Recently, I went for an astrological reading because I’m in my “second Saturn return” (Please Google it if you are not an astrology buff). I was wondering what the planets had to say about where I am in life. The astrologer and I had a wonderful talk about how to tweak my work life for the next 30 years. (Yup, I’m optimistic!) As I enter my 60’s and look back, I realize that I have accumulated a lot of knowledge and study in my years. I have three degrees, three certifications and have been blessed with great mentors who have helped me grow physically and spiritually. (Not to mention my husband and other people who love me.) I bring all this knowledge into my teaching of voice and the Alexander Technique. I also have veered more toward therapeutic voice teaching because healing through singing seems to feel right – both for myself and others who come to me. Apparently, the planets support this choice!
A new student who takes voice lessons with me in my Marin County studio said to me a few weeks ago that it seemed like so many discoveries she has made in terms of her own breath journey intersect with her singing “a-ha’s.” For instance, she is a student of Aikido (as I am – since November – it’s sooo exciting!). In her singing lessons, she noted that she could relax her abdominals, breathe low, and notice that her ribs expanded. By keeping this expansion using the latissimus dorsi muscles (among others), she was able to release or engage her lower abdominals and not collapse the ribs as she sang. I have been exploring this kind of support more and more and find that it stabilizes the voice as you travel through complex pitch variations, helps me to release the throat, jaw and tongue and keeps the resonance uniform.
Where do we see this kind of latissimus action? In Aikido, the Japanese martial art. The practice of Aikido has been for me a true laboratory for both singing and, especially, the Alexander Technique. In Aikido, we use this rib expansion so that the arms can be relaxed and flexible. In singing, we use this rib expansion so the throat, jaw and tongue can be soft, relaxed and available.
Another Aikido principle is that of “extension.” Whenever you do a technique, the torso needs to be upright, hips, knees and ankles free to bend and arms extended away from center. We learn “spirals” and circular motions that take the “uke,” or person “attacking” us, off balance so we can “throw” them. Where else have I learned this? The Alexander Technique. In Alexander, we learn about “direction,” an opening up of our energy from our spinal center out. Walking across the room allowing your head and limbs to expand out of center, a multi-directional centrifugal action you might say, frees the joints, helps us decompress our spine and breathe better.
These examples are by no means the only ones. I’m sure you have your own. I noticed, when giving an Alexander Technique and a Reiki session to students recently that I was thinking about this Aikido arm “extension” as I put my hands under their body (while they were lying on the table). This opens the channels to the harmonious universal energy that comes to us through both these modalities.
One more: In recent singing lessons with my own teacher, we were talking about the relationship of the head to the spine. Now, as an experienced Alexander teacher, I said to myself: Oh, I know this! But my opera teacher encouraged me to go even further with this relationship, into what I was hesitant to do – create an actual head-spine “form.” Suddenly – boom! – my resonance was effortless and strong, but my body didn’t feel tight. She described it thus: Imagine trying to play a flute that is bent. That is what happens when you don’t “organize” yourself more efficiently. And, at a recent rehearsal for “Newsies,” the young actor playing Jack agreed that his “belt” wouldn’t work if he didn’t think of this same head-spine relationship. Of course, I took these nuggets into my practice. Or perhaps I should say, I took them into my “practices.”
So, now in Aikido I practice the “lats” expansion so my arms can relax. And, in our recent recital, where my adult voice students and I sang, I put this to the test in terms of my vocal support. I sang “Non So Piu Cosa Son, Cosa Faccio,” one of Cherubino’s arias. (I’ve always wanted to be a mezzo and now, well, why not?) I was so very pleased with the results.
As the astrologer interpreted the planetary “weather,” he encouraged me to synthesize my knowledge from different practices in a deeper way. I encourage you to do the same. After all, many roads of knowledge can contribute to good singing.