Lecture/Demonstration given by PAUL SILBER and CLARA SILBER HARRIS,

First European Symposium for Voice and Therapy

Hückeswagen, 20th October 1990


We are members of RHT, a theatre founded by RH 27 years ago. In this lecture I am not going to present the long & interesting history of the RHT, nor of RH's teacher Alfred Wolfsohn, that you can read, if you are interested, in a paper that I can give you after this lecture. Suffice it to say that the primary objective of the RHT is artistic. Therefore we are not, and do not advertise ourselves as being therapists. However because of the nature of the work, which involves the revival of the human condition & I choose my words carefully, the revival of the human condition in our students, through their voices, we must necessarily touch on therapy. I must point out that there is a great difference in the therapy which is touched on out of a quest for an artistic expression and therapy practised as a vogue or basically for reasons that the patient's ego needs attention.

Health is a very desirable commodity much sort after today, more today than ever before in history. This could be due to the fact that people are slowly, slowly becoming more & more aware of what awareness is and therefore what health is in its most complete sense.

In our experience in working with art in these last 30 years, art does have a bearing on health. It promotes consciousness in daily life actions, in that it raises them above the mundane. How can we define what is total health? Who amongst us is absolutely healthy? physically, mentally, psychically?.

After these many years of research, one of my conclusions about the human voice is that it contains all the diversities & contradictions of the personality. The voice has an amazing capacity to allow these conflicts to co-exist in relative harmony. This indicates something of the function of the voice as a synthesiser and healer of all the wounds handed out to us by our inadequate understanding of life around us. Anyone who is prepared to take a serious study of the voice will soon come to the conclusion that even the strangest sounds contain & express emotional needs which, in spite of our modern linguistics, remain totally unexpressed by any other means. The vocal register is so extensive that the only reasonable conclusion that can be given to this phenomenon is that the human psyche, which the voice reflects, is equally extensive. We all contain this wealth of diversity within us & unless some of the multiplicity of our being is expressed, then we can very easily be crushed by the enormity of our own being, as any psychiatric clinic will testify.

I think you will agree, especially those of you who practise therapy, that illness, above all psychic illness, is nearly always caused by the failure of the patient to relate satisfactorily to his own feelings, his own emotions.

What is the relationship between voice & feelings?

The great problem today is that the voice has become dissociated from the words we speak. Words are a relatively recent invention. First came feeling & instincts expressed in sound. Before we could say "I feel pain" there was only the sound of pain. Before we could say "I love you" there was only the sound of I love you. Our modern speech deals with concepts & ideas & is devoid of feeling & body. The embodied voice is one that links the conceptualisation & cerebralisation of the head with the guts & emotions of the body in such a way that there are no surprises. The body is not cut off from its means of communication on a speaking level, & the head keeps its channels open to primary feeling centres.

We will demonstrate later in an exercise how we explore different sounds & vocal resonators within head & body.

A young baby has no problem crying, shrieking, gurgling & expressing itself vocally with no inhibitions. But all too soon society imposes conditions & codes of behaviour on it, such that it is hardly surprising that in later childhood & adolescence, all instinctive & spontaneous relationship to the voice has been lost. As an example, I'll quote from a friend of ours, a teacher, who had taken her class to the swimming pool. The children were changed & invited to jump into the water. In doing so, it was proposed that they let out a big shriek. They jumped into the pool - but instead of a loud explosion of joyful cries, there was total silence! What would have been so simple for the unconscious, proved insurmountable when consciousness was given free rein.

The sounds & shrieks of bravado that are achieved so easily in the unconscious atmosphere of the bar room, are found to be very difficult to transfer to the consciousness of the working studio. When it comes to consciously delving into oneself & confronting these same energies, then there are found to be many inhibitions, hang ups & fears. Under studio conditions these can slowly be over come.

You see we have a piano here. The piano is an essential part of the pupil/teacher relationship. It establishes & maintains pitch even where the emotions are in the full blaze of the spot light. For example, when more energy is put into, say a state of excitement, pitch will rise, roots are lost & the result is disembodied hysteria. A piano can help maintain the contact with the source of the energy.


One could ask, & one should ask, why does a piano have 6.5 octaves of sound on it? Those of you who play the piano, I doubt whether you know many piece of music that involves either of the extremes of a piano. Therefore why 6.5 octaves, why not 4.5?. In my opinion the answer is a very simple one; the piano has 6.5 octaves because it is a projection of the vocal capacity of the inventor of the piano.

We therefore use the piano to extend the pupils consciousness of his vocal range. Many students get stuck with a limited idea of their voice & have the utmost difficulty in breaking this thinking, thus also reducing their vocal capacity. How many people are happy with their speaking voice? We have, for example, had female students, who sometimes say they wish to place their voices lower but they are afraid that they will seem aggressive or will not be loved if they no longer present themselves.

We are primarily a theatre, therefore the work we do is to research, reveal & draw out the differing character traits to be found with in our students. You might be aware of the fear of certain people in discovering the nature of their true selves. The idea that they may have certain violent aspects to their personality is abhorant to them. For others it maybe their own vulnerability that they reject. In exploring the voice through theatrical characters one is able to tap these sources of energy & emotion without becoming too identified with them.


Many sad games are played by actors who believe that in adding an alien role to their own, they are interpreting a role. This is not only a gross misunderstanding of their metier but it is also manifestly impossible since the character is already within his own psyche and only requires to be drawn out. Where then does the line lie that divides the person of the actor from the role that he publicly performs? The answer is that the performance of the role is a legitimate part of the actor's personality, which he at will puts to the fore on stage. Off stage, this aspect resumes its normal proportion in relation to all the other aspects that co exist in the actor.


We do not explore energies for the sake of release or of "doing our thing" but work totally within a consciously repeatable framework. We build a series of connections into our deeper feelings which can thereafter be drawn upon at will. We know at what pitch we are screaming & do not let the scream do us, we do not freak out when singing. We are not taken over by our energies & emotions. This is why the central core of our work is the individual lesson, where the mutual trust between the pupil and the teacher is paramount.

Yes, the study of the voice in its entirety will, given enough time & effort, lead the student to a relationship with his own voice, his own being that is sufficiently accepted by him to not have to rely too much on the supply of "love" by external forces.

Inevitably in working with the voice in its preverbal condition, one is confronted not only with ones own feelings, that certainly, but with ones own identity. Currently the best known access to identity is through the study of dreams. When the voice is used in its entirety, it provokes such extraordinary images of ten of an animal or surrealistic nature that their origins can only be accounted for by the unconscious. These dream & vocal images are often quite ugly, not only physically, but emotionally also. This ugliness & violence will manifest itself increasingly in our dreams to the degree that we do not confront them in our voices &~ daily lives. In rejecting what is ugly in the human voice we are in fact rejecting exactly what is most valuable in us, our own unconscious. Incidently, we are also rejecting that, that with a little work becomes some of the more beautiful aspects of our voice. This journey, the ugly to the beautiful, the old into the young, can be seen in the truly archetypal fairy stories; the frog into the prince, the witch into the princess. The voice also bears witness to the remarkable verity that Doctor Jung brought out so clearly, that of anima & animus. All human beings, without exception, are able to produce sounds that would seem more in place in their opposite sex. I would go so far as to say that in the case of men, one of the surest paths that they are able to find to their own embodiment of their own voice, is, indeed, by working through their female voice! .


Conversely the almost universal need women have of singing high soprano, can, almost always be achieved if enough ground work is done to create a real good body root into their bass voice. Interestingly over the years, one of the few common needs that has been found in nearly all our students male & female alike, is the need to find & play with a creative logic, a female logic, that has nothing to do with the cerebral, maybe male logic of every day life. To the degree that this kind of non-cerebral logic, i.e. intuitive expression, allows us to play with, & come to terms with our own "mad" energies, energies normally hidden, then entry into psychiatric clinics will be greatly reduced.

If we say that dreams are the voice of the rejected imagination, what then is unconscious behaviour, if it isn't life being lived by the dream? This state of affairs is alright in art where the artist presumably knows - that he is playing between dream & reality. But in daily life the increasing violence that we see around us is the outcome of the dream taking over life. 'It is a symptom of the degree to which both the imagination and the dream have become disowned. It could be said that within our workshops we attempt to bridge this gulf & according to the student's capacity, this reparation can be extensive. The resultant harmonising of the bodies energies and the organisation of the emotional extremes into an audible imaginative out-let, creates a sense of self identity, which is the commencement of individuation. For many of our students, as for many of us, it can mean an improvement in their capacity to relate with others - surely a redress on one of the major social problems of our day.

After more than 30 years involved in voice work & theatre, I am assured that the voice is the unifier of head & body, & therefore contributes strongly to the psychical & physical integration of the individual.

Paul and Clara Silber Harris, Malerargues, 24th April 2004


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