Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Natural Voice approach

What exactly is the Natural Voice (note the capital letters!) approach to singing and voice? It’s something we’re struggling with in the Natural Voice Practitioners’ Network as I mentioned in an earlier blog (The Natural Voice Practitioners’ Network). It may seem to many outsiders to be some kind of wishy-washy organic wholefood let-it-all-hang-out way of singing, but 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”. Which is all very well and we had hoped then to form a network of like-minded individuals who all approached voice work in a similar way. However, over the years as the network has grown, we have become a very broad church which includes practitioners who focus primarily on sound healing, running community choirs, spiritual chanting, working with pregnant mothers, using voice for therapy, singing contemporary compositions, etc. etc. 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.

I am currently helping to formulate a code of practice which encapsulates more accurately what it means to use the Natural Voice approach. It is far from complete, but I thought I’d mention some of the key points here in order to try and clarify for people what our approach to voice is.

Currently the code is divided into four main areas:

  • physicality
  • accessibility
  • cultural context
  • style and approach

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, and that each person’s voice is unique. 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.

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.

Cultural context
We often use material from other cultures than our own and wherever possible, we find out and explain the historical and cultural context of a song or piece and credit its composer or source. We also choose material for our work which will be culturally accessible to everyone in the group.

Style and approach
We approach our work in ways that are unlocking, freeing, allowing, releasing, non-judgmental, and encouraging.

This is only a first stab and will need a lot more work, but I think it’s a step in the right direction and should hopefully clarify a little what is meant by the Natural Voice.

go to Chris Rowbury's website

Chris Rowbury


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