"HOW A VOICE GAVE ME A CONSCIENCE"
Paper for the Seventh International Congress of Psychotherapy held at Wiesbaden, August 1967
Twenty years ago, I started a dedicated study of the human voice. Today I find that I am the head of a group of some thirty people who form a kind of synthetic, growing family.
The story of this organic growth is, I think, highly relevant to the theme of this Congress : the relationship of society to man, and the role of creative Art as preventive medicine.
This family is a hybrid collection : professional actors, a trained psychiatrist, successful businessmen, civil servants, schoolteachers, typists, housewives, single, married and separate; some with, some without children; homosexuals, heterosexuals; so-called stable and well-adjusted, so-called unstable and neurotic. Six of the thirty present members have a previous history of psychoneurosis; three have been under psychoanalytical treatment prior to joining the family - one is a bad stammerer, who had previously tried various treatments, without success. I believe this family's growing understanding and cohesion has saved several of the'neurotics' from hospitalisation and, in one case, from an intended fourth attempt at suicide (where the third attempt was drastic enough). It has likewise saved many of its apparently 'normal' members from a smug and irresponsible acceptance of themselves as so called 'normal'. Their ages range from 22 to 46. They come from differing and deeply religious and some from irreligious backgrounds; from the Common- wealth, Europe and the U.S.A. Some have forfeited good homes, some temptingly better chances in their careers, to remain knit to this new family with its purposive way of living.
Most of these people were not naturally gregarious or prone to follow a leader : yet they chose to subject themselves to each other and (as some at first thought) to me, but, in fact, both they and I are subject to the creative research work we do - to the principle of an eight-octave voice. Eight-octave? Yes. We find that any normal human voice, male or female, usually reckoned to have a range of from two to two and a half octaves, may be extended, by training, to six or more octaves, gaining in expressiveness and emotional content in the process. This cultural-philosophical system of voice-training is an empirical lay activity, which has already been observed by medical specialists for its therapeutic value in the treatment of neurosis, and for its remarkable scientific aspects, in the field of the extension of vocal function. However, to my mind, its most interesting aspect is the emergence of genuine family relationships and of a growing social awareness among those who adhere to this work. They have chosen to study the voice through seemingly chance meetings and for apparently overtly abstruse reasons. Some of us now actually live together in households of five or six. By developing, through our voices, a good hermaphroditic personality balance, we are learning to overcome the sex-war in our male-female relationships. Everyone is accepted as a potential artist in living, and no matter his original conscious motives for commencing the work. About a dozen members with an average of ten years experience form a well-trained inner circle and outside the present circle of thirty there is a periphery of people with varied understanding of the principles with which we work.
To illustrate more clearly this growth from ego to involvement, I should like to go back to a point in my personal history 20 years ago, when I came to England from South Africa with the seemingly egotistical intention of becoming an actor of some stature. I won a scholarship to R.A.D.A. 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 with my body. In personal relationships I was an aloof outsider. On leaving R.A.D.A. 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 research into the nature and meaning of the human voice.
In retrospect I can see that this choice was governed by my particular inescapable bias. The human species has always kept a precarious balance between the instinct to consolidate the status quo and the instinct to break barriers to extend the fields of awareness. Even those in whom these two instincts are most evenly balanced, nevertheless, in times of crisis, show a distinct bias for or against evolutionary progress. We call the seekers 51/49% pro personalities and the consolidators 51/49% con personalities. My moment of choice revealed me to be one of the former, and my family is an extension of this quality, obeying the "birds-of a feather" principle. We now form one of many avant-garde groups. When the status quo shows serious cracks, discerning minds gather together (as we have here today) to study current trends; seeking to intuit some message for future consolidation. Those who read the signs correctly and act on them are quietly making history. I acted on such a sign when I met Alfred Wolfsohn, a singing teacher who trained his pupils to break their vocal and personal psychological barriers by developing 4 to 8 octave voices. This phenomenal extension has been corroborated by Professor R. Luchsinger of the Otolaryngological Clinic in Zurich, whose findings on examining one pupil were published under the title "Phonetic and Stroboscopic Investigations into a Vocal Phenomenon". (1) He confirmed a vocal range of five octaves and six tones. Preliminary accounts of the Wolfsohn method appeared in "The Observer", (2) "Time" magazine (3) and "Die Weltwoche" (4) in 1956. A more popular presentation is the L.P. Record Album "'Vox Humana" (5) issued in the U.S.A., which includes a booklet of notes with a preface by the musicologist Dr. Henry Cowell.
Now I was introduced to this study at a time when I was becoming more and more convinced that there was a serious philosophical 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. The Wolfsohn training and the R.A.D.A. training could run parallel while 1 was a student only, but no further. I 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.
In the years of dedication that followed, I found that the work caused father to turn against son, daughter against mother, friend against friend. "Can voice development over an 8 octave range per se do this?" I had to ask myself, "And if so, how and why?" Yet the new family grew in cohesion and understanding. Sometimes there was a reunion with the individual's natural family or earlier friends on a new and higher level, and relationships with everyday associates were more aware, more constructive. The process of involvement had begun. I could not develop an attribute so specifically human as the voice without studying life itself deeply. Of all 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 five years ago, I found I had gained such insights that leadership was thrust upon me not only by Wolfsohn's original pupils, but by an uncanny number of people outside this circle also. I had thought of myself as an artist, 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 now on the circle of voice-students began to grow to as many as I had the capacity to introduce to work of such a complex nature. Subjectively I felt the strain of this kind of harness; objectively I accepted it as part of the philosophy of the 8-octave approach to life. Changes in the research work occured organically, without blue-print, dictated to by the lead of the voice alone. For singing, as we practise it, is literally the resurrection or redemption of the body. The capacity to "hold" the voice in identification with the body makes biological reality of the concept "I am". The ability to hold fast with whole body in vocal production can, with correct training, develop an ability to hold fast in complex real life situations. Because I had learned to hold myself in sound, I found I was able to hold others as a leader in concentration. Concentration is a summoning of the whole body in one effort. True concentration is prayer. It is not surprising therefore that the mental and physical demands of our work caused our meeting place gradually to be regarded as a combined Church / Theatre / Gynnasium / Clinic - a place where the energy of body and mind unite in an effort to live more consciously, through the medium of creative Art. At the time of writing this paper, we are in the process of replacing our one-roomed singing studio by a much larger studio with rehearsal rooms, gymnasium, sauna baths, squash courts, restaurant and bar attached, so that those aspects which are more commercially viable will help to subsidise those aspects which are commercially void but humanly vital. This expansion is occurring because of the philosophy of our work. We are not fitting recreational art into a therapeutic background, providing table tennis and painting as a salve for anxiety tensions : it is the other way round the therapy, the newly oriented society, are growing out of the exacting requirements of the artistic study. This difference in approach is, I believe, of the greatest importance. It is an essential difference. It is because we explore every human impulse and raise it to the level of conscious artistic expression that our work is health-giving and contains the seed of its own evolution.
The spotlight on Voice was Alfred Wolfsohn's starting point : it was the evolutionary seed. The voice of each student he found to be at once a diagnostic tool, a gauge of current development, and a guide to that Individual's future development. He insisted on close observation of the part played by different areas of the body and by different attitudes of mind and imagination in helping or hindering the production of sounds. The demands of this scrutiny caused a number of specialised activities to evolve.
To take a few examples of the physical observances : pupils learn, not only from, their own efforts, but as such from listening to the sounds and watching the minutest movements and facial expressions of others. To stretch aural sensitivity new exercises are constantly evolving, such as listening to long stretches of silence and digesting the meaning of the wisps of human sound that emerge, or learning to orchestrate the background music to a dramatic performance by using any object within reach as a musical insturment. This innovation grew spontaneously from a need to be aware of immediate surroundings and to learn how to use what is available here and now to enhance artistic expression. Group sensitivity to atmosphere and the artistic requirements of the moment has become so developed that this kind of orchestration has often been extremely moving. Watching the language of face and body has likewise led to exercises involving minute muscular movements. Wrestling and balancing exercises are frequently used during the act of sound production. One of the professional dancers in the family now gives special movement and mime classes, and outside the studio activities, each member seeks other means of pushing the frontiers of his own physical endurance and mind/body awareness. As a sport, squash has become predominantly popular so far. I observed this fact and pondered on it. Squash allows for maximum effort in a short time, quick co-ordination and a subtle awareness of the other person, both as a psychological entity and as a physical presence, vying for command of the same spatial centre. Alternately, to claim and vacate that centre requires a balance of courteous withdrawal and non-aggressive self-assertion. As a singer, I can further equate the ball as the "spot" of vibration in relation to this command of the centre.
To come to the observances of mind and spirit, each student is given constant exercises in mental concentration, comprehension, verbalisation, memory. He is trained to bring into the studio an awareness of his outside activities and relationships, and to be prepared at any moment to render these experiences in dramatic form. There is group discussion of dreams and personal problems. The dreams are often used in artistic formula, dance, drama, and painting. Every student keeps a dream record, which is filed, indexed and cross-referenced (including the childrens') - a unique mine of intrapsychic material. Every student is every other student's friendly analyst, helping him to see how his dream language relates to his everyday experience and behaviour. This can only be done efficiently in a context where much of the dreamer's waking experience is shared and observed by his lay-analysts. It now becomes apparent that the growth of this fanily was actually caused by the need for really efficient study in self-observation. We learn empirically, existententially. Only groups of lay people banding together can achieve this kind of rapport, for the over-burdened medical profession and the visiting social worker are not in a position to scrutinise their patients so minutely. We are a group of naturally selfish, pleasure-loving human beings; yet, at any time of day or night, any member may receive a telephone call or a visit from another member, or from a complete outsider needing help. Everything personal is dropped to cater to the needs of such a call and practical assistance is freely given, if this is psychologically creative. One such visit during a severe depression turned into a five month stay. Human compassion is the meat of life : we are not playing games with our singing, painting and drama. Every human situation is utilised to enhance dramatic productions (we are working on Euripedes 'The Bacchae' at the moment) and vice versa, our growing ability to act, augments our usefulness as detached agents in tricky human situations.
I mentioned at the start that we earn our livings in different ways, so we are neither exclusively a theatrical group nor a set of monastic mystics. We seek to help each other to keep abreast of the times. Those who are less bogged down by heavy responsibilty in business or domestic affairs sift current literature and bring to the studio for communal reading whatever they consider to be edifying. This is read aloud to develop the reader's delivery and dramatic awareness, and the listener's powers of comprehension, ability to verbalise and to relate what has been read to his own practical situation. The "tummy types", as we call then, find these sessions gruelling. The, '''head" types find the movement, gymnastic and rhythm sessions gruelling. But a necessary bridge between the two is remorselessly being built.
This dynamic approach to the problem of integrating head and body has lead to changes in each individual's working life. Some find the greater control over their energy output obliges them to shoulder more and more responsibility in their jobs, despite the exacting requirements of the studio work. Others have shown a healthy withdrawal from a dubious efficiency in their business affairs, where they were motivated by a compulsion towards public recognition in order to escape confrontation with the inner man. The stammerer I mentioned as one of our family was one of these, and his stammer is now markedly improved. Every student is aware of a balancing principle at work alongside the breaking down of barriers. The exploring of male and female, height and depth, conscious and unconscious goes on and the hermaphroditic personality takes on many forms of imbalance before true balance is found. The leopards do not suddenly change their spots. For instance, out of the four practising homosexuals in my family, who have been with me for an average of eight years, two remain homosexual though more discriminatingly so; one has been celibate for the past five years; and one, after ten years' study, has for the past year maintained a very touchingly heterosexual relationship, (which is most beautifully reflected in changes in his male and female voice registers). This successful transition was preceeded, however, by a particularly violent and self-destructive involvement with a man who claimed to be a well-integrated homosexual and heterosexual.
Now that I have indicated the variety of the work that holds my family together, you will realise the amount of time required to progress on all levels. Shortage of time - shortage of money - these challenge our values. Each of us knows that he has to make room in his life for what he values, no matter how poor he is, or how rich he is, or how prolific or loving a parent he is. It is hard to be a Martha and a Mary, but we have to find a way and bend social custom to our human needs. We are not escapists from family or business commitments, if we limit both to allow for the growth of understanding. One of our most bitter battle-fronts is the clash between this work and the demands of family and bread-winning. We watch to see where these clashes can be prevented or eased, for such work as we do, such concrete prayer, needs a recognised place in the daily scramble.
One of the most pressing problems of our day is to redefine the whole meaning of Art and artistic gifts. Has the creative impulse only to be considered the possession of a hierarchy of gifted people, musicians, painters and so on ? Or must we rediscover the intrinsic common factor behind the the creative impulse? Many so-called untalented people, factory hands, office workers or manual labourers, have been demoralised out of all sense of their own creative potential; and the diffidence thus imposed on then results in serious misuse of their leisure hours. I could write another 20 minute paper on the significance of the "Pop-group" rage. In primitive society, the creative, artistic urge was shared in by all and given dignity in religious rituals, and crafts too had a religious significance, down to the poorest domestic utensil. It is significant that a great number of people in our society want to be actors or painters, amateurs if not professional. They desperately desire their efforts to be taken seriously, and pathetically they glut the market. When we learn to value the clumsiest creativity of our human acquaintances, and honour their most tentative gropings, they become our friends.
I have described my work and the family ties it has caused as an example of integrating work that can be done within the existing framework of society. I firmly believe that the greatest contributing force to mental breakdown is the lack of outlet for truthful self-expression, tolerance of this expression by others and courage to persevere in it for oneself. The medium we have chosen can safely contain the variety of man's emotions without crushing him.
"All art has to do with this identification, with this infinite capacity of man for metamorphosis, so that, like Proteus, he can assume any form and lead a thousand lives without being crushed by the multiplicity of his experience. Art as a means of man's identification with his fellow-men, nature and the world, as his feeling and living together with everything that is and will be, is bound to grow as man himself grows in stature..." (E. Fischer "The Necessity of Art" )
This paper is a plea for more facilities for ordinary people to be taught to explore their own creativity, keeping a careful balance between physical and menta1 exertion. We present only one way of realising this that we have experienced as being wholly beneficial - the experience of finding our multiple voices in an ever-increasing range with concomitant side effects in our daily living.
"And this secret spake Life Herself to me, 'Behold', said she, 'I am that which must ever surpass itself.....'' Nietzsche.
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