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Vocal Communication

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A client and I were talking about communication yesterday. We were marveling at how seemingly simple conversations sometimes go so wrong, the meaning gets incomprehensibly lost in translation. The language we use is so crucial to communication that I spend an entire chapter of The Art of Singing discussing the many ways that it can help or hinder learning and understanding. On the surface it seems obvious, but in fact it's often an incredible challenge to be certain that what you say is an accurate reflection of what you truly feel and think. More important than the language you choose however, is ascertaining the actual number of people involved in a conversation. It sounds like simple addition, but look closely. When two people are talking, they are not alone. Both bring to the table not only their current, conscious selves, the part of them that hopes and longs for specific things in the specific present, but also the aspects of themselves that have been formed, often unconsciously, by their conditioning and past experiences. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, consider the last important decision you made. See if you can recall the distinct, and likely disparate, messages from your brave and centered self, and your fearful, uncertain self. Recall the part of you that knows who you truly are and where you stand in the world, and the part that is still caught up in less than ideal thoughts and patterns from long ago. Two people are talking, but four entities are communicating and reacting to what is being said (and not said), each with their own very distinct agenda. No wonder things get so confusing! In singing it's even more complicated, as there are actually three energies wrestling for the spotlight when a single person steps up to the microphone: the present-day person, the collection of that person's past pains, fears and experiences, and the voice. Certainly singing is about the physical instrument, and its development, so training is obviously important. But the voice is only one aspect of the entity that is The Singer. Truly effective vocal training, if it wants to be holistically integrated with long-term results, cannot only be about isolated technical development. It must also involve and listen to the hopes and dreams of the person actually standing before you, as well as the fears and issues that oftentimes push that person both forward and back. It's a powerful lesson for all of us; we must become aware of every message we're sending out as well as hearing, giving space to each aspect of ourselves and others. When all of who we are feels acknowledged, listened to and understood, communication -- and learning -- is effortless. This essay first published June 27, 2009 on The Modern Vocalist.com the Internet's #1 community for vocal professionals, voice health practitioners and pro-audio companies worldwide since November 2008.


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