The difference between natural and working with Nature

One of my teachers said “There’s nothing natural about classical singing.” What I came to understand about that statement was a relief to me. Classical singing is no more natural than throwing a discus or learning a new language or wearing clothing. We do these things because we want to, or because we want the benefits of having done them, but we are not born doing these things. They are learned.

The learning process, though! That’s where considerations of Nature are very important. What is the best way to work with mind and body, to acquire sophisticated skills in a 1) safe manner, 2) as quickly as possible?

Some of the qualities of classical singing are legato, large dynamic range, seamless pitch transitions, many strong harmonics in the sound, and near-constant vibrato. All of these except for legato can be gotten with shortcuts and/or pushing hard, in our goal to get ahead quickly, at the cost of health and safety. We need to know how the body and mind work, to some extent, before we give them difficult tasks to master. We need to understand principles of safe ways of working.

Some questions to consider for the classical singer:

  • What does the term “classical singing” mean to me?
  • What does my voice need to be able to do, and improve on over time, in order to excel?
  • Is there a limit to the quantity of sound I should be producing?
  • Do I have a good working definition of when I am singing well?
  • If singing sometimes feels easy and sometimes feels hard, do I know why?
  • Do I have a sense memory of both undersinging and oversinging? Do I know where my “sweet spot” of effort is?
  • Do I know how to work on the skills that define classical singing without any physical pain? Do I improve if I practice in accordance with my limits?
  • Am I willing to sound unique, or am I imitating?
  • Am I willing to sound different over time as my voice, body, and mind change?
  • If I can accomplish the same musical or functional goals easily rather than in a way that taxes me, am I willing to commit to the easier way? Why or why not?

Some people dominate their voices by sheer will, and this can create an exciting performance. But force usually creates problems. Learning how to create the high energy of classical singing, while honoring the structure and function of our bodies and psyches, requires the development of self-knowledge and good judgement. When we develop our singing in harmony with what Nature provides, then we may well receive the compliment “You seem to have such a natural talent for singing!”

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