Physical Empathy in the Context of Singing: some thoughts by Hannah-Rose Tristram.
Empathy is a huge subject, and this is going to be a small article, so I will cut to the chase and share a few thoughts and experiences that seem pertinent.
I am often struck by the level of physical empathy that takes place in the context of singing. For example, a teacher demonstrates a particular type of vocal sound, and a student may change their physical inner landscape intuitively to be able to produce a similar sound. Or, a teacher gives an imaginative cue involving an emotion or archetype (for example) to help a student make a particular sound, and the student’s psychological links to this cue can help them find a physical change in their inner landscape to be able make a similar sound.
Then there is more specifically emotional empathy of course, involving what sort of emotions the singer wants to put into the song, and how they want to impact a listener emotionally. There are many levels of physical, emotional and musical intelligence that come together to weave a particular magic, when singing a song. Add to that a group of people harmonising, blending, and creating a similar emotional landscape together, and you have a recipe for something very special.
Direct physical empathy (whereby a student physically mirrors a teacher’s inner sound set-up and outer body language), can help teachers to impart their vocal skills – but it can also mean they are in danger of passing on their shortcomings. I had an example of this recently, where a student was mirroring the set up I habitually use at the very bottom of my range, which isn’t as free or supported as it could be. As soon as I offered her a technique to overcome this, she found the sound – but before I did she was mirroring my (sometimes quite weak) lowest notes. I think it is important to bear this sort of thing in mind when teaching, and as teachers to stay aware of and keep working on our own current limitations.
The power of the human voice continues to amaze me. Long may we all engage with this potent form of expressive connection. Connection to self, others, ideas, places, cultures, emotions, archetypes, and humanity. Viva la musica!
In the spirit of that wish, do check out GLOW choir Brighton and come and join us for a group sing! Or see the homepage for information about booking individual singing lessons, and contact firstname.lastname@example.org to book. Best wishes, and keep singing!