Sound Dreaming CD Blog Posts - Day 10
It’s Day 10 already in the Sound Dreaming CD Concert Countdown and things are heating up. Today’s topic is the legacy of the voice, and part of my own journey into the deeper terrain of vocal possibility. This is a huge topic, so I’m limiting it to one important aspect of how I’ve come to work with my voice. This approach is the foundation of the vocal work on the Sound Dreaming CD. When I think of my relationship to voice, I can go way back to childhood, or start when things started moving in a nontraditional direction. The latter started when I was an undergraduate at the University of Toronto and spent many days listening to contemporary compositions for the voice in the music library. One of my favourites was the piece ‘Eight Songs for a Mad King’ written by British composer Peter Maxwell Davies, who often visited Toronto in those days as part of the New Music Concerts series. As the title may suggest, the piece was full of wild sounds, extreme ranges, cries, shouts, etc.
Some years later I was introduced to Richard Armstrong, who had been a member of the Roy Hart Theatre in the late 60’s and 70’s. The vocal tradition that was at the heart of the Roy Hart Company dates back to post WWI and the vocal explorations of Alfred Wolfsohn, first in Germany and then in England. During the late 40’s, Roy Hart began studying with Wolfsohn, and gradually took over his studio practice after Wolfsohn’s death in the early 60’s. However, he dedicated to create a theatre company that would work with the pioneering vocal approaches of Wolfsohn, rather than offering primarily voice and singing lessons. The company developed and toured work into the early 1980s.
The signature part of Wolfsohn’s work was to open up the possibilities for the whole range of the human voice. Influenced by Carl Jung, Wolfsohn believed that when you expand your vocal range, you are expanding your entire psyche. Both his female and male students could sing in all the traditional ranges defined by gender. In a BBC documentary, you can hear as a male singer sings the soprano aria from a Mozart opera, while a female singer sings a baritone aria. And not only lyric tones were part of the repertoire. Once Roy Hart brought in the use of spoken text, the range and possibilities for the voice continued to expand to include a whole palette: motor , broken, stranded, breathy, nasal, and warbly sounds for example. Contemporary composers such as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen were drawn to the studio to listen to what was happening with the voice. One such composer was Maxwell Davies. He struck up a collaboration with Hart, and ‘Eight Songs for a Mad King’ was born. The original version was performed by Hart, and in the piece, the vocal range extends over the full 8 octaves of the piano. I love the magic of how I was drawn to Roy Hart’s work years before knowing anything about it.
It all came together when I began working with Richard Armstrong and my whole relationship to the voice shifted. In that first workshop I did with him, I was effortlessly making extremely high and whispery peep-like sounds, and many times in subsequent workshops, it was hard to believe what was coming out of my mouth. During one such workshop, Richard had me sing the phrase, on one note: “Holiness Holiness, Queen of Heaven, Where is your Voice?” It was one of those transcendent moments, when a new voice, a voice from somewhere else, came into me. Of course it was me, but it was completely unrecognizable, even to Richard. This voice was unstoppable, continuing to grow and deepen as I walked around the room singing the Queen of Heaven phrase. After the singing was over, I was basking in a rich honey-warm glow that lasted for hours. It felt like some sort of initiation had occurred.
When I began my trips to Malta and Crete my vocal improvisations were approached from this way of working with the voice, which are absolutely dependent upon an intimate connection with the body and the breath. I was now extending this, at least for myself, into a connection with the earth, with ancestral memory, and ritual spaces. My intention was to keep myself open to the type of sound that arose from my presence there, and as much as possible, not overlay contemporary musical styles, whether that be the avant-garde or folk.
In the summer of 2013, I finally was able to make a pilgrimage to the Roy Hart International Arts Center located for the past 40 years in the south of France. It is a place where one can be fully present with the constant sounds of the voice wafting through the air, and can enjoy the absolute freedom and permission to make whatever sounds are desired. The place effuses its remarkable history and vocal legacy, with many of the workshop teachers and permanent residents belonging to the original Roy Hart Company, and one woman having studied with Wolfsohn back in the 50’s. My experience was foundational – with my voice being stretched and drawn into new terrain.
Today’s picture is of one outside wall of the main studio building at the Roy Hart International Arts Center. I celebrate the gift of the voice, which enables us to synthesize all our past experiences, dreams, memories, and emotions, as well as touch into the unseen worlds and draw us closer to our essence, and into deeper communion with others, with the earth, and the layers of human experience that whirl around in the collective unconscious.