Monday, January 31, 2011

Inventing a Singing Form like Tai Chi Form

I was reading this about Tai Chi today:

The solo form should take the students through a complete, natural range of motion over their center of gravity. Accurate, repeated practice of the solo routine is said to retrain posture, encourage circulation throughout the students' bodies, maintain flexibility through their joints, and further familiarize students with the martial application sequences implied by the forms. (From Wikipedia article --  Tai Chi Chuan)

I was thinking of how great it would be to have a single form that could accomplish things like this for the voice for the singer to practice every day.  This single singing form would take the singer through a complete, natural range of motion over their "center of gravity."  To me, the "center of gravity" could be a place of balanced phonation.

I once invented an exercise that I thought could accomplish something like this, only I was vaguely aware of what my intentions were.  I called it a Figure 8.  I don't know if my exercise was really any good, but my attempt to create a "form" with this Figure 8 exercise was headed in the right direction.  I was trying to find a "center of gravity" within the singing voice that could serve as a kind of unifying theory of voice.  Usually when someone is studying voice, one of the big problems is not having a center.  It seems as if the voice is "broken" into two (or many) segments:  the registers.  In my feeble attempt to try to unify it, I thought that finding a central place, a place that was the "heart" of the singing voice, I might be able to devise a way of training and moving and coordinating all the complex muscular adjustments and movement so that there was some kind of smooth form the voice could work through.

My first thought was that this "center" could be the place where the action of the thyro-arytenoids (TA)and the crico-thyroids (CT) were exactly equal participation.

But what I didn't realize when I was devising this theory, was that I had formed a wrong idea of where this place in the voice of equal TA-CT participation was.  It was a sloppy mistake, because all I had to do was think about it for a minute or two, but -- well, I'm sure I'm not the first theoretician to have formulated a theory with inexact or incomplete information.  I'm sure scientists do it all the time, and merely revise their theories as new and better information comes their way, either to their personal understanding, or to the understanding of the community at large.

(One of the really great things about being an amateur, by the way, is that the penalties for being wrong are small and mostly inconsequential.  I'm doing it for fun and interest and passion and I've got time to be wrong.  In fact, however much I would like to, if I never achieve my goal in this life it really doesn't matter much at all. What matters is that I occupied my time pursuing something that brings me enjoyment and fulfillment.)

I have not abandoned a desire to understand/discover/define a kind of "center" of the voice.  My most recent inclination is to dub the glottal opening itself as the "center" and declare that the glottal opening is the stabilizing point because the objective is for it to stay in the same place while all the other mechanical and moving parts surrounding it and affecting it adjust and change.  All kinds of things are happening around this space, but it remains a stable centering point within the cyclone of activity.  It is a strange thought that a space, something that contains no matter and that is empty, might be thought of as the center of something, similar to the eye of the storm.  In that case, there would have to be no rigidity, no fixing.  The space is just there, and everything else moves around it, with that as the point of reference

I think the idea of the glottal space works better than my original idea of making a specific muscular position (i.e., point of equal participation of TA/CT) the center, because that muscular position would not remain the same throughout the whole range of motion.  By thinking of the opening itself as the center, that opening would remain in the same spot while things were changing around it.  There would be no "coming back" to that position because it would always be maintained.

Okay, but back to the idea of a form that would take the singer through  a complete range of motion surrounding that opening may not be as feasible as it is for the Tai Chi practitioner to do it in a Tai Chi form.  One of the reasons it works in Tai Chi is that there can be a continuous flow of movement for an extended period of time.  With the voice, there is always a need to interrupt the continuity in order to replenish the supply of air.  So, one long continuous all-encompassing form that covers all bases may not be the right answer.

I guess disciplines evolve the way they do for a reason.  In the tradition of training the vocal apparatus, a whole bunch of different kinds of exercises are needed in order to move and develop various different skills and qualities and train the different and varying actions of the muscles involved in singing.  So, maybe the quest for some kind of unifying, all-encompassing routine for the voice that could take care of everything with one daily swoop is not realistically attainable.  As appealing an idea as it is, perhaps there is no master form that can be developed that could accomplish all vocal conditioning in one fell swoop.

That leaves the singer with the task of picking and choosing from thousands of potential exercises and drills and making up a routine of their own for daily vocal mastery practice, which is always a confusing and formidable task.