Enjoyment, Play & Danger

I write this to begin the discernment between Play, fear and anger and the fine line that it is to young developing minds.  To re-wire the brain for a discernment between the two for the reclaiming of play, enjoyment and singing with freedom. 

I also write this because I often hear students say that they just want to ‘let go’ and ‘just sing’ and they don’t know why they can’t and so a deep self criticism sinks into them.  There is also a great deal of ‘self-help’ courses and so on that advocates for this ‘just do it!’ kind of carelessness which further breads the inner self-loathing. 

For singing to be enjoyable it requires a healthy relationship with play, relaxation and trust.  To sing freely requires, you guessed it, freedom.  Which brings us to take a closer look at the experience of play in one’s past history and what the relationship was like at that time.  

The ability of the lack thereof to play and be in the moment is set in childhood and begins with Mother and infant.  The attention and smiles of Mother playing with the baby develops a trust within the baby which, if not injured will develop over time on the playground with other children. 

The playground – the ground of play and trust that is a development which sets us on a course for relaxed success in adult years.  We have an epidemic of anxiety, depression and trauma that just seems normal these days for people to be on medication and be diagnosed with some sort of mental illness.  

I digress. I am writing this for the love of singing and the uncovering of what is in the way for students and myself.  I have written much over the years about the forthcoming injuries that teachers, parents and other children have on the precious play experience in music.  

In Jill who was told she couldn’t join the choir because she was too loud in the choir and Brian who could join if he stood at the back of the group and mouthed the words.  All of this is a growing experience that is to be learned from if it is held in the right light.  There hasn’t been the ‘right light’ on this, like ever.  

What is quite intact in our society is Competition.  Competition is Play’s dark cousin and doesn’t leave a lot of room for play, relaxation and enjoyment.  I prepare a number of students for singing competitions much to my chagrin as I don’t believe they should be competing with their friends with the sound of their voices which is so personal and unique to each one of them.  It sets of a life of pitting against each other, but I suppose school in general prepares much more of this.  

Play is a natural instinct that occurs inside of the moment with no goal or purpose in mind, none, whereas it’s quite clear what competitions goal is, to win.  I am not saying this is a bad thing I’m just saying that there is a spectrum of balance here which is lacking in it’s fullness. 

The other aspect of the child’s psyche that gets developed within this play-danger-competition paradigm is the warrior.  The part of us that comes in to protect and fight for our rights in every way.   Over the years I have noticed two kinds of people who see me for voice lessons; the over developed warrior and the frozen warrior.  

The over-developed warrior voice – pushed and over worked (the belter)

The frozen warrior – struggles to get sound out

Neither is wrong but only needs the inquiry of the singer to look at where they are living on the spectrum of dark and light – play and competition and danger. 

When competition has no balance of collaboration and play then it can get locked into the warrior energy as the only identification with a person.  I see it all the time.  

The person comes in and immediately I can see they are locked and loaded to sing!  The opposite side of calm, relaxation and playfulness having left the building a long time ago.  

Then there’s the other side, to be fair, that enters the room with the frozen and crippled warrior fully functioning and identified as ‘this is who I am.’

One side is applauded and awarded and the other is shamed and blamed. 

When the warrior has locked out the collaboration of cooperation and play then relationship between two people is at odds.  Hence the state of the world today.  

Confidence and Control

Emily was raised in a family that liked things neat and tidy.  The focus only being on having a good job that paid well.  Makes a lot of sense and we know this as a common thread in our society.  

Emily loved to sing, play the piano and write songs but every time she tried to share her love of music with her family they dismissed her dreams as nonsense. She had a sensible job but desperately wanted a career in music.  She had no support from her family.  

John, on the other hand, was raised in a family that was incredibly supportive of his music and came to everything he performed in, went to or tried his hand at.  They applauded loudly from the front row and exuded pride from their seats.  He decided not to pursue music after all.  He felt suffocated by his parents and felt their love was conditional on his performing. 

These are two sides of the coin and it seems like parents cannot catch a break. 

Individuating from the family and the family contracts is a big deal and over the years the success or the lack thereof of any singer I have run into depends upon how they were raised and supported in music.  Music is emotion and each family has a relationship with emotion that is the deciding factor on how music is handled, managed, controlled or allowed.  With my students we look into their upbringing family to see how emotions and feelings were either supported, dismissed and all the shades in-between. 

Managing and controlling emotion is the theme and if you are a singer this is the name of the game.  Singing is learning to channel emotion into song using the voice as the medium. 

In my work as a voice teacher one of the biggest issue that students run into with their voices is the issue of power.  Everyone wants and longs to have it.  A powerful voice.   Do I need more confidence? What’s wrong with my voice? Am I good enough etc, all this and more creates fear, anxiety and distrust which shows up in the sound of the voice.  

This issue is at the core of a singer, unless they are connected and rooted firmly in who and what they are.  Good training is wonderful and works for some to harness and channel this power, but some people need to go to greater lengths to sort this all out. 

So to start we might ask the question; What is power? How can I have it? Where is it in my body? And an even better question to start is; how can I let go of control to have power?  Control is the key word.

This might seem like a contrary statement ‘to let go of control in order to have power’, but this is what is necessary in order to truly connect to and allow the power of the voice versus the pushing and controlling of the voice. 

How we do one thing we do many things’ is indeed a true statement in how our voices reflect the way we live. How are we are currently living in response to past events? And the modelling that we absorbed from parents, teachers and those who surround us. 

Power as controlling, managing or being responsible.

Examples…

Having to control, manage or be responsible for something that was too much for us and overwhelmed the nervous system at too early of an age is all too common a problem.

This energy that we manage and control and are responsible for sits inside of the solar plexus, diaphragm region and is protected by the warrior energy and our nervous system. Protecting us against overwhelm and too much charge, anger or threat. 

This is the location of our power centre and includes the diaphragm which is the major muscle in breathing and singing and so it is a big deal to understand this area for singing and for life.  To let go here and to allow passion, play and confidence in life versus the fear and anxiety of control and overwhelm. 

To find the right combination lock or the Rubik’s cube to let go it’s no small deal and it takes great deal of understanding of who is guarding the charge of energy or the lack of it for us to even begin the conversation.

Understanding the spectrum of light with the warrior from the light warrior to the dark warrior and how we are dealing with setting boundaries and bad behaviour with others is a good start.

Are boundaries set through shadowy manipulative ways or are the boundaries set directly and clearly.

Either with a sense of clarity and straightforwardness or murky, disowned warrior energy. 

It is quite clear that however this is set up in our solar plexus and diaphragm it is directly how the singing voice will be used or reflected in communication and in singing. 

Either with clarity and straightforwardness or murky and manipulative ways

When the warrior is deactivated, frozen or deflated then how the managing of ones communication with others exhibits itself is by anticipating people‘s needs and wants even before they do.  The person seems to absorb and take on the energy of others.  This weakens the whole body from taking on too much of what doesn’t belong to us.  The new age world has a tendency to name this ‘being over-sensitive or empathic’.  I would say that it’s a lack of boundaries and authority within the individual. 

Another option is simply to freeze and stop moving and functioning which is just another way of controlling the energy in the system.  Being immobilized is a fight or flight reaction in our nervous system.  This is also what the warrior has to take care of in the long run.  A trauma based warrior.  Have you ever been with someone who is sucking the energy and the life out of the room just by their very presence?  

I have often called the diaphragm the shock absorber, it absorbs the shock in the system and ‘takes care of it’ instead of speaking to it and setting a boundary.  This approach is a survival mechanism which is set in the body and becomes the status quo.  Of course the system is now set to ‘absorb’ versus deflect or even respond.  Having the ability to respond in the situation is the empowering of the individual who was been struck with a trauma in the system. 

So many people I know manage and control the initial trauma they experienced and never actually heal or change the status quo of how we respond.  We have not had a understanding of this deep fragmentation in our society. 

Because of the size of the charge of energy that was initially sucked into the body’s nervous system it takes a great deal of very slow gentle undoing of the fabric of a person’s current ‘status quo’ and way of being to get close to a new way of being and responding in life. 

If a singer has this wired into their nervous system and does not have the light of day shed on this then it is extremely difficult to have a career in music and even to have a voice.  

The Warriors – 

Frozen Warrior – responds with freeze and shock.  Behaviour is quiet and withdrawn. 

Dark Warrior – responds with manipulation, anger and ugly behaviour.  Can be confident and bitchy. 

Light Warrior – responds with very clear boundaries.  Looks like true confidence and a balance of the queen, the sage and impersonal energy.  

A balanced warrior comes across as more like an energy of passion and love – Calm-passion (Compassion) without the defensiveness of the fighting warrior.  

 

 

The simple Art of Being…versus Projecting

Now and then a student comes to me with fear in their eyes and a sense of desperation in their being. They are in a competition and are competing with all shapes and sizes of voices.  The looks says, ‘I need to have a bigger (aka louder ) voice, can you help me?’  They are being asked to PROJECT their voice and they don’t know how.

Singers project what is inside of them outside of them for others to hear.  Not unlike a projector projecting a movie in a theatre does.  It is reflecting that which is naturally inside itself.  The problem that I see over and over which brings fear to students is that they are being asked to project more of themselves than they have, or are ready for.  So they develop ‘the inner pusher.’  This pusher pushes out a voice and pushes out any softness, vulnerability and authenticity that is so important for a singer to have and express.

If you asked a cello to project it wouldn’t know what you are talking about.  It would say, ‘I’m just playing myself!   I am made of the wood and the stuff that I am, and that’s what I’m ringing.’  The cello is simply resonating and playing it’s body, it’s instrument.  It’s a reflection of it’s own connection, or, lack thereof.   The same goes for a voice.  If the student is resonating her body which includes her head, chest, belly etc then this connection to herself is then reflected outwards to the audience.  Projection is an affect of a good connection to Self.

All the anxiety, this performance anxiety and fear shows up in this ‘need for projection‘, which could also be said, the ‘need for perfection.’   The kinds of muscling and contorting that occurs within the body as a result of working hard to project can sometimes never be undone in a voice or a body.  This false projecting is so identified with success and pleasing others.   When a student gets that all they need do is to connect with themselves and feel what is naturally inside of them and to sing and ring themselves, it is a revelation to them. 

Projection happens as a natural by-product of connection to ones self

and a natural need to express the feelings inside.  

Take Zoe a young girl of 15 eager and ready to join a competition and express her natural abilities.    She stands before me all doe eyed and what I perceive as being ‘checked out’.   But I’m about to be blown away by this ‘understated young lady’, and she is about to put me in my place thank you very much.   At first I’m like the audience or the judges who are carelessly sizing up their victim for the chopping block but then, IT happens and she slips into herself and sings.

I feel her.  It’s like I know her instantly.  In a heartbeat we are connected.  And not because she is trying to connect with me, or to PROJECT.  She is tenderly doing her thing and I’m there, the innocent lamb at the slaughter of this young ladies beautiful and powerful voice.  I am so affected by her that I can barely contain myself from crying.  She is filled with love and beauty and her voice is reflecting her directly.

But my heart sinks because I know that they won’t get her.  And she tells me with tears in her eyes that her coaches and judges want her to, you guessed it, PROJECT her voice.  They want her voice to be bigger than she is or that she’s ready to be.

They tell her that her voice is too small and she needs to

‘get it out there’ and ‘project.’  

I know they won’t pick her because her voice and her being is not BIG ENOUGH and she can’t compete with the voices in the competition who can ‘throw themselves at the audience‘ in sacrifice of their young, tender and vulnerable parts.  I see it all. The. Time.  Young girls and ladies pushing their tenderness and beauty away for bigger, louder and stronger voices.

But if these judges could just be still  enough to sense the beauty and absolute genius in this girls voice then she would win, hands down, she would win.

I tell her I can help her expand the beauty in her voice but that it will take time and care, that she has to grow into herself and her voice.  I say this competition will pass and life will move on and over time other things will become important as well as this and that what she has right now is innocent and precious.  I encourage her not to ‘step on herself on the way to getting herself.’  She smiles and understands.

A girl can only hope. I tell her that she never has to be more than she is, and that she is enough and I guessing I’m telling myself that.  Sigh. She hears me, we have a moment, and she gets that I get her.