permission to Choose to be the same in every way, just in the moment of performing.  That means you will feel different to your usual way of being. It doesn’t have to be carried off stage with you. Let it go. Allow the next moment to be just as real, and that applies both on stage and off.

And if that were easy, we’d all be doing it!  So may I respectfully suggest that we honour our voices, as part of honouring ourselves, and make them clear in every way.  We don’t have to shout to be truthful, but we do have to be honest with ourselves, first and foremost.