Monday, July 11, 2011

First Element of "Barefoot Singing" -- Back to Nature

Ever since I posted the other day about the notion of categorizing myself as a "Barefoot Singer," the thoughts have been coming to me about what type of singer this might be.  Have been scribbling down notes in a rather haphazard way as the most appealing elements of barefoot running start to shape an approach to singing in my brain.

Originally, this post planned to list all the elements scribbled over my notepaper.  But now it seems like there is too much to say about each element, so I may have to make one post for each element I discover and wish to discuss.

Here is one of the elements, in very rough form right now, but pressing to lead the way as all the elements collect themselves into some kind of unified theory.  This won't always be worded exactly right.  It is a floundering around to put something into words in order to clarify it.

Barefoot Singing seeks to uncover,
to rediscover,
the natural function of the body

One of the aspects of barefoot running that I love the most is that there is a great respect for the design of the human foot.  Barefoot runners learn that -- contrary to what they may have always heard -- the arch does not need to be supported from some outside source, like a man made shoe.  The arch of the foot is a thing of beauty capable of providing the spring action necessary to propel the human above. It is not fragile; it is strong and wonderful! That arch may be in an underdeveloped and weakened state from years of wearing shoes, but it will be restored and strengthened once it is being used the way it was designed to be used by nature.

Besides the arch of the foot being weakened, the years of wearing poorly designed shoes may have malformed the foot, crowding the toes together and eliminating the natural splay of the toes while barefoot, losing the advantage of the natural alignment of each toe with each corresponding metatarsal head.  This misalignment has consequences that affect balance, and cause other muscles to be recruited to make up for the loss of function.  It may take some time, once the shoes come off, to redevelop the natural alignment again, and getting the other muscles to give up the compensatory job they've been doing.

From wearing shoes with a raised heel, the way the person approaches her relationship with the ground she walks on will have changed.  She may strike with her heel and her leg extended with a straight knee, instead of landing on her mid-foot with her knee bent in order to absorb the shock.

So ... "Barefoot Singing" will seek to discover the natural function of the voice.  The voice evolved from the expression of primal emotion, and the best sounds are produced when connected to that well of feeling.  Society has taught us to "protect" ourselves -- like when we put on shoes to protect our feet and support our arches -- by introducing tensions to suppress the natural expressive quality of the voice.  Like children who run barefoot in their youth but find out they have to put on shoes in order to fit into society, our voices which squealed freely with delight and cried at loud decibels found they had to be toned down and put in little boxes that hid our feelings instead of revealing them in order to get along in society.

As I explore this idea of the primal voice, I am reminded of an early influence -- work we did from a text we used in college by Kristin Linklater called Freeing the Natural Voice.  Some of these ideas were presented to me back then, and I hardly realized the influence they had on me until I awakened to this new desire to become a "barefoot singer."  I recently googled Kristin Linklater and found that she has a great web site with lots of information about her ideas about the voice and her work with actors to relax the tensions that interfere with the voice's expressive connection to that primal emotion.  In a sense that fits the thinking in this post, one could say that by helping the actors to remove the tensions, she is helping them to remove the shoes that are on the voice.  Barefoot runners are fond of calling shoes "foot coffins."  Are the tensions we develop to hide our true thoughts and emotions the same as "voice coffins?"

There are other vocal pedagogues who speak about this connection to the primal sound. Oren Brown, in his book Discover Your Voice, comes to mind as one. In fact, in the first chapter -- which is titled "Primal Sound" -- is written, "Primal sound is ... the reflexive sound which produces emotional expression."  He also says "You must rediscover yourself," because of how our coordination has been impaired from the tendency to inhibit it. And Stephen Smith, in his book The Naked Voice discusses the desirability for singers to reconnect with original source of utterance and the inhibitions introduced to the voice by "environmental contaminants"

This all reminds me of how it felt to take off my "inhibitive" shoes and rediscover and reconnect with how it felt to go barefoot after all these years of wearing shoes everywhere.  I thought that when I tried barefoot running it would be a new experience, but instead I rediscovered an old one.  It felt very familiar, but I had not felt that feeling for many years.  It was so freeing.

So, this idea of rediscovering the primal sound is not new to vocal pedagogy as a foundation for good singing.  It's out there.  It's the starting place.  It's common sense.  It's understanding that the body does know how to sing.

I'm not saying that there is not some learning to do.  It's just that the starting place has to be a trust in the wisdom and design of the custom apparatus that is built-in to humans that serves this use.  We have to take off the shoes we have put on our voices and find out what our voices have to teach us about what the capabilities are.  We need teachers and guides, (the barefoot runners have teachers and guides too), but we must not abandon the trust in the body itself to know how to sing.  We must not forget that -- like the feet that teach the barefoot runner how to run again -- our voices themselves hold a primary place amongst our teachers and we must learn to listen to what our voices are trying to tell us.


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