As you can see from the photo, voice-work runs in the family! This is my mother in wartime, speaking on the Forces network.
Fast forward fifty years or so.
I was a singer and had also been giving trainings in vocal and physical presence and power for about five years. My mother died, she went quicker than expected, and the last month – right over Xmas and New Year – was stressful, moving her to hospice then to a home. Sadly, I was away for a few days when she died, back in Amsterdam to see my kids.
My brother, sister and I arranged the funeral, and when we discussed music – very important to Mum – I decided to sing something myself and chose a beautiful song by Aaron Copland to a poem by Emily Dickenson, which begins: “the world feels dusty, when we stop to die”.
Initially it didn’t occur to me that emotions might overwhelm me while singing, maybe because of the distraction of arranging the funeral. But when the day came, and the coffin was brought in and both my daughters burst into tears (the reality of what was happening finally dawning on them) my own feelings were released, and my tears, and I felt for the first time that singing might be difficult. But it wasn’t. When the moment arrived, I stood up and used my training to connect to what I wanted to express, in the words of the song. And all went well.
I was also to speak at the end of the service, to round things off and give information about the burial and so on, and I had been more nervous about doing that, perhaps because my Mum had many actors among her friends, and several had recited poems and scenes from plays (wonderfully) during the proceedings. Again, this was no problem, my voice was strong, and I felt the energy and silent participation of all the people present. I then realised that during the song it had been the same, as if I wasn’t actually singing solo, but somehow channelling the feelings and love of all the friends and family there.
Of course, a funeral is a very particular occasion, heightened and intensified emotionally to say the least, and a place where showing emotion is permissible, even expected. But for me looking back it was a reminder of how important voice is to us as human beings, how it draws in the participation of listeners and creates community – its primeval function.
I find this idea of the basic nature of the voice inspiring, and I base my working methods on it and refer to it particularly whenever I need to convince a recalcitrant client that it’s OK to make emotional sound!
I’d love to hear any stories of meaningful vocal moments in your life – triumphs, disasters, needs, realisations or puzzlements …. how have these affected you?