This is a revised version of a post which first appeared as The Natural Voice approach in September 2007.
I often mention my membership of the Natural Voice Practitioners’ Network (NVPN) on this blog.
I thought I’d remind people of what this Natural Voice approach represents.
the Natural Voice philosophy
All Natural Voice practitioners share a common philosophy towards voice work. Simply stated, we believe that singing is everyone's birthright, and that:
- everyone can sing (whether they think they can or not!)
- singing should be accessible to all (so many practitioners teach by ear rather than using written music)
- the voice begins from the body and the breath.
Many members of the NVPN run community choirs based on this philosophy, although we are a very broad church with members from all areas of voice work, not just choirs or singing groups.
what IS the Natural Voice approach?
What exactly is the Natural Voice approach to singing and voice (note the capital letters!)?
It’s something we often struggle to pin down in the NVPN. It may seem to many outsiders to be some kind of wishy-washy organic wholefood let-it-all-hang-out way of singing, but it is in fact a very specific discipline or approach to voice work (not just singing by any means).
When practitioners join the network, they state on the membership form that their
“approach to teaching voice and song is in harmony with the Philosophy and Working Principles of the Natural Voice Practitioners’ Network”.
By adhering to a common philosophy and set of working principles, the assumption is that we will end up with a network of like-minded individuals who all approach voice work in a similar way.
However, as the network has grown over the years, we have become a very broad church which includes a range of practitioners covering sound healing, community choirs, spiritual chanting, working with pregnant mothers, using voice for therapy, singing contemporary compositions, etc.
attempting to pin it down
Although many practitioners working in these areas do use a Natural Voice approach, there is a danger that the term itself is becoming a catch-all phrase of convenience which is beginning to lose its strict meaning.
A while back I helped to formulate a code of practice which I believe encapsulates more accurately what it means to use the Natural Voice approach. It turns out though that it’s impossible to find a code that suits such a broad collection of practitioners!
However, I thought I’d mention some of the key points here in order to to clarify what my own understanding of what the Natural Voice approach to voice is.
The code is divided into four main areas:
This is the foundation stone to the Natural Voice approach. It reminds us that the voice is connected to and rooted in the whole body. The whole body supports the voice and needs to find a subtle balance between relaxation and alertness. An understanding of the body, breath, emotion and sound connection is central to our approach and demands physical awareness and exercising. It also means that every voice session will begin with both a vocal and physical warm up.
Basically nobody should be excluded from music-making. Singing is our birthright and should be accessible to all. Hence we don’t assume any prior knowledge, try to steer clear of jargon, use a variety of teaching styles to maximise everyone’s involvement, and try to accommodate those with physical and other restrictions.
We need to respect the individuals we work with and all the cultures we draw from. We acknowledge and accept that each voice is unique to the individual. Wherever possible we find out and explain the historical and cultural context of a song and credit its composer or source. We also choose material for our work which is not exploitative and will be culturally accessible to everyone in the group.
We approach our work in ways that are unlocking, freeing, allowing, releasing, non-judgmental, and encouraging. We are playful, informal and forgiving, focusing on process and participants’ experience rather than any end-product.
how do I learn more?
You can find more information and a fuller description of the network’s aims, philosophy, working principles and training opportunities on the NVPN website: www.naturalvoice.net.
To get a good grounding in the Natural Voice approach, and a chance to learn how to set up and run a singing group, Frankie Armstrong (founder and inspiration to the NVPN), along with her partner Darien Pritchard (a Feldenkrais and massage practitioner) leads an annual week's training workshop at Kinnersley Castle in Herefordshire. Full details can be found on Frankie’s website.
what do you mean by ‘natural’ voice?
Is there such a thing as an ‘unnatural’ voice? How does one find one’s ‘natural’ voice. I will be writing more about this later.