Thursday, January 21, 2010

Not Knowing

I was very inspired by a Tai Chi blog I read this morning, Dan Wujifa's "Why it's better not to know."  I thought this post could apply very much to my understanding of singing and some of the things I was talking about singing in the passaggio yesterday.

In the "why it's beter not to know" blog post, which I encourage you to read, the blog author talks about the difference between "bracing" and "internal strength:"
... Now, the brace idea is basically locking your body into the strongest possible linear structure in opposition to a force, whereas true internal strength has much more freedom and flexibility inherent in it. Brace is strong, but tends toward rigidity.
This applies to some singing concepts in several ways.  One way is the kind of strength needed to withstand greater wind pressure when one is singing higher tessituras.  I mentioned this in yesterday's post at the point where I talked about how the muscles that stabilize the larynx need to be strong so that the larynx doesn't rise when the breath pressure increases.  However, I did not mean the muscles should be rigid or tense, such as what might happen, for example, to a singer who is trying to keep the larynx in a low position at all costs, and tries to lock it into a certain position while singing.  It needs to be much more free and flexible than that.

The same thing goes for the deep internal breath support muscles which must be very strong to tend to the changing breath pressure needs of the singing voice above.  To maintain a little "tuck" in the lower abs, and "brace" one's self so that the muscles of inspiration and expiration can do their work does not mean to be rigid, but rather to be strong and free and flexible.

Yet another example of this, from a singer's point of view, can be at the point of the actual valve controlling the opening at the glottis within the larynx itself.  The muscles closing the gap can be so tense because the singer is afraid of losing the seal.  There can be too much closure because the singer wants a clear efficient tone so badly.  Yet what the laryngeal muscles really need is this other kind of "internal strength" that is very flexible and can keep the valve closed enough while letting just the right amount of air through.  What is optimal is to keep the valve closed without squeezing it shut, but in a relaxed but very strong way.  It actually takes more strength to do this than to squeeze and press tightly..

Another Tai Chi blog, Wujiman Taiji blog -- which is the one that referred me to the blog with the above quote -- gave an example of how "relaxed" this state of  internal strength can be:

I had a glimpse of internal strength when I paid a visit to Rick of Wujifa a few months back.  We were on his deck and he stood up, got on one leg, lifted up one arm in a “ward off” posture and told me to push him. I used both hands and *really* pushed him. He did not budge and was able to ground my push pretty easily...
What surprised me even more was during the push, Rick told me to touch his forearm and bicep. To my surprise, both muscles were relaxed!  I noticed that when I tried to do the same demonstration, with both feet on the ground, my bicep would often feel tense.  Connected. Relax. Not Limp
This is a great illustration of the kind of strength that will be exhibited when the best singing is done.  These are ideals to work toward and to look forward to.  There is strength, but not tension.  There is connection, but relaxation.

But back to Dan's Wujifa blog, however and why "knowing" can interfere with achieving this state.  He explains that
my partner is showing what happens when "I know" starts to creep in. As soon as you commit rigidly to one way of doing something, as soon as you say "I know" and stop paying attention, you get stuck. This is when brace shows up. Saying "I know" locks you in.
So, the mental component of the task is part of the whole picture.  Just like resonance can have an effect on phonation and phonation can in turn affect resonance, the relationship between mental approach and physical are interdependent as well.

My singing journey only began when I first decided that I didn't know anything about singing.  I hear this "knowing" mentality when I hear singers insist that one way to support is "the way."  "You must push out."  "You must pull in."  As soon as the singer decides that they "know," further exploration and discovery get cut off, and then that is the way they do it.  The rigid way.  The same type of thing can happen when a singer decides they know where to "place" the voice, or even if they believe they are phonating correctly, or have fallen in love with a certain way to sound.

The idea of "I do not  know" can open the singer up to flexibility and internal strength and the ability to find and discover. Sometimes, when I am claiming in this way that "I do not know," a friend will say to me, after I have said something that sounds knowledgeable to them, "See, you do know something."  But I fear beginning to think I know something, and I run away from this affirmation, no matter how well intended.  I always get into trouble when I think I've got it all figured out.  I love living in this state of "not knowing" so much better, because it has opened me up to many exciting vocal adventures.

A quote from Barefoot Ken Bob:
"And keep in mind that we often read what we already believe we know, into what isn’t written."

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