Why We Sing-Page 1
Every so often I run across a person that adds a depth of clarity for me that I want to appreciate with smiles, hugs. and celebration. I hope you enjoy Professor John Lennon. No, not the incredible Englishman, the wonderful American.
It may well be counter-productive to one’s well being not to sing
"Singing reflects a state of balance and a positive inner glow of contentment and equanimity. It is the audible resonant reality of our existence."
Professor John Lennon
WHY DO WE SING AND WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE?
John Lennon, Retired Professor of Vocal Performance, Emeritus
Emporia State University
The John Lennon Institute of Postural Studies
Reprinted with permission
Note of explanation: Throughout the narrative there are two printings for the word self. Whenever the print is capitalized the meaning refers to the individual self. Small case print refers to the universal collective sense of self.
According to a Chicago Tribune article people who sing live longer than those who do not. Why? Singing stimulates better blood flow by increasing the efficiency of chest wall muscles in air exchange. These findings, the result of research done at the National Institute on Aging, were reported to the American Lung Association. While indisputable in so far as they go, these findings do not present the complete picture. In addition to the demonstrable physiological benefits of singing as exercise, each individual has a deeply intrinsic need for the emotional release singing provides. Actually, human sound is the mind resonating through the instrument of the body. Conceived and evolved as one indivisible unit, the human body functions as the instrument of the human mind. Because the balance of this unity is so crucial I choose to use the word BodyMind, without separation, to express this oneness
After more than half a century involved in this business of singing, I now feel the need to redefine exactly what I think ‘singing’ really is. As a young boy, when first attempting to master the mysteries of the ‘art of singing,’ I was convinced that those blessed with “a special talent for singing” were indeed privileged human beings. Today I find myself questioning whether or not singing really is a “talent.” The concept that singing is an art form seems to appropriately apply only to those dedicated to its ultimate refinement.
Thinking that singing is only a ‘talent’ or an ‘art form’ is a denial of a very basic human need, the need to express emotions in a way that completely satisfies the unified BodyMind of each individual. The idea that ‘talent for singing’ is the prerequisite fosters the idea that sustained vocal sound must first and foremost be perceived as ‘pretty.’
Spontaneous sound almost always incorporates a dimension of noise in its release. In order to communicate effectively, resonance must first release the emotional expression without impediment. Emotional release effectiveness is how well it satisfies the one expressing. With these criteria as a premise, effectiveness of and satisfaction from my own perception of singing has evolved considerably.
Singing is often considered something done by one or more persons for communication with and appreciation of others. And yet, the basic inborn response of sustained sound emission in singing fulfills a need to communicate with our Self long before taking on the guise of performance for others. Innate human BodyMind emotional expression responds and reacts to the surrounding environment.
Except for birth defects, we all begin with the ability to audibly express emotion. Most animals use sound to express emotion. The primal utterance of a newborn child is emotional resonance in response to the drastic change in immediate environment. The spontaneous release expresses the mood experienced by the neonate at that particular moment: a perfect blend of sound and movement as all energy combines in emotional release. This energy release may be observed throughout early maturation as the infant becomes more aware of the surrounding environment and emotionally responds to stimulation. Neonatal and postnatal experience is almost always an oral investigation coupled with vocal sound in response to mouth contact. Except for crying voice is at first limited to various isolated emissions.
Sustained vocal experimentation begins about the same time the infant branches out from the primal means of identification, the oral probe. As eyes, ears and fingers participate more in the identification experience, vocal sound takes on a broader, more sustained dimension. From primal utterance on through early development the infant continues experiencing vocal sound and body movement as simultaneous functions. Body movement without sound is possible, but not sound without movement.
A vivid example of this association is the following incident. A young married student of mine complained how impossible it was to console her ten-month old son once crying became excessive. I suggested that the next time this happens she take his feet in one hand, arms in the other, firmly resisting any further movement. At first opportunity she tried this advice. I was convinced that minimizing body movement would minimize crying. I was not prepared, however, for what she told me happened next. He immediately stopped crying, his eyes became very large and he began to laugh deep inside his body. His laughter increased until it reached the same intensity as the former crying. For the next few months he never once varied from this instantaneous response reversal.
Anyone who has watched a young child wind up for an emotional overflow is aware that the facial muscle preparation moves with equal facility to either laughter or crying. Laughter and crying may be opposite extremes of the emotional spectrum, but think how often one leads into the other. Both are released from deep within the body moving outward to express the degree of stability the BodyMind is experiencing at that moment.
In early development when posture is still uncertain and in experimental stages vocal sound is allowed greater freedom of emotional expression. Since children unconsciously associate vocal sound with movement it seems safe to assume that audible emotional resonance is a totally integrated BodyMind expression.
Visualize in your mind’s eye a four or five-month-old infant lying on his/her back in a mood of inner contentment. When awake at this age experimenting never ceases. Sustained noises play around the infant’s lips as emotions find release in sound experimentation. This same oral experience continues on through later infancy to further refinement as the child adds word shapes to sustained sound. At some time in the earlier years, however, the socially imposed conditioning thought necessary in achieving maturity begins blocking free vocal experimentation.
Add to that mental image one of a little girl absently singing to herself as she plays in the sandbox, or a little boy skipping down the sidewalk singing to himself in rhythm to his movements. Both are perfect examples of spontaneous, uninhibited vocal sound. It is said that maturity is responsibility for one’s actions. Who would want to be responsible for anything so basically natural as experimenting with your voice? Somehow we become imbued with the idea that mature adults don’t do that. Only children make noises! Adults are supposed to shape sounds into words that express mature emotions.
The most genuinely honest emotional expression, however, comes from the children. Observe a young child’s uninhibited release of spontaneous vocal sound and enjoy an intimate glimpse into the most audible expression of that individual’s Self. Does this indicate that mature emotional expression too often involves a degree of deception? What happens in maturity that so effectively blocks a complete release of emotional expression? What precipitates such reversal?
I contend that singing is an inborn response in those moments of absolute emotional tranquility. Babies sing to themselves. The fact that we recognize no identifiable melodic sequence does not mean that it is not singing. Such spontaneous oral response has sustained emission, rhythm, pitch variation, and emotional expression. Like the infant, we sing because we feel good and singing makes us feel even better. When we sing to ourselves we are, in effect, communicating with the Inner-Self. It is an intrinsic means of truly pleasing and enjoying one’s Self. Singing is amplification of BodyMind emotional resonance. It satisfies the need for a unified psychosomatic release not possible by any other biological means. It may well be counter-productive to one’s well being not to sing.
Singing happens in those moments when no other means but sustained resonant expression can provide complete emotional release. Sometimes children are embarrassed when they realize someone is listening, but often their attention is so acutely focused on the experience at hand they are oblivious to the surrounding environment. The stimulus that initiates singing is definitely deeply intrinsic. If most children sing spontaneously then why do not most adults? Do we lose something on the path to maturity?
At the very beginning of developmental vocal interaction I find it extremely important to establish exactly how each student feels about his/her vocal sound. I ask each student who comes to me for vocal guidance the same question, “Why do you want to sing?” Usually the answer is, “Because I enjoy singing.” My next question is, “Do you like what you hear when you sing?” Responses to that are quite varied but the consensus is a desire to do it better. By better they mean sound better. Is the logic that if one ‘sounds better’ one ‘enjoys’ it more? But do we sing primarily to sound better? It is a coveted fringe benefit but hardly the primary reason why we sing. Effective release of emotional expression through vocal sound is an inborn BodyMind response. The best example is newborn primal utterance. I tell my students that the human BodyMind innately knows how to effectively produce sound. After all, the second primal experience immediately after the first breath is the creation of sound. The quality of emission has no part in the effectiveness of its release.
Sound emission has two basic forms of release: compulsive and voluntary. Compulsive release is an irresistible urge over which we seemingly have no control such as accidentally burning one’s hand. The voluntary release happens each time we open our mouth to speak. There are times, however, when these release potentials conflict with one another.
For years sound technicians fussed about the audible humming (not always in tune) of the late Arturo Toscanini when conducting recording sessions. Because he always did it, it was almost as if he had an uncontrollable compulsion to audibly hum. I recall the late Jan Peerce, Toscanini’s favorite tenor, once confided to me how he loved hearing the Maestro’s voice, even in out-of-tune competition with his own, because without that sound it would not be Toscanini.
Nothing expresses the inner-resonance of Self so completely as sustained spontaneous vocal sound. The quality of vocal resonance is a strong indication of emotional stability at the moment of emission.
Why do we learn to suppress that which comes from within? Excessive laughter and crying in some adults causes throat-ache, and in some instances, hoarseness and temporary loss of voice. And yet, should not these two inborn emotional responses provide even greater release if psychosomatic resistance is minimized?
My students were always amazed that in the first few minutes of vocalizing I could hear if he or she were experiencing some kind of emotional turmoil. Upon several occasions I was accused of having a crystal ball that allowed me insight to suppressed emotional turmoil. When asked how I could tell if they were in a state of imbalance I always answered, “I hear it in your voice.” Emotional upheaval has been studied from almost every possible perspective except vocal sound.
The BodyMind instinctively emits sustained resonance in moments of extreme emotional stress. These emotional sounds are only a hint of the individual’s potential structural resonance. Every designed structure has a resonance uniquely its own. That resonance depends upon its spatial vibratory displacement. Inanimate structural vibrations are more constant and only vary as the structure moves round its axial vortex in response to gravity. For the animate, living structure the same principle applies except for the variables of emotion, thought, and flexible movement. Total structural resonance occurs when all combined parts suspend in synchronized balance equalizing the pull of gravity. It is the optimal resonance of which the structure is capable. That pulsating absolute of total suspension between movement and complete rest is referred to as equipoise.
Start thinking about the Doo Woppers who are appearing on TJ Lubinski's DOO WOP live shows in Philadelphia and the National Educational TV specials. Most are in their 60s and 70s and STILL have their voices and the vibrant attitude that goes with them.
Conscious awareness of the........ click here for page 2 of Why We Sing