I subscribe to Classical Singer, a monthly, now-slick, printed magazine for classical singers (obviously enough). In fact, I began reading it in the early 1990s, when it was the New York Opera Newsletter. The subscription rate is somewhat high, but probably worth it for most of you who read this. It may be found online at classicalsinger.com.
One of the best–if not the best–feature(s) in the magazine is the regular column by Dr. Anthony Jahn. Dr. Jahn is head of the medical staff at the Metropolitan Opera, one of the world’s leading laryngologists, and he is affiliated with us at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, through periodic visits to consult and examine students. I have seen Dr. Jahn in his Roseland, NJ, office (also an office in Manhattan), and know him to be a personable, direct, and ultra-capable physician.
The February 2009 Classical Singer issue includes Dr. Jahn’s article, “Mind Control.” Rather than rehash all the article’s points, I refer you to Classical Singer. I am bringing my copy to the studio. You will also find the magazine in Talbott Library at WCC.
Essentially, Dr. Jahn makes clear the difference between the brain and “the mind.” He describes connections between mind and body–conscious control of reflexive neuromuscular activities (like laryngeal position and breathing), also hormonal influences. These hormonal factors come courtesy of the thyroid, adrenals, pancreas, and so forth, delivered through the bloodstream. Apparently, the mind (cortex) prompts the hypothalamus to activate those hormones that are needed in singing/performing.
This gets complex, but Dr. Jahn’s entire article is perhaps more clear and easily understood than my efforts to summarize it. You should read “Mind Control” to understand the connections between technique and performance more deeply.
I recently skimmed an essay containing a long list of things to think about while singing. In the ordinary sense of left-brain thinking, I strongly disagree with that writer’s approach. “Thinking with your body,” though, is one way that I like to verbalize the process Dr. Jahn describes of making a mind/body connection.
I will write future posts along these lines, but for now here are 2 points:
1. There are occasional times that a singer chooses to think specifically about technique–a particular note, phrase, or section. Boris Goldovsky called these “razor blade moments,” when the singer must be keenly attentive to an essential task. Always (even alongside these moments of specific technical intention), the imagination is allowed to coordinate multiple tasks into a fluid process that seems easy, cohesive, spontaneous, honest, and ultimately convincing.
2. Singing in lessons, coachings, rehearsals and in the practice room is largely about learning to allow body and voice to perform under the guidance of the mind/imagination. Understanding technical goals and their execution is prerequisite to the training that takes place, often over an extended period of time–however long is needed for that technique to become consistent, to become “second nature.” In this undertaking, patience is not only a virtue, it is a must.
As both the body and the mind become stronger, it is easier for the imagination to artfully blend vocal and interpretive techniques into the performances that you dream of. More to come, EE