This is actually a follow-up to my last blog post about how yoga can benefit your singing. Since intention is sort of a big topic, I think it warrants its own post. The basis for this idea is simple: music affects the listener (and the performer). I suppose this is something I have always known, but it began to become more clear to me in high school with both choral and solo music. One distinct memory I have is listening to Verdi’s Requiem in high school and feeling like I had been physically changed. I also remember hearing Henry Purcell’s song “Music for a While” for the first time. The first line of the song says it all: “Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.” Once I became aware of this phenomenon, I continued to seek it in musical experiences.
I took some acting classes at HB Studios in New York. At HB, they teach "the method" and speak of intentions (this is where Uta Hagen taught). I'm sure this is very common in acting, but I only know my experience. If you are studying a scene, you consider your intention in each line you give. The question might be, "What is my intention in delivering this line" or "what do I want from the other character?" This is useful in singing, for dramatic purposes, but it can go deeper.
I began practicing yoga while in graduate school, but I didn’t start going to classes regularly until around 2011, when I started going to A Garden for Wellness in Clarkesville, GA. There I learned the idea of setting an intention for a yoga practice. I’ve never actually discussed this idea with a yoga teacher or other people in (or out of) a yoga class, so I don’t know what people use as their intention. I am sure that intentions vary wildly from “to relax” or “to get exercise” to things like “heal my cancer” or “become one with the earth.” I can’t claim that anything miraculous has happened to me yet after setting an intention for yoga, but maybe it is like praying--there aren't always immediate results. I like the idea of setting an intention and found that it could be applied to singing.
Even before I knew about setting intentions, I would hope to change the audience in some way when giving a recital or other performance. This affects everything from my repertoire selections and order, to the lighting in the performance space. After learning about the idea of setting an intention, I began to keep the intention of “changing lives.” While this sounds like a lot of pressure, I believe you can change lives through singing, even in small ways. If you make someone’s day better by helping them to focus on something other than their problems for an hour, then you have changed their life. Adding an element of beauty to someone’s day changes their life. Bigger changes can happen too, of course!
This idea will be continued in my next post about inspiration!
Why do yoga and singing go together?
I think a lot of people assume that it is because of the breathing. Breathing for yoga and breathing for singing are similar, since both require expanding in the abdominal area, rather than clavicular breathing. However, slowly breathing through the nose doesn’t work very well for singing. Mouth breathing, which is usually not known as something that intelligent people do, works best for singing, in my opinion. You prepare the space in the mouth and throat for the word/vowel and the pitch that you are about to sing. Also, the mouth is a larger space than the nostrils, so you can inhale more breath more quickly.
People would probably go next to relaxation as a reason to do yoga if you are a singing. This is certainly a good idea. Within the varieties of yoga, there are elements of cardiovascular workout, stretching, strength training, meditation, and relaxation. All of these things can benefit a singer since they help to improve the body, which is the instrument. If you have some experience from yoga classes, or if you can learn from a YouTube video, you can do yoga at home, and sessions can last anywhere from 10 minutes (or less) to an hour (or more). It is an easy thing to do if you are traveling, your schedule is busy, or you can’t afford a gym membership. The relaxation that comes from a good yoga practice can be great for singing. You feel relaxed and energized, rather than relaxed and ready for bed.
One of my favorite things about yoga is awareness, which is also very important for singing. In yoga, you are often asked to “notice” or “be aware” of how something feels, and you do this in a non-judgmental way. This is very important as a singer and as a voice teacher. I will often say to a student something like, “are you aware that your jaw is going forward when you sing that word?” Being aware of what is happening in your body, whether it is your breathing, alignment, or your mouth, is very important. If you are aware that you are doing something that hinders your singing, you can then correct it. Once you have this awareness, it can apply to your overall health and well-being!
For any musical endeavor, students are told to practice, and yoga is considered a practice. I believe that a good yoga practice can really inform your singing practice. In yoga, you are instructed to observe and notice what is going on in your body. You learn the best form for the asana, or pose, and you do the best your body can do on that particular day. If you are supposed to bend over and touch your toes, that is the goal, but if you can only reach your knees today, it is ok. With each breath, you try to reach a bit further. Then you come back the next day and try to get closer to touching your toes. The same is true with singing. You can’t force yourself to sing a high C. You work on the G, then the A-flat, then the A, and so on, until you can sing each note with freedom and comfort.
Dr. Gregory Broughton, my voice teacher while getting my doctorate at UGA, said, “The key to vocal artistry is legato.” He had many different exercises for achieving legato, such as moving from one vowel to another while allowing all of the possible shades of each vowel from one vowel to the next. The idea is that just as there are infinite shades of blue, there are also infinite shades of each vowel. When you allow more shades to happen, you allow for more artistry and beauty. Cooper Seay, my yoga teacher at A Garden for Wellness in Clarkesville, GA, would instruct us to make the movement from one asana to the next as beautiful and as slowly as possibly within a breath. To me, these ideas complement each other, and the idea of allowing for all of the beautiful possibilities within a breath, whether in singing or in moving, is a revelation. One final idea that sums this up is a quote, as I remember it, from Rachelle Jonck, a coach in NYC: “Each phrase of singing is one expression of breath.”
I would highly recommend yoga for anyone. It is such a healthy thing to add to your lifestyle and possibly change your lifestyle. Although there are many YouTube videos available for free, I thought I’d mention the first DVD I used, which is Rodney Yee’s AM & PM Yoga . I also recommend Linda Lister’s Yoga For Singers and a classic yoga book, Yoga the Iyengar Way. Happy practicing. Visit me at www.jonathanpilkington.net or www.atlantavoiceteacher.com!. By the way, I had reservations about being “Atlanta Voice Teacher,” but I want to show up on Google when people search for that or for “voice lessons in Atlanta”!
Blog Post #1: March 13, 2019
I have a feeling that if you survey voice teachers and ask what the most common comment is after telling people that they teach voice, most would say things like "Oh, I can't sing," "I wish I could sing," or "I'm beyond help." I try not to be frustrated by this, but it's nearly impossible. People are so certain that they can't sing, and they are so afraid to try, that they hardly entertain the idea that as a voice teacher, I might know what I'm talking about when I tell them that I could teach them to sing. That's like telling a doctor that your bone is so broken that they can't fix it.
I listened to a podcast just yesterday on finances. The guest was saying that any topic in which people lack experience or training is like rocket science or brain surgery. To a rocket scientist, rocket science isn't difficult. To a brain surgeon, brain surgery isn't particularly difficult, but to a brain surgeon, rocket science would be quite difficult. It is true that some people are born with a voice that functions beautifully, they somehow discover they can sing at some point, and somehow they continue to sing beautifully with little training. A voice teacher should be able to improve anyone's ability to sing.
The people who are born with a beautifully functioning voice are rare, and some voice teachers become famous by teaching those people. When you have a student like that, you just become a guide and a coach. You ensure that they sing appropriate repertoire (and sing it well), you talk them through mental and emotional challenges, and you send them on to the next step of their career or training. It's a different kind of experience to teach this type of singer. While it is exciting to see how far they might go and satisfying to hear their beautiful singing, it is so very rewarding to teach a student who really wants to sing but doesn't have immediate access to the beauty of their voice.
I believe that every human who can speak has a singing voice that should be used and can be developed. Some voices are readily available to the singer and simply need guidance, while some voices have to be uncovered, discovered, or untangled. Facilitating this progress is my focus and responsibility as a teacher, regardless of the student’s singing goals or aspirations.
What does it take to be able to overcome the idea that you can't sing?
-A bit of courage/vulnerability
-Willingness to learn
-Patience with yourself
-A kind, patient teacher who has a thorough knowledge of the voice and how to overcome issues
I have a lot of experience in this and have found beautiful voices in people who initially have trouble matching pitch. I am available for lessons in person or online, or if you are looking or a teacher in a different city, I can help there too.