Singing moves us. Feelings fill theatres and pay wages. It is what the audience wants, and why they gather together. Aristotle called it ‘catharsis’, cleansing. The word emotion comes from the Latin ‘e’ meaning ‘out of’ and motion being ‘movement’. Emotions move us only when the singer themself is moving, literally. Movement is the first sign of life. When the singer melts our hearts it is because that part of the singer’s body melts, goes soft, as he sings. It is the feeling of intimacy, of vulnerability. The particular movement that releases these emotions comes with learning how to ride the wave of the body released through the act of connected breathing. This expresses the authentic voice of the collective and help us understand the social and individual importance of singing. It rescues us from our isolation, teaches us how to feel and makes relationships, both inside us and beyond.
For the singer it is a feeling of being sung, of being a vessel through which something pours. The highest compliments paid to a singer relate to these events. The voice just ‘poured out of him’, the performance was ‘really moving’. It explains why some singing just seems dead and some singing utterly magical. It is about the degree of connection. This takes place beyond control and is why the singer’s relationship with their voice is traditionally a difficult one. It is about learning to release, giving up control. Here lies the difference between the true voice and the false voice. The ‘true’ is the singing that engages everyone from the inside, the ‘false’, that which is grafted on externally, like ill fitting clothing.
Emotions live way beyond control, deep in the unconscious of the human species. They live in the autonomic nervous systems, sympathetic and parasympathetic. ‘Sym’ in the Greek means ‘with’, ‘pathos’ meaning ‘feeling’. Sympathetic physiology increases energy and readies the body for action. The operation of these systems is crucial to the provision of energy for survival, the flight and fight mechanism. It also provides the energy with which we sing. All this takes place beyond volition, beyond ‘making’. You cannot make yourself feel. You cannot make yourself fall in love or fall asleep and nor can you make yourself sing. You can create the conditions for these things to occur, but controlling them has no meaning. You have to learn to co-operate with the voice which is quite different from the imposition of will. The primary tools of the singer lie in the unconscious processes beyond volitional control.
There is a modern perception that if you know what is happening physiologically when you sing, you can make it happen. Neuroscience has now shown this to be mistaken. If the core energy for singing comes from the unconscious then the issue for the singing teacher is how to put the student in touch with this process.
The language needed in order to teach singing is therefore very different from the language needed to describe its physiological functioning. The tools of the singer’s trade are not about control but rather release, not about knowing what to do, but about agreeing not to know. It is about something that can never be known, and that is its point. The feelings that we all share and bind us together lie beyond any individuals conscious control or opinion. That is why the good performance just seems to ‘take off’ and have a life of