“Give up defining yourself – to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious Presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.”
-Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
One of my favorite experiences in the voice studio is listening for what someone’s voice has to say. Let me explain –
Many years ago Tom Blaylock, of the Northwest Institute of Voice, taught me how to listen to a voice instead of superimposing preconceived ideas or judgements onto it during a voice assessment. This requires the judgemental mind (ego) to take a back seat so one can relax and observe. The observation period of an assessment often requires closed eyes in order to focus entirely on the sound and empathic/emotional feelings associated with the voice, with some quick visual checks to see if what is heard matches what can be seen in the body.
We are talking about 3 levels of helpful information here: auditory, empathic or feeling perception, and visual. I realize not everyone feels empathically, so that element might not exist for you.
If I am successful in truly observing a voice, it will speak volumes about what it needs and where it enjoys “hanging out.” Often this manifests as a female voice demonstrating a joyful and free expression much higher in pitch than would be expected based on the client’s description of their vocal experience. Or, a voice demonstrating resonance in clusters of notes that surprise the singer because they have never been experienced before. These are just two quick examples.
Here’s the trick to getting into what I call observer mode: you have to let go.
Getting into observer mode requires letting go of all the judgements you just made about this person standing at the edge of your piano, all the ideas you have about voice “rights and wrongs,” all the ideas you have about yourself as a teacher, and most importantly all the “shoulds” you’ve ever been taught in regard to your teaching or coaching.
Yes, you absolutely use a framework for doing a voice assessment, but once that protocol is established it is only a tool. How you use that tool becomes everything.
Relinquishing the Role of Teacher
One of the hardest ideas to relinquish is the role of teacher. Especially when working with clients or students who pay good money to have you teach them something! My ego used to work like a dog to make sure I was giving a client the best value I could for their money. This often resulted in overwhelming someone with information and limiting my ability to effectively teach fundamental skills. I was being guided more about my ideas of “how to be a good teacher” than what a client truly needed in the moment. (Think: teaching someone to walk before running – what a concept.)
The ideas we construct of what it means to be a teacher, coach, authority, or expert are just that – constructions. The problem is that the construction of the idea of “teacher” causes us to play a role. While playing a role, we cannot enter into observer mode because we cannot be present and “role playing” at the same time.
The ego absolutely hates giving up it’s precious roles, so this can be a tricky distinction to learn.
We fear that if we do not hold ourselves apart or above our students or clients, they will not respect us. We fear that we will not be taken seriously. We fear any number of horrible things will happen if we do not assume a role of authority in our studios. But, the truth is – we cannot fully enter the present moment (which is the only way to get into observer mode) while desperately clinging to the ideas we have of . . .
or, __________. You fill in the blank, cause there are endless ways to be the judge, jury, and thinker of unhelpful thoughts.
And I honestly want more of us to find ways to enter observer mode so we can better understand what a voice needs in the moment.
The practice of listening for what a voice has to tell us is a lifelong endeavor. It grows as we learn more of what to listen FOR, how the voice functions, and how to relax into the present moment and simply observe. These are areas of endless growth. The most important thing is to keep practicing the habit of getting into observer mode instead of focusing on our ideas of the voice or ourselves.
Another thing: each time someone comes into the studio, the voice will be different. If we do not take time in EACH session to relax into a neutral observation mode, we will impose an old idea we have of that voice from previous sessions, the last client we worked with, or some other strange thing that has nothing to do with what’s happening right in front of us in the moment. Mr. Blaylock taught me about this too.
I hope in passing along these concepts – 1) to listen to a voice without judgement, especially during an assessment, and 2) to remember that each time you hear someone the voice will be different – we will all find more joy in our teaching and singing practices.