I firmly stand outside the current orthodoxy of the voice production model as being air driven; the bag-pipe principle. The model I work with is the classical European tradition of voice; the cello principle. That is, I make a distinction between conversational and emphatic voice use.
Our day-to-day voice use is not “normal” in that it is as neutralised and imitative from of primal utterance. I assert that speech and music share the common source of the human cry. I maintain that most Western art voice-use is now monotonous chiefly because of a false or incomplete physiological view—air movement through approximated vocal folds—as the premise of voice production. One of the effects of this voice-use is the stultifying of emotionally charged utterances performers would make, by the very act of making it.
Since the time of the composer Caccini (1602) until the last 50 years, the vertically harmonic content of tone was seen as an integral consideration. The acoustical difference between linguistic vowels and their emotional primary counterparts may be said to reflect the difference between the limited notational analysis of a musical work, and the vertical timbral approach to music’s sounding.
Parents respond to the needs of their young babies through the intuitive, primary, perception of timbral meaning. When voice use in the theatre takes into account the possibilities of timbral meaning, it too may evoke emotional responses in the hearer with the immediacy of a reflex—as if the tones were ‘pure’ or humanly authentic in source. This recognition is linked with the so-called ‘Fight or Flight’ reflex response system. Professor David Galliver wrote in 1974 that the ability to vary the overtones of the voice ‘as a result of emotional impulse’ was a feature of the European tradition.
The foregoing is not ever possible with a ‘supported’ voice which can only add ‘power’ or ‘thickness’ of tone at the level of the fundamental and the harmonic content remains fixed. With those who vary the tone for a specific genre, timbral meaning still eludes them within that genre as they simply have shifted into a different fixed or static vocal posture. It is my view that theatre should not be an arena where an audience has the thrill of being a spectator at an athletic competition.
To develop my claim, the following distinction between an artist and an audience must be considered. If an artist feels some emotional response, actively recalls an emotional state—remembers how s/he felt when ‘x’ happened—s/he performs in what I term a reactive or feeling state. The audience’s response is that of passive observation. They may, or may not, choose to be involved. They observe the artist feeling the work. All too often now, what is essentially a therapeutic learning tool for an actor/singer gets taken onto a stage mistakenly as a performance skill.
If, however, an artist’s performance is through statement then it is the audience who consequently do the feeling and reacting. The actor/singer acts so that the audience may react. One refers to ‘an actor’ not to ‘a feeler’ when describing the vocation.
I wish to suggest very strongly that the experience under a ‘professional’ teacher in a studio bears no resemblance to the experience in an auditorium. By way of contrast, a practitioner-turned-teacher would know how voicing worked in an auditorium and so foster the causal ability in a student. S/he would not work to reproduce an effect which, even by definition, could never have become a primary source. There is no substitute for the maturation of the kinaesthetic sense-memory over years of practise and conditioning. This automatically leads to the ability to experience empathetically another’s body use in performance.
Mine is a multi-disciplinary approach to teaching. It is not repertoire-based. My concern is to combine theory with a sound knowledge of the practical performance situation. Work is described, explained, conceptualised, as well as experienced, which gives students a firm grasp of the principles of the work in theory and practice: a skill base. My goal is to establish independent, secure theatre workers.
To that end, I have developed course work which addresses through psychology, sociology, history, linguistics, biology, anatomy, applied acoustics and physics, and the performance-practice handed down from one generation of artists to the next. I have taught this course privately and based my teaching at University of Ballarat on it. There, I taught voice at all the undergraduate levels for music theatre, acting, and the production stream.
My doctoral thesis was a reflexive study on the formalising of the principles of the classical European tradition of solo singing into a course. I showed how it is possible to acquire skill-based competencies through discipline-connected class teaching. I have made explicit not only the processes but also the theoretical base of those processes and the reasoning behind choices in each of the modules. I carefully constructed the thesis on a skill learning model that it might prove a valuable teacher resource.
The classical European tradition of solo singing has a strong line of performers who work within its definition. Beginning with contemporary Australians they include: Rosamund Illing, David Hobson, Helen Noonan, Gregory Yurisich; while overseas they include: Elizabeth Harwood, Thomas Hemsley, Peter Pears, Elsie Morrison, Rise Stevens, Kenny Baker, Albert Lance, and Paul Robson to name but a few.
I hold that excellence in performance may be achieved when the act of voicing serves the larger purpose of expressing, in an artistic manner, something about the human condition. The process of voice production should not be apparent to the audience, nor should it be offered as the performance! In the theatre, voice use is the heightened human utterance in an artistic setting.