VOICES OF HUMANITY

Written by Barry Irwin in 1982

(A talented dancer, Barry Irwin met Roy Hart in 1962;

He died at the age of 56, one year after writing this text)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


"…………..We are now in a foreign country. There in this foreign country are trenches, trenches are everywhere. I am living in these trenches. Every now and then the darkness of the night is lit up by Very lights, strange stars made by man. Shells burst right and left, I throw myself on the ground, my hands are clawing the earth. Often someone next to me is hit. Each time I am astonished that I have been spared. Once I sink down in a trench, I sink into the mud. My comrades, like phantoms in the darkness, pass me by and do not help me. I am stuck in the morass and I am alone. Everything depends on my army boots, they have become my greatest enemy, for they hinder me in every movement, I rip open the sides of my boots with my bayonet and begin to crawl on all fours. Barrage all around me. The guns from which it is coming are served by 4 or 5 Frenchmen I don't know where they come from, I don’t know who they are. They don't even know they could easily kill me. They have to keep a certain stretch of ground under fire. It is no good shouting: "Jean-Baptiste - Maurice - Pierre - I have done you no wrong, what do you want from me?" I keep crawling. The hours pass. The firing is getting stronger and my peril greater. I pray to God but he doesn't help me. From somewhere I hear a voice shouting "Comrade! Comrade!" I close my eyes, shaking in terror, thinking; how can a human voice utter such a sound? Grenades whistle, a voice implores, I curse God, I hear his scornful laughter in infinite space, the earth is ripped open, the sky is a fiendish backdrop, realm between being alive - only just - and dying. What continues are the automatic movements of my body, that is all; and the unceasing questions? WHY? FOR WHAT?"
- Alfred Wolfsohn

The work of the Roy Hart Theatre was first conceived by an individual; Alfred Wolfsohn, a German Jew, who heard the spectrum of sounds in the screams of a dying soldier in the first World War. He wrote of them in a manuscript entitled "Orpheus - or the way to a Mask" from which I have quoted an excerpt. He devoted his life to uncovering and understanding these unexplored human sounds consciously. He saw that the voice was a way through which all aspects of an individual could be developed.

After the 1914-18 War, Alfred Wolfsohn taught singing in Berlin. Originally his approach was from the standpoint of helping so-called orthodox singers to surmount problems of vocal expression. Then in 1939, he escaped from Nazi Germany to England. In London, further vocal exploration with his pupils gradually led to an enormous increases in their vocal range (from the normal 2 octaves to 6, 7, even 9 octaves, no matter the sex of the singer). This feat aroused the interest of doctors, laryngologists and biologists. It was thought that the structure of the voice depended mainly on the vocal chords, and pupils possessing this extended range would be likely to have some freakish development. But this proved not to be the case. In fact it was concluded that this "vocal phenomenon" need not be rare but could be achieved "generally through systematic work. The main task was of a psychological nature. Where necessary, additional resonance can certainly be discovered both in the thorax and in the head; bones can sing, but to do that they need not just a certain technique, but above all that indefinable mental and spiritual force which, for instance, makes ordinary gut able to render a violin concerto. It is primarily a matter of liberating the pupil from the fear of height and depth which he feels in his voice, and to which traditions have conditioned him".

With Alfred Wolfohn the singing lesson came to be what one might also call a direct attack on an imbalance in the body's chemistry. It became an attempt to give substance to the void between the cry of birth and the scream of death - to join the gap between head and body, male and female, Hitler and Jew. The cry of a dying soldier forced him to re-question the significance and potential of the human voice. Later in confronting particular vocal problems he discovered the inextricable link between the voice and the psychology of the singer. …"When I speak of singing, I do not consider it only as an artistic exercise, but as a possibility and means of knowing oneself".

Alfred Wolfsohn was born in Germany in 1896. He died in England in 1962, having substantiated his basic vision - namely that the voice is the audible expression of the soul of man, and not the function solely of any anatomical structure, whether it be called the larynx or what-you-will, but rather the expression of that mysterious something called the personality.

By this time, Roy Hart, a gifted young South African who had been reading English and Psychology at Wittwatersrand University, and had won a scholarship to The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London, had begun to lead the work. He had already been singing with Wolfsohn for some15 year. Here I would, like to quote from a paper which he wrote in 1967: "I came to England, from South Africa with the seemingly egotistical intention of becoming an actor of some stature. I won a scholarship to RADA and was told that I had a good voice and stage personality. Yet I had known for some time that my voice was not rooted, not literally embodied; that the varied, roles I was considered to perform so well were actually only figments of my imagination with no connection to my body. In personal relationships, I was an aloof outsider. I was introduced to Alfred Wolfsohn at a time when I was becoming more and more convinced that there was a serious flaw in the approach to theatre in the Drama Schools in those days, I was interested in the relationship between the actor and his personal life. I became concerned, with the relationship between voice and personality, especially as this manifested itself in a spectrum of energy production varying from apathy to intensity. Most people I met, even many professional athletes, were unrelated to their bodies: the voice was a key to the insights I sought after, insights into an integrated mind/body relationship in the individual, whatever his profession might be…"

"On leaving RADA I was immediately offered a most promising opening in the Theatre. I thought I was dedicated to the theatre, and my friends forecast a brilliant future. Yet, at this point, where personal ambition might have been expected to take over, I made an extraordinary choice, I turned down the proffered 'big chance’ in order to search into the nature and meaning of the human voice. I had recognised that the study of the voice needed time. My particular bias evaluated the situation with a ruthless eye, I relinquished my career and thus made time utterly subservient to the demands of this research work. The process of involvement had begun. I could not develop an attribute so specifically as the voice without studying life itself - deeply. Of all of Alfred Wolfsohn's pupils, I had devoted the most time and concentration to the optimistic philosophy of the work and to the hard practice which it entailed. Thus when he died, I found that I had gained such insight that the leadership was thrust upon me not only from Wolfsohn's original pupils, but by an uncanny number of people outside this circle also. I had thought of myself as an artist, as an actor in the making. But because I took that art deadly seriously, it had led me elsewhere. This is the hub of my whole thesis’."

From that time in our London Centre, 20 years ago, those who had regular singing lessons began to meet with Roy on Sunday afternoons - to speak a dream, evaluate recent scientific, religious and philosophical trends in books and articles…. to perform a poem…. a song…. - for in the field of music the voice was always man's most flexible instrument, but the advance of civilization brought changes in musical custom and specialisation was imposed upon the voice, forcing it into categories; Soprano, Tenor, Bass etc., so it became the accepted thing to have a specialized voice. The demands of custom shackles the voice with the chains of conformity. A few great singers have proved that the voice still holds the possibility of greater range and expression, but, apart from these exceptions, the voice has become more and more specialised as civilization itself has become more specialised in its thinking, its actions, and its exclusiveness.

You may ask, if having discovered and mastered a somewhat large vocal range in quality and quantity, having done all this, all other problems will disappear; that someone with a strong, explored, well-rooted and expressive voice will have no more problems. This may be partly true, but in our experience there exists, parallel to this achievment, an increased sensitivity — (it being well known that this phenomena appears in any authentically creative work) - and thus, there could be a danger of wrongly interpreting the expression 'the 6 to 8 octave voice', in giving it a very quantitive picture of something achieved and unassailable - a kind of giant which excludes all weaknesses; no cracks, no trembling and at the extreme no expression - something which denies the value of these 'rejects', these cracks and breaks in the voice, which are so fragile and which appear to have no significance. The voices one hears in the course of our performances, lessons, work-shops and on tape, are often naked to the point of being embarrassing. They are at times strong and expressive, but equally full of cracks, fissures, tremblings and fragilities. It would be easy, sentimental even, to speak of these latter as being 'all too human', but these breaks in the voice have big potential. Careful exploration in these areas can reveal something of the relationship between different registers; between degrees of tension and relaxation. In certain cases they are a bad sign: too many tensions, too strong a wish to have or succeed. In other cases they are the only signs of life in areas of voice which have become deserted, dull, colourless. In yet other instances they are surely the very essence of poetry.

Meanwhile changes in our research work occurred organically and the circle of voice-students began to grow to as many as Roy Hart had the capacity to introduce to a work of such a complex nature. Subjectively he felt the strain of this kind of harness; objectively he accepted it as part of the philosophy of the 8 octave approach to life.

Our meetings in London now developed into demonstrations for occasionally invited guests, which included scientists, actors, directors, and philosophers. The playwright Harold Pinter, the composer John Gage, Aldous and Sir Julian Huxley, Colin Wilson, George Steiner, Peter Brook and Jerzy Grotowski are among those who saw us work at that time.

By 1968, our numbers had increased to twenty or so. Singing lessons continued as did the need to make a living in our various daily jobs. Our meetings/demonstrations at times moved into rehearsals (and vice versa) and after many months of exploring a text, often with only pre-verbal sounds in 1969, the group working with Roy Hart took his name and made its debut as Roy Hart Theatre with a performance of "The Bacchae" by Euripides, at the World Festival of Nancy,

Composers now began to take serious interest, particularly in response to hearing Roy Hart's voice. Peter Maxwell-Davies wrote "8 Songs for a Mad King" for him; Hans Werner Henze and Karlheinz Stockhausen both wrote and adapted works especially for Roy Hart:- "Versuch Uber Scheine" and "Spirale". Other composers were stimulated to make contact, playwrights began to respond also and he performed these works for voice and orchestra throughout Europe.

In 1972 we toured Spain and in the Madrid Journal they said: "..Man's voice has expressive powers, it holds a potential for the liberation of that which is suffocated by our culture, our oppressive society. This repression is one more form of a far-reaching repression. Hart draws out this stifled voice, this voice we stifle in ourselves. Have we ever cried like this? We could have done it once...'

After Spain, Jean-Louis Barrault made an invitation to participate in the "Journées du Théâtre des Nations", in Paris. A performance without words, "And" was given.. This journey to Paris created a particular link with France which was consolidated in 1974 when the theatre decided to move Malérargues, an abandoned château in the Cévennes.

The move to southern France was a gradual process taking 8 months, until by March 1975 all of us had arrived there. We were, are, 40 persons; who are a few professional actors, University graduates in a wide variety of subjects, school and music teachers, a trained nurse, one of Spain's leading woman composers. We are twelve nationalities and on average, apart from some newer members - some few have left,- nearly everyone has been working for at least 10 years, and some for as long as 25.

It was in May of that first year in France, while travelling from performances in Austria for a tour of Spain that our company suffered the inestimable loss of Roy Hart and two of our principal actresses, Dorothy Hart and Vivienne Young, in a car accident. We continued to work under a collective leadership. The way this collective leadership works is continually evolving but it is based on a certain sense of hierarchy amongst members of the company - which has been a conscious part of our structure for many years. The need to respect concepts such as 'service’, 'discipline' and ‘humility', has also long been a recognised part of our social and artistic organization.

After the accident, enormous economic difficulties and the wish to continue the work and the re-construction of the château resulted in several members of the theatre having to find whatever work was possible in the region - as carpenters, potters, road builders etc; Their support enabled rehearsals and rebuilding to continue until the theatre's artistic and pedagogic activities became financially viable.

On an international level the theatre's work continued with performances of first, 'L'Economiste’ created by Roy Hart in collaboration with Serge Behar, and then Shakespeare's ‘The Tempest'. On a regional level everything began with an invitation to sing in the local Protestant Temple. Later specific performances were created for schools and villages – at times in isolated areas of our region.

Recognition of the educative and cultural value of these enterprises eventually came from several ministries and local bodies in 1977 and 1978, in the form of grants to help support our work. In the last several years, the demand for workshops on the voice, both in France and in other countries has grown to the considerable extent that we all now find ourselves fully occupied by the life and work emanating from our central concerns, and no longer need to find jobs locally, for the present at least.

Of course there continue to be problems - the financial one is always with us, but more demanding perhaps, are the questions which arise from a life-style which is a reflection of the way we sing: "Who is to rehearse what and when?" "Who teaches where?" "Who receives what?"' "Who relates to whom and how?". To look at these questions (involving as they do the flesh and blood and feelings of each member of the group) while seeking to preserve an atmosphere between us which respects the unique nature of each individual's creativity, is an enterprise of some psycho and socio-logical, not to mention religious and theatrical, import. Such questions as -'When to submit and when to exercise authority?', 'Who tells whom and how? - are with us constantly, in a continuing search for the connections between what emerges and grows onstage, and what emerges off stage. All this takes place within the light which psychology has thrown upon human nature - that our behaviour is far from consciously motivated.

For people who have had singing lessons over a certain period of time, there arrives a moment when something emerges in their voices: a quality of energy, sound, - vibrations coming from a place situated beyond, that which appeared to be their normal vocal register, and which involves a dynamic, engaged, relationship between their body, voice and imagination. This process occurs when one is feeling one's habitual limits and working to break one's barriers. What one can hear is an emanation of animal, bird, or machine-like sounds - sounds which are sometimes not particularly emotional - inhuman sounds, or rather, sounds which seem to be beyond what one commonly thinks thinks of as human sounds - in any event difficult to classify. One could call these "broken sounds" or chorded sounds, which contain several musical strands. It is as if suddenly deeper layers of evolutionary processes have been re-awakened or re-lived.

In the exploration of the voice the agressive instincts and energies are also used to break through barriers. As I have said, all kinds of animal sounds are discovered to belong to the human being and because this is so, our work has been criticised as - according to Jean-Jacques Gautier in Le Figaro (1972) 'returning to the level of beast and madman, which implies derision and hatred for human expression, for the word, language, the letter, text, ordered craftsmanship, and the work of the spirit '. What such critics do not hear is that beneath these sounds, which are produced quite consciously (as distinct from the sounds produced either by beasts or madmen) is a much broader and multi-layered vision of the nature of acting, and of the actor, than the conception which still governs the kind of training received by most students of drama.

On our recent tours we have begun to include work sessions to coincide with our performances. For many years the theatre has given workshops. The pedagogic approach of the Roy Hart Theatre begins with the premise that each individual, each voice is unique. There is no established method for the singing lesson; rather a disciplined exploration guided by the teacher, through releasing sources of energy and imagination, to open the voice. Quality and authenticity of sound are primary guidlines in the search to extend the vocal register.

Through such a dynamic study as singing affords, the actor slowly comes to a deeper awareness, and finally control, of the unconscious forces which are also known to be part of his nature. If one defines psychology as the study of forces which form the human being, singing is, for the Roy Hart Theatre, the disciplined expression of these forces in an artistic form. Alfred Wolfsohn did not invent the 8 octave voice, he only made conscious what had always existed: that is the incredible capacity of the human being for suffering, love, murder, hate, jealousy, innocence, madness. In opening the potential of the voice one opens the door towards life - a difficult pursuit, for in man there exists a fear of life as great as the fear of death.

Malérargues today continues to be the centre of life for the theatre, with a constant re-definition of relationships, of social and financial functions and of artistic actions. Since 1978 exchanges of work have taken place at Malerargues with visiting artists. Within the coming years we have planned a building project to re-construct and improve the existing theatre space and to enhance the cultural function of Malerargues in our region. It is our hope that the exchanges with other artists and contributions to other fields of art, combined with our teaching and continued research on the voice, will deepen and create new perspectives in the work begun over 50 years ago.

I would like to conclude with these lines which Shakespare wrote for Caliban….

"Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after a long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds me thought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again."

 

This is what Barry had to say about himself

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