That’s it! The summer season of performances at Malérargues is complete – 19 performances, more than 1000 public. A big THANK YOU to all our performers, our producers and our public. Now begins our usual off-season “Attention Travaux !” programme of open rehearsals, works in progress and evenings of exchange with our local friends – we must be ready for next summer’s festivale!
The vernissage of the exhibition of Enrique Pardo’s latest paintings will be the opening event of this years Pantheatre Festival of Myth and Theatre: see more here
There are four of us who appear in both photographs and two that arrived shortly after yhe first. With help of the Slovenian composer, Saso Vollmaier (top centre with glasses) and without the help of La DRAC, they have created our biggest show since “Moby Dick” – “Generation”. In a formula of mixed workshop and performances that we hope to tour in 2016 – and beyond!
9 p.m., in the old swimming pool at Malérargues
Work in progress by Javier Liñera on the subject of concentration camps for homosexuals under Franco. Directed by Daniela Molina and Linda Wise for Pantheatre.
Vocal theatre created and performed by Michele Laforest.
Like a journey about LIFE with its mystery, its sorrows, its joys, Death and Desire, this solo is a suite of poems, sentences, songs known and unknown (Verlaine, Rimbaud, Cheng, Juarroz…) with in between sounds, singing, improvised in the present to make the link between each piece and allow a fluidity to take place.
A traditional Inuit tale, performed with movement, music and voice, by the trio Mathilde Fabre, Pierre Lassailly, and Marianne Le Tron ( Cairh’s member).
In this story we accompany SEDNA, the Skeleton Girl on a shamanic journey of transformation and reconciliation. The Shaman ANGAKOK guides us to the echos of the “l’os du coeur” (“the bone of the heart”) the place where our interior union gains force and vigor, where voice takes body and soul. The meeting and crossing of voice, body and instruments give flesh to this story carried since the beginning of time by whispers into the human ear. Life – death – rebirth.
In the waves of our breath traces of voices are washed ashore.
By exploring the flotsam and jetsam we are being carried along by it.
Sometimes softly and kindly
sometimes like people crammed in their small boats tossed about by the sea
The words of the language the people of my father spoke are disappearing, Nobody left there, everyone been washed away by the flow of changing times.
By Agnes Pollner and Ralf Peters. Orangerie à Malérargues
20:30, Magnanerie [Read more…]
Malérargues will be especially busy this summer, as well as the usual workshops, parties, conferences, lectures, exhibitions and impromptu presentations, there is a full programme of performances. We are still working with the details and for more information about the performances.
We are proud of what we have achieved at Malérargues over the last twenty years without public funding, but we are equally proud that every year whenever their finances permitted, our local commune of Thoiras has managed to give us ‘something’. This year they are contributing to a new floor for the Studio Theatre.
The Studio theatre was converted from the ruins of a ‘magnanerie’ in 1974 for the first rehearsals of ‘L’Economiste’, though the floor at that time was still almost mud! There have been many ‘economic’ floor solutions since, but now the support of Thoiras allows us to install a high-quality dance surface there. Ready for the season of 2016.
This is how I came to Alfred Wolfsohn and Roy Hart. I was living in Italy in the fifties. My mother lived in London and she asked me to come over and visit her. So I took my first airplane flight from Milan to London. Flying over the shining snowy Alps in a clear blue sky, my heart was full of excitement.
When my mother saw me, she found me looking pale and unwell. What she saw in my appearance was a reflection of my desperation. I knew there was nothing pathologically wrong. My desperation came from searching for a place and a way of studying theater with very special people who connected art, theater, the sacred and divine with everyday life. Much as I loved Italy and friends there, and had spoken with theater directors, priests, and friends about my quest, nowhere had I found such a context. To please my mother I went to the doctor. This doctor talked about art and acting. His conversation fascinated me. We became friends.
Some days later, I read the Sunday Observer newspaper. Amazed, I saw on the front page a big and intense photo of a man called Alfred Wolfsohn. He was giving a singing lesson to a great childhood friend of mine Jenny Johnson. I was filled with the intense excitement of an explorer who at last knew she was on the right path leading to the treasure.
A few days later, the first treasure manifested. Roy Hart gave me singing lessons which reached into the depths of my body, voice, and soul. Giving me energy, inspiration, delight in my strong voice, immense hope and insight into the meaning of life and art.
The next treasure was discovering that I could sing and become not only an actress but a singing actress. Then followed more treasures. This way of singing opened my ears and eyes, stimulating thinking and feeling: emotion that had been squashed behind a rather monotonous well-behaved voice.
Another treasure was in learning to listen for qualities of sound in our voices that made me discover hidden facets of the personality and begin to perceive the dynamic existence of the masculine as well as the feminine in us and to leam that achieving their union could lead to greater strength and capacity to understand and to love. To love first myself, then others.
The list of treasures is long indeed. Here’s another one: Through the process of singing and giving expression to the dark as well as the light aspects of my personality I could gradually redeem and transform the negative experiences of my life, and get to know and appreciate myself. Gradually is the key word! Despite my youth, I was not looking for “Instant Divinity”… my search had been for a context in which people of a high artistic and human caliber would be my guides and friends. Having found this context with Alfred Wolfsohn and Roy Hart the real work began, side by side with the discovery of the treasures. In my good moments in this life process of incredible vocal exploration that invokes deeper perception and richer emotional sensitivity, I knew there was a chance of continuing to tap my inner strength and confidence and with that, the possibility of closing the gap between my imagination and physical action.
In my bad moments, my doubts about myself swirled around in muddy confusion. When the mud was so deep I didn’t even know I was in it, my teachers informed me in no uncertain terms. So at least this education in self-awareness could cast some light on the confusion.
The slow realization that we are each composed of multiple aspects of the divine and diabolical, and that our Karma has to be recognized and accepted makes sense of out struggles. But joined with the struggles was the inspiration given me in each lesson with Alfred Wolfsohn and Roy Hart, wherein voice is unified with mind and body. Thus giving birth not only to new and vivifying sounds, but to renewed energy, imaginative resources, listening, comparison and better capacity to love and to understand.
During my first extraordinary two years singing with Roy, which included not only lessons in the studio at the piano, but also acting work on plays and special talk meetings with Roy, my dreams were powerful. I had many, many dreams of Alfred Wolfsohn whose photo I had seen on the front page of the Sunday Observer.
Roy visited Awe very often at the apartment on Pond Street in Belsize Park.This was a period when Awe was not fit enough to work in the studio in Golders Green, A couple of times I went in the car with Roy and waited while Roy went to see Awe. Awe’s acute observations concerning pupils and Roy’s own development were instrumental in making Roy emerge from these conversations absolutely radiant.
One particular dream of mine reached Awe’s ears through Roy. This dream bore a relationship to huge step in scientific space exploration; the launching into space of the Astronaut Yuri Gagarin. My dream was this:
“I was standing onstage before an audience of thousands—I began to sing a deep sound, then glissandoing up and up, I felt I had the power of a spaceship, as it rises up into the stratosphere. My sound reached very high, but my feet and body remained firmly on the ground. It was my voice that gave me power. There, facing that huge audience, I felt confident.”
After this dream, I became Alfred Wolfsohn’s pupil. The dream was a portent of my future. I was choosing the way of inner development through voice and relationship to our earth. The vertical aspirations of modem science were not for me. I had discovered this wonderful way of singing and living that Awe and Roy were showing me.
The artistic genius of Leonardo da Vinci had already devised his flying machine many hundreds of years before the first airplanes were made. Alfred Wolfsohn conceived his immense vision of the connection between art and science, not in drawing like Leonardo’s but in the discovery of voices that could lead the singer not only to wider vocal expression but also deeper self-knowledge, the quest of ancient and modem psychology. Alfred Wolfsohn knew he was 100 years ahead of his time….
Awe wrote that he was attempting in his field, to find “a sort of BRIDGE between art and science.” “Surely,” he said, “I am not an idiot in imagining that a woman scientist would be fascinated to examine the possibilities of the EQUALITY of the two sexes in a field in which nobody thought that could be possible.” He was speaking of his voice research.
It is clear that Roy in finding his way through his experiences and perceptions of Alfred Wolfsohn’s work used all his gifts and actor’s training to give them VOICE and ACTION. He had, of course, to allow his imagination to help find ways of expressing Awe’s ideas. Roy’s understanding of Awe’s vital approach to voice through expressing not only the beautiful and good, but also the ugly and the SHADOW, led him to create a social structure within his group of pupils that could contain conflicts, likes and dislikes, anger, jealousy, and extremes of tension generated by archetypal domination.
By the way, C.G. Jung’s definition of an ARCHETYPE is, “The residue of ever recurring experience of HUMANITY.”
Roy Hart’s singing students numbered about 15 people at the time of Alfred Wolfsohn’s death in 1962. Already some years before Awe’s death, Roy was giving singing lessons, private talks, and acting classes to those students. Gradually over years, some of the individual singing lessons became groups of 3 or more people. Roy was also meeting with all his students regularly. In these meetings he transmitted Awe’s idea and experiences, linking up to his students’ own experience of their work. Some of the students were professional dancers, singers, actors, architects, teachers, secretaries, a doctor of medicine, university graduates, builders, and business men.
The dynamism in these meetings sprang from the singing lessons in which each student would feel and hear the power and subtlety of his voice and would feel the good changes in his imaginative and physical life, in his attitudes, and his relationships. A growing feeling, listening, and observation of each other’s qualities during the group singing lessons engendered broader understanding and appreciation amongst us.
Here in this work, in this aura, the roots of a new society were being formed. The singing lessons were and are acts of love, wherein all the Teacher’s experience, intuition, and feeling are focused on the pupil who is, first and foremost, a human being of many facets, whatever his profession, race, or creed.
Roy continued Awe’s discovery that, through the fullest vocal and artistic expression of all facets of the personality, ranging from good to evil, happy to sad, and all the polarities inherent in our human condition, his students could develop not only their voice but also their personality. We all witnessed this development manifest in the singing lessons, in the regular meetings, in the rehearsals and in contact with each other outside of these events.
One way of enhancing the awareness of each other was in the practice of invitations. An invitation to a meal, to a talk about dreams, or to hearing how you had fallen in love with that person, and even if the love was not reciprocated, you could mostly expect at least an understanding response. Sometimes the tenor of these private talks would reach Roy’s ears and if he sensed the possibility of a valuable development in the people concerned he would include their dream, or their desires in a big meeting.
In these BIG MEETINGS, rich material always emerged. We began to call these meetings “RIVERS,” which described their flowing nature. Roy led these Rivers for many years and he made it clear that each person was responsible for ensuring their creative quality. So your tone of voice, your gestures, and the content of what you said, however emotional you might be feeling, had to be tempered by respect for the creative flow of the River. This training led in later years to other of us leading Rivers. For some seven years after Alfred Wolfsohn’s death we called ourselves the “Alfred Wotfsohn Roy Hart Speakers Singers.” Then we elected to call ourselves the Roy Hart Theater.
Neither Awe nor Roy was interested in being a “Guru.” Of course this role was often thrust upon them, but they were not after gaining power to dominate others. Their interests lay in the possibility of further human development through this singing process. Development as artists learning to balance the power of opposites in themselves and joining the quest to create a warmer society.
There is a relationship between the beautiful classical singing voice and what Roy described as “a one and a half octave approach to life.” Our work on enacting vocally and physically
the voice of BEAUTY and the BEAST increased our understanding of their connectedness. Of course, we all desire to sing beautifully. Yes! But work on the so-called “ugly sounds;” finding a focus for them in the singing lessons, brought us to deeper, embodied satisfaction in singing, and far beyond the aesthetic demands of the Ego. The voice that can express the music of nature, of animals and of Man’s creations keeps the singer to face his physical being in harmony with the world.
During Roy’s study with Awe he gave public performances of T.S. Elliot’s “The Rock” “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” of Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” and other pieces, exploring the 8-octave range and multiple nuances. His performances received enthusiastic press reviews. But following Awe’s death, Roy devoted himself to further developing and teaching with his group of students his experience of Awe’ lifework.
Years later, Roy began to perform again whilst continuing his leadership of the Roy Hart Theater. He sang works composed for him by composers Peter Maxwell Davies, Hans Wemer Henze, Karlheinz Stockhausen and other composers. Roy was Awe’s ambassador during his life and after his death. He continued to visit, write letters, invite people to the studio to hear this amazing singing work. Marita Gunther, myself, and others pursued the task of making the work known.
Sometimes I had been in the room with Awe, when Roy would return from these ambassadorial visits with feelings ranging from hope to astonishment and anger at the often obtuse or evasive attitudes at these interviews. Sometimes Roy had thrilling news about deeply interested responses from people of different professions. These pioneer years were punctuated by the world press’ recognition in 1955/56 of Alfred Wolfsohn’s work.Laryngologists made studies of Alfred Wolfsohn’s pupils and found no abnormalities in work. their vocal anatomy, contrary to the fear and criticism expressed by experts in classical singing. Roy had to continue the pioneering work right up to his death in 1975. The Roy Hart Theater continued it. In more recent years, the pioneering has given birth to a lot of recognition and appreciation around the world.
THE ROY HART THEATRE IN FRANCE
As a result of a great deal of discussion, excitement, planning and organizing our transfer from London to the South of France, we started the move in 1974. We were writing a musical play, based on the text by a French doctor and dramatist. When we had all arrived at the half-ruined Chateau de Malerargues we started rehearsing the play L’Economiste (The Economist).
February 1975: a very cold winter and no heating except for 4 gas cylinder radiators that we moved back and forth from our dining room to our theater studio.
Roy had had to make a very difficult choice of those actors in L ‘Economiste and those who would be making meals for over 40 of us. The cast numbered 26 people. Roy said he’d like to have everyone in this cast, but it was not possible on a practical level. Some of the meal makers contributed ideas for the music and additional scenes in L ‘Economiste. All of us met with Roy every evening. Our “Rivers” of London had become our “Rivers” in Malerargues.
Here we are in France, these 33 years. We had not imagined that we would lose Roy, Dorothy, and Vivenne or that Paul would be seriously injured in the car accident that occurred during a tour of L’Economiste in May 1975. We had to face it. The ideas and lifework of Alfred Wolfsohn and Roy Hart gave us strength and courage to continue this work.
I’d like to end this conference with one of Roy’s writings that he wrote in 1947, upon meeting and working with Alfred Wolfsohn——… “I have just spent the most wonderful evening of my life with Mr. Wolfsohn. He made me do and see Othello as he really was. God, never have I risen to such heights. When I got to the death scene with Desdemona I experienced the most authentic and terrifying passion and emotion to-kill! It has made me ‘see’ scenes which I just wouldn’t conceive practically. God! God! I say that man is wonderful…”
The following CD’s and DVD’s can be purchcased online on Paul Silber’s Roy Hart Theatre Archives Website:
– “Dorothy Hart and her fellow women soloists“ (English)
Women members of the theatre performing, includs Jill and Jenni Johnson, Kaya Anderson, Vivienne Young, Clara Harris Marita Gunther and many others
– “The Eight Octave Voice” (English)
Roy Hart and Rossignol, a re-make of the 1973 45rpm disc!
– “Die menschliche Stimme” (German)
Alfred Wolfshon demonstrates his work with his students
– “The Human Voice” (German/English)
an English version of Wolfsohn’s CD above
– “Alfred Wolfsohn – his musical ideas” (German/English)
Another extraordinary find from the past; Includes Marita Günther’s London lecture and Jill Johnson’s remarkable voice
– “Eight Songs for a Mad King” (English)
Roy Hart sings this great soloist work
– “If…..” (English)
Roy Hart: is interviewed with extracts of the theatre’s works of 1974
– “Description of an Inner Experience” sung by Roy Hart (No Language)
Composed by Meinhard Rüdenauer
Contemporary solo opera in three movements. 1. Solitude 2. Contemplation 3. Union. Written for Roy Hart in 1972
– “….and man had a voice” (English)
a demonstration of the voice and work of Roy Hart by Roy Hart
– “Roy Hart en francais” (French)
Roy Hart performing in French in the last year of his life A NEW 9th TRACK HAS BEEN ADDED SINCE JUNE 2010 (Interview avec Serge Béhar et Kaya Anderson)
– “Roy Hart Theatre – preverbal” (No Language)
a live recording of a performance given by the theatre
– “The Albatross” (English)
group vocal work of this great story directed by Paul Silber
– “Roy Hart in deutscher Sprache” (German)
Roy Hart performing in German. Notably the work of Paul Portner
– “Informally yours….” (English)
Paul Silber sings his summer concert with Jomathan Hart at the piano. Also as a DVD
– “The Wild is Rising” (English)
Jonathan Hart sings and plays his own compositions
– “Aethelgar” Roy Hart (English)
multitrack recording. “Mask and portrait”(No Language) RH Theatre
NEW July 2010 The story of the first English Abott in 964 Roy Hart, this is the only multitrack recording ever
Videos VHS Pal and/or DVDs
– “The Rock” (English)
Roy Hart performing TS Eliot’s “The Rock” as a DVD
– “The Theatre of Being” (English)
Roy Hart directing a rehearsal available as a DVD
– “Alfred Wolfsohn, the man and his ideas “ (English)
by his student , Sheila Braggins (36 p)
– “Celebration of Life” (English)
the story of Roy and Dorothy Hart by Paul Silber and Clara Harris (Book 51 pages with audio CD) OUT OF STOCK
– “The Impossible Dream Refound” (English)
a work of fiction by Paul Silber (126p.)
– “Célébration de la vie” (French)
the story of Roy and Dorothy by Paul Silber and Clara Harris Hart (51p + audio CD)
Thanks to the contact which Carol Mendelsohn had made with Rhine Skanes at the Theatre of Bergen in Norway, I discovered that for 7 years a team of a Norwegian actors has been helping with the reconstruction of the theatre of Kabul, victim of Taliban intolerance.
To help with the autonomy and the passing-on of Afghan art, the team also organises various workshops in theatre arts – acting, directing, make up, fabrication of marionettes etc. The education of young people is at the heart of their work, and was the reason for my two trips to Kabul in 2010.
I first flew over the wild Afghan mountains in March, then again in June. In all I spent 4 weeks there. My mission was to share my work on the voice with students and teachers a the theatre department of the university, and to give voice coaching to the the actors and actresses of the Kabul National Theatre, who were preparing a performance for children, based on ‘The Fire Bird’ an ancient Russian tale – a story which inspired Stravinsky early in the 20th century.
My hair covered with a scarf, and with a long-sleeved tunic over trousers, I was immediately mistaken for an Afghan woman, and was spoken to in Dari (a dialect of Persian), one of the languages spoken in the country, especially in the region of Kabul.
Strangely, and despite not speaking the language, I didn’t really feel as though I were in a foreign country.
Extracts from my notes:
“The Theatre of Kabul seems to be protected by an ‘anthill’ which protects it, like a rediscovered jewel. The director ‘Mister Farouk’ ensures its good functioning in communication with international aid resources, but also has to deal with local struggles. Since my first visit, M Farouk has been ‘replaced’.
My work begins.
The Afghans that I meet are full of vocal and physical energy. My ‘daring’ as a European woman seems to stir up some astonishment in this group of actors (in which women are in a small minority): they don’t recognise the codes of my work, but their willingness, and the uniting effects of the work on the voice, opens a door to a common language. The voice is a common human faculty which frees peoples from their inter-cultural differences. There may be differences in our genes, but the cells which make up our vocal instrument are identical… Contrast – between the chill of the weather and darkness caused by unexpected electricity cuts, the all-pervading dust – and the warmth of the encounters I experience. The experience of the work, which plunges depths rather than develops form…
Experiences which lead me to draw on inner resources normally unexploited in my comfortable daily life.
I hear my work language take on other forms, I feel connections awakening, ideas become clearer, and understandings emerge spontaneously. I can feel a very close connection between interior and exterior, heart and head…
In retrospect these travel notes make me realise how much this Afghan experience has deeply affected me, both on a human and creative level.
The meaning of my work, of ‘our’ work, became clearer under new skies.
The ‘opening’ potential of the human voice made real sense. All of these women and men have suffered the echoes of decades of total artistic repression..Dancing, singing, playing a musical instrument were all prohibited, along with many other activities of basic daily life, especially for the women.
‘Freeing the voice’ – the vital energy of sound, breath and gestures – allowing individuality to evolve in ‘real space’…. The Afghans I meet have a potential for incredible energy. Their inexhaustible repertoire of songs, specific to the different regions, languages and dialects, are a precious way in or connection for me. The melodies are often melancholic, and the words deeply romantic – surely to compensate for their social reality. When I hear Afghans sing, it’s pure pleasure! Jubilation in the air, in the body, and the voices are naturally resonant and rich in harmonics, not unlike in the Basque country.
In this country where the state of siege is permanently present, I realise how important art and the arts are for society and for the individual. The night before my departure from Kabul in July, a theatre presentation took place – after a performance for the ‘officials’ – in fact censors – who gave the green light for the show to go ahead.
Groups of children in serried ranks arrived, filling the space with laughter, comments and enchanted looks. The feelings of the adults were obvious; it’s one of the first times that a public like this returned to this space. Mr Farouk wrote in the program ‘we hope this performance is a positive message for the new generations of Afghans, and that it will encourage them to fight for their liberty and for a better society’.
The end of the tale calls for nobleness of the heart, for forgiveness: a message of hope for an abused country undergoing painfully difficult reconstruction, where art engenders life.
It’s not surprising that that Arian Mnouchkine and many other artists from the worlds of dance, theatre, song and clowning – (a member of the Bataclown Company is currently working in Afghanistan) – have gone to meet these Afghans who have never given up their commitment to artistic creation. Bridges have been built with other European theatres, and with other cultures.
The paradox? These Afghans who live from day to day with, on the one hand a fatalism at the heart of their daily life, and on the other their amazing impetus as artists towards the collective future of their country. And from this arises an important questioning of our personal priorities and euro-centric preoccupations..
On returning to France I realised that a spark from the soul of this country had slipped into my suitcase. I offer it to you here in the form of the diary of a voice teacher.
The article is reprinted with permission from the “Voice and Speech Review”, where it was first printed in 2009.
Deep Song–A Personal Journey into Ecstatic Voice and the Art of Vocal Lamentation
Twenty years down the road of my life as an actor and theatre voice trainer, I found myself, Persephone-like, standing at the edge of a precipice searching the darkness for mysteries obscured by the bright lights of structured progressions and methodologies that had supported me for so long. My experience with voice and singing was governed by solid, well-organized systems designed to promote healthy, focused, resonant, conventionally acceptable sounds. Anything “other” was strictly outcast. Whether acting in classic or contemporary plays in regional theatre or teaching in professional actor training programs, I had begun to feel caged in, held hostage by the culturally accepted uses of the voice and thwarted by the limits and restrictions of theatre voice training as I understood it. Something was missing. Words–inspiring, forceful, magical words–called me and enticed me into the theatre along with soaring passions, aching truths and stories that careened from the heights of rapture to the depths of despair. But where was the howl beneath Medea’s rage-filled curses? The scream of Juliet’s horrified “Stay Tybalt, stay!” The groans of Hamlet’s existential tirades, or the barely concealed hysteria of Amanda Wingfield’s desperate effort to force her dreams upon her disaffected offspring?
Like the poet and feminist, Adrienne Rich, I hungered for “…more crazy mourning, more howl, more keening”. I yearned to hear sounds that would reveal the rough truths beneath the word, and was frustrated by a culture that seemed satisfied with a logos divorced from the naked hunger that impelled it. If I felt that our voices were shackled and marginalized expressing conventional truths, even when words and situations were explosive, I was not alone, as I recognized this same desire for full-throttle vocal expression in some of the actors that I trained. I wanted to tear open forms and expose the primal impulses, the underbelly beneath carefully crafted words; I wanted sounds that cut to the bone.
I occasionally heard sounds that expressed this longing–in uninhibited, raucous laughter or in unleashed fury in street brawls, sometimes from animals, occasionally in open-throated singing, but seldom on stage. If the words existed to describe these sounds–words like shrieking, howling, crazed, guttural, raspy and earsplitting–then the sounds must also be somewhere out there. Hiding under a rock or at the bottom of the abyss, perhaps? I needed to hear those sounds, sing and celebrate those sounds and invite others to the party. Where was Hades when I needed him? Well, if he wasn’t going to come and abduct me, introduce me to the mysteries of the vocal underworld, I would have to make the journey on my own.
The voice is like a mountain with many caves; go into all the different caves there are.
– Peter Brook
The first stage of my quest led me to the mountains of North Carolina in 1990 for a 6-day immersion into the Alfred Wolfsohn/Roy Hart Theatre approach to the voice. What I experienced there exasperated and confused me, and cracked open the ground of all I held sacred about the voice, inviting me into the hidden mysteries. Time-honored “truths”, my sanctuary of assurances, in short, nothing less than my hard-earned pedagogy, was now suspect. For example, the Wolfsohn/Hart “singing lesson” was not prescriptive, nor limited to gender-specific modalities of the singer’s range. Instead, the whole voice became an arena for excavation. Body, sound and psyche were a trinity through which sound was accessed, often resulting in the willing abandonment of our commonly held principles of “healthy” vocal production. Participants vocalized every conceivable sound (including some that were inconceivable to us at the time). Both sounder and witnesses were engaged in the surrender and struggle either to audibly express or consciously internalize the heights, depths, beauty, beast, agony and ecstasy of their inner world. In this setting, I discovered and freely reveled in sounds that could genuinely reveal the darkness of Medea’s rage, such as those “broken” and “corded” utterances hiding in the silent cavern, the “break”, between my head and chest voice. Or her shattered mother’s love expressed in the sublime simplicity of the angelic soprano released on the descent from peeps and squeaks exhumed from soundings explored in the uppermost octave of the piano.
Another epiphany came when, in an attempt to connect to my low “masculine” pitches and timbres, I unwittingly began to vocalize the unsounded groans of silent labors and birth events of my children many years earlier. Emerging from these experiences, I knew that I would never be satisfied with less than the essence of my whole Self revealed through my voice. The well-acted, but polite, sounds uttered in the theatre would no longer suffice.
I questioned my ability to integrate this new experience into my known world. Would these sounds have meaning for other actors and audiences? Do they, too, secretly long for the precarious edges of vocal expression? Could I eventually utter sounds that I heard from others but that my own body refused to access? How would I pursue this principle of the 8-octave voice in a world of the uninitiated? Did I have the stamina and will to pursue further training and incorporate it in my teaching? These were some of the questions that followed me down the mountain from this transformative week. To say I understood little about this approach to voice would be exceedingly generous; understanding and integration would be long process. I had arrived hoping for a bit of inspiration and unwittingly found myself an initiate. It seemed that I now had a choice–savor the memory of this experience and move on, or forge a new relationship with my voice and teaching methodology that would be neither easily satisfied nor augmented. I chose the latter.
In addition to continued study with Roy Hart teachers in the US and France, I immediately sought ways to expand the boundaries of my personal performance work. This included singing with a small group of classically trained, Boston musicians who were exploring a variety of musical languages, including microtonal sound art compositions. The instruments included steel cello, bowed cymbals and other metal objects, flute, violin and a glass organ tuned to a symmetrical twenty-three tone octave. Over a period of four years, we performed these sound art pieces in experimental theatre venues, offering me the opportunity to break out of constricting forms as I explored “extended” voice merged with microtonal singing. Singing microtones proved a challenge for me, since my western ear faithfully guided me to familiar harmonic modes such as thirds and fifths. But the leader of this group, an innovative and determined musician, helped me learn to hear and sing “between the notes”. I found the exploratory tone of this unconventional work to be both personally and artistically liberating. Our inquiries evolved to include texts that would invite extreme vocal use while telling recognizable stories; the works of Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, and classical arias (deconstructed) were among them.
During this time, I was also incorporating Roy Hart-style training into my MFA theatre voice classes. To provide them with a forum to apply their extreme voice training, as well as challenge my own ideas about its practical use, I directed a non-traditional production of Garcia Lorca’s, Yerma. We searched for ways to audibly reveal the chaos smoldering just below the surface of the rational syntax of language, and to express it within the context of a full-length play. The evocative artistic use of extended voice by the actors in this production confirmed for me the primacy of voice, in all its colors, as an undervalued, creative element in theatre.
Reach your hand deep into life and what comes up is your subject matter.
The theme of the suppression of the human voice in our culture, mirrored in the theatre, continued to feed my shifting pedagogy as I pursued new inspirations and directions for performance opportunities. In 1999, while researching a new theatre project based upon the earliest mythology surrounding Medea, I uncovered a link (of which I had been unaware) between the ancient, legalized silencing of women and what I perceived as the deeply entrenched and ongoing silencing of women across cultures–in homes, churches and synagogues, the street and the work place.
This link connects us back to the 6th century BC when the physical and vocal presence of women was being systematically outlawed from the public arena for the “good” of the burgeoning democracy. The final gag was securely in place when the Athenian lawmaker, Solon, silenced the last legal expression of women’s voice allowed in public–her free participation in public funerary events–her vocal rites of lamentation.
What was so powerful, so threatening about this form of female vocal expression that it had to be silenced? Could it be that feminine sound was detrimental to emerging ideas of democracy? More urgently, what exactly was this fear-inducing sound produced by grieving mothers, daughters and wives? What was ritual lamentation and why was it so dangerous to organized society? The concepts and multi-cultural expressions of misogyny were not unfamiliar to me, but I had understood it primarily in relationship to the personhood of woman. Now I wondered how much it also related to her unique vocal timbres and ways of expressing herself: to her mystery, her ungovernable, unquenchable lust for life and her uniquely un-masculine contribution to it? What was it about her voice–literally and metaphorically–that was so dangerous?
Detailed examination of these questions lies beyond the scope of this essay and can be found in numerous resources (some, suggested at the end of this piece). However, three things called me into this new crack in the earth: the possibility of discovering and liberating the censored voices of ancient lamentation, its creative potential in actor training and theatre performance, and its relevance to the principle of Roy Hart’s “8-octave ideal” for voice and life. The preceding years of vocal exploration would be the candle to light my descent into the underworld of taboo vocal lamentation.
This journey has taken me from ancient Greece and Israel where both men and women once practiced public expressions of lament freely and unashamedly (called moirologia and quinah respectively), to pre-Christian Celtic Isles where the sharp cries of female mourners (caoineadah or keening) announced and accompanied the death-watch among friends and neighbors, to its eventual silencing in these lands. Embedded deep within cultures around the globe–from the Balkans to Scotland, from the Tamil women of Southern India to South America and Africa–mourning practices survive in public gatherings of women (and men) who continue to sing, chant, weep, protest, rage, blame and bargain while their physical acts of breast-beating, hair-tearing, rhythmic swaying, and knocking on graves, bravely sound the cries of human bereavement. The loss of this oral tradition is felt most keenly in areas where the logos word, defined by reason and persuasion, reigns supreme and the Mother Tongue, the primary voice of women, has been supplanted. This is evident in most of Western Europe, the US and the many countries where imperialistic influence dominated throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
The suppression of public women mourners exists more vehemently in countries where religion and politics joined hands to curb the influence of women, the Middle East and Ireland, among them. Purposeful, active and assertive, public lamentation was indeed dangerous to the established order within some communities. For example, for centuries, Greek women used the passionate vocal sounds joined to highly structured, poetic laments to claim their right to the body, story, and property of dead males and to stir the family to revenge, releasing violence upon violence, as seen in the Mani clans of the Peloponnese. Although frowned upon by the religious and political structures of recent history, in many rural parts of Greece and the world, the age-old lament songs still resound at funerals, and women continue to assert their birthright to live out loud. When placed in the context of duty, tradition and disempowerment, is it any wonder that women still cling to this ancient tradition, holding sacred the public, aural expression of their deep song in its richness and glory?
I was provoked and fascinated by the craft required and artistry inherent in these varied traditions of lamentation ceremonies. They offered uncharted territories for investigation and a way to broaden my venture to vocal boundary breaking; not least of all, it offered significant potential for theatrical impact. That this genre requires a certain audacity, galvanizes and unleashes strong energies and provokes powerful responses in the listener–in a way no rational argument can hope to accomplish–all became stellar reasons to pursue its voice, unearth it, and return it to the vocabulary of modern life and theatre.
The artist never really knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.
–Agnes de Mille
The early stages of my research were governed by the written word, including an array of academic writers, ancient Greek plays and poetry, the Old and New Testaments, modern fiction, films, ethnic stories, indigenous musical styles, and interviews with foreign-born friends and students from lamenting cultures. I quickly learned that, despite the range of resources available about lamentation, aural models of it are scarce; its beauty and terrors lie submerged beneath mountains of the written word. My search would demand a deeper descent into the intuitive muck of creation if I was going to unearth the particular sounds, melodies, timbres, rhythms and structural forms of lamentation across cultures, physically embody them, and give them voice.
To that end, I initiated a formal time of study with a game and gifted group of MFA actors (Brandeis class of 2002), with two years of extended voice work to undergird our venture. Their third year of voice training provided an opportunity to branch out from my established pedagogy; and ritual lament seemed like a solid training opportunity for all of us.
In this familiar environment, I led the graduate actors (and they led me) through explorations of the physical life, sounds, images and stories I had culled from a wide variety of descriptions and snippets of samples. We worked with personal, metaphorical and theatrical scenarios. They sang, wailed, howled, barked and sobbed out original responses to my novice offerings. Guided by ancient Greek structures, we explored group aspects of lament, working with antiphony, drones, soloist with choral support and free improvisation. We played with vocal ornamentations and timbres and musical elements found in ethnic and non-western vocal traditions, many of them familiar from my previous forays into ethnic music. All found new application when incorporated into lament. For example, we practiced singing slightly up from the note, a method used in Russian peasant singing, or singing in the high, light head voice, familiar in Japanese female singing. To find the “cacophonous” quality of lament, we practiced singing off-key, using a known melody to contain us. We explored the provocative sounds available in the cracks, peeps and register breaks of the voice. In doing so, we developed new listening skills, expanded individual vocal expressiveness, and exploded formerly held beliefs about what constitutes “beautiful” music making. For my part, I found a bridge to the ancient sisterhood of the female voice and secured my commitment to wander further from established assumptions about acceptable theatre voice work.
The occasional stumble defined new learning opportunities. As an example, it quickly became apparent that the emotionally available, highly sensitive actor needed stronger structures than I provided in the early stages. Emotional reactions would, of course, arise in response to the evocative music that we were making, but they were never “manufactured” or encouraged for their own sake. Avoiding personal histories, or theatrical events that mirrored them, was important for the willing lamenter and led to establishing metaphor as the foundation for the work. Additionally, an ethic of self-care became fundamental to protect the over-eager. The work was exhilarating and, I believe, deepened the intimacy among the group as we explored this terra incognita together. Fumbling about together deepened our trust for each other and respect for the value of our mutual pilgrimage.
These were baby steps, but from this work I developed a template that could be used to invite interested parties to accompany my own odyssey into the world of lamentation. In my experience, the absence of effective vocal lamentation expressed in theatre productions was evidence that many actors and directors were uninitiated in the process and possibilities of this style of communication and were, more than likely, even a bit intimidated by its power and force. As an actress in mainstream theatre, I had always been unsure how far I dared go in a given rehearsal or performance and without a structure, form and permission to support me, I seldom dared to push the limits. I have often heard this dilemma recounted by other actors. So, offering my investigation to colleagues in the theatre to assess their appetite for lamentation seemed like a natural next stage in the journey.
The theme of the 2002 Giving Voice Festival in Wales, UK was the ‘voice politic’. This international festival provided an appropriate setting in which to introduce my approach to lamentation to theatre practitioners. This inaugural 3-day workshop, and those that followed, validated the importance of this work within the profession and confirmed my conviction that others would find the realms of lamentation personally invigorating, vocally challenging and applicable to theatre training and production. Equally true was the larger belief that by exploring lamentation practices and sharing our deep songs in community, we could awaken a visceral connection to our ancient stories and stir a desire to enlarge the too-small images we often hold of ourselves. Dangerous voices…indeed!
Wisdom comes to us in fragments. –Aeschylus
Early in my process, I discovered an invaluable lesson: the array of lamentation languages is only one side of the coin, since heightened vocal expression takes many shapes. Flip the coin and along with the sobs and howls of rage and desolation, blame and bargaining, live the cries and shrieks of euphoria, exultation, and blessing. These, too, open the voice, body and imagination of the would-be lamenter, giving a needed balance to the darker world of lamentation. And so I broadened the scope of the work to more actively embrace the joyous side of ecstatic voice.
This understanding of the two-sided coin was reinforced by the Hebrew expression of complaint and lament viewed through the Biblical Psalms, which also suggested valuable insights into structure. Unlike the capricious gods and goddesses of the neighboring Greeks, the Hebrews believed they followed a personal God who, upon hearing their voices, would ultimately deliver justice and mercy. This invited a no-holds barred verbal exchange with their God. The passion and vehemence of their lament songs were considered an act of worship. The form of these complaint psalms, however, is not one of unboundaried rage and anger. As evidenced in Euripides, Medea, and through the ages to the cyclical blood feuds recorded among the Mani clans of the Peloponnese, a limited focus on vengeance and retribution isolates the aggrieved and unleashes powerfully destructive forces.
Lament psalms characteristically move from a vigorous expression of outrage or complaint, to petitions, and then to an expression of personal pain. This progression eventually resolves into rejoicing and thanksgiving for God’s past faithfulness and, even while in the throws of anguish, hope for the future. This structure provided an emotional evolution for the grieving process, thus preventing them from getting “stuck” in an endless cycle of anger or self-pity. In conditions of anguish, this process may have been repeated time and time again, but the initial vocal, emotional dissonance always found harmony in the hope of awaited rescue.
As we navigate the territories of lamentation today and apply it to actor training and production, this ancient structure, developed by these nomadic people of the Middle East, reminds us of the need for balance. Like most explorers, we search the mysteries and chaos of the darkness in order to serve a larger goal–that is, to ascend and give form to the truths we discovered there.
In the next section I will suggest components of lament and a few guiding principles for developmental exploration. With regard to the voice, I will offer an overview and a palate of vocal sounds without attempting to describe them in detail. Trained voice users will have their own methodologies for accessing the voice and I will leave this to each one’s particular understanding of the voice. I will use the terms exercise and inquiry interchangeably to describe exploratory approaches. I do not intend to suggest that what I offer is the right way, it is an evolving approach that emerged from ten years of studio work with theatre practitioners and curious participants from a wide range of nationalities, ages and experience. And while I believe it has elements that will serve interested parties from many backgrounds and sensibilities, the primary guidepost for me continues to be its application to actor training and theatre production. My approach to practice and training remains an investigative process; there is no formula.
Part 2: Guiding Principles for Exploring Ecstatic Voice and Lamentation
The soul’s joy lies in doing. –Elenora Dusa
I have chosen not to introduce available primary samples of lamentation early in a workshop setting, as I want to avoid limiting the participants’ unique vocal and imaginative responses. We work from a blueprint consisting of basic principles including: a wide variety of timbres, placements and ornamentation; traditional and imaginative metaphors and visual pictures; social norms and commonly used musical structures. Guided by this template, the novice lamenter will discover his particular path to lament. Without fail, each working situation results in stunning and original improvised compositions. Starting from the standpoint of asking questions rather than providing answers, I save listening to primary source examples for the end of the workshop.
Journey in Myth and Metaphor
Due to the heightened nature of ecstatic voice and its application to lamentation, I have found that placing the work solidly within a theatrical setting serves a very important purpose. For the participant who has some trepidation about the personal nature of the work and concerns about the potential for invasive psychological tampering, framing our explorations as a mythological and metaphorical journey offers reassurance because imagination becomes the resource material rather than excavating personal misfortunes. In much the same way that the center circle of the ancient Greek stage was a sacred space to be tread upon carefully, so the work of lament invites special treatment. Giving voice to deep wellsprings within may be therapeutic at times, but it is not therapy. Establishing a “sacred” space within a framework of storytelling plants our feet on solid ground while, at the same time, freeing us to soar upward.
Like Odysseus, we, too, have encountered hardships on our journeys “home” to the deep song of lament. Our starting point becomes an active, private reflection upon this odyssey. For example: What mountains, waters or plains did you cross (e.g. literal: the Appalachian mountains, or metaphorical: mountains of fear, the waters of self doubt)? Whom did you leave behind (loved ones, responsibilities, unresolved conflicts, or the “critic” that prevents personal growth process)? What sacrifices did you make (emotional, personal, financial, logistical)? What “siren” called you to this place (new adventure, a retreat for self-care, a need to howl, laugh and shriek in a “held” environment, or the mystery of unknown yearnings)?
I agree with Frankie Armstrong’s compelling assertion that singing is the birthright of all. To that, I would add howling, sobbing, raucous laughter, screeching with ecstasy and moaning our sorrows. Many of us have lost touch with these harmless sounds so integral to our health and wellbeing. Like La Loba, the wise old woman who wanders the earth collecting bones, the lamenter also has “bones” to sing over and breathe back to life. According to the myth of La Loba, when she had gathered enough bones, she revived them with singing and witnessing until, transformed, they were able to move back out into the world alive and whole again. Developing a working relationship to the components of lament, within a controlled environment, offers men and women the opportunity to sing over the bones of their lives–the hopes deferred, the abandoned dreams, the disappointments–and, in the process, renew their vitality (See Suggestions for Exploration). Because it is deep, personal, and occasionally precarious work, our approach requires a healthy dose of humility and self-awareness, the permission to work at our own pace, and a theatrical scaffolding to support us.
Components Of Lament
Free Air: Breathiness
One problem I needed to address before I could successfully share the lamentation work with others was how to facilitate a safe, but expeditious, journey to the vocal edges inherent in lamentation for those participants inexperienced in the practice of extended voice. Many elements of Roy Hart extended voice work have been valuable.
The use of free air, or breathiness, is one example. In the lament workshops, I have found that it serves two essential purposes. First, vocalizing with an abundance of breathiness stimulates and connects the vocalist to her breath by inviting its generous release and replenishment. Second, singing with free air helps melt tensions, whether they result from anxiety or an established pattern of vocal push or strain. An attribute seldom encouraged by traditional Anglo-American theatre or musical voice training, breathiness invites access to the soft, vulnerable qualities of the voice and subtly invites the singer into both physical and emotional states of release. Combine the warming, releasing and healing qualities of free air and it is easy to imagine its value as a stepping-stone to ecstatic voice.
Additionally, I apply this free breath to vocalized images of cooing, sighing, mountain winds, the child-like timbre of a disembodied head resonance (think Marilyn Monroe without the sex) and the airy quality of the flute. These sounds prepare the singer to play with the flutter-like, unstable pitch fluctuations evident in mourning practices. Taken a step further, when connected to rhythmic breath inhalations and images of sobbing, these breathy sounds open a gateway to the high pitches of anguished weeping, eruptions of wailing, and the “Greek screams” written into ancient tragedies (such as the familiar, “aiee”). Connected, unforced, free breath is a starting point for the limitless range of colors invited by lamentation.
Sound Stands Alone
In actual fact, the soundscape used to create expressions of mourning is emotionally neutral, and can be explored purely for pleasure and discovery. Freed from expectations to emote, each student is able to gauge her own readiness to enter the risky territory of full imaginative engagement when intentions, actions, and strong points of view are added later in the process. Further, the actor is encouraged to side step those hazards caused by forced emotionality, namely squeezing or pressing the vocal mechanism.
…laughing and crying / you know its the same release
Laughing is a cornerstone of my personal approach to all voice work. It engages the breathing muscles and warms the voice. Laughter calls us into play, fosters a genial, sharing atmosphere, softens our over-achieving inclinations, and helps create the empathetic, communal space so crucial for “holding” the work of lament.
We all know how to laugh; there is no right or wrong way. And its anarchic quality makes it a good partner for lamenting. From the beginning, I have used it as a way into sobbing. Early in the process the actors learns that, with little more than a change of point of view, the same sounds associated with laughter and joy become sounds of anguish, grief and rage–the reverse being equally true. Listening with eyes closed establishes that, without visual clues, it is often impossible to distinguish sounds of sorrow from sounds of hilarity, further reinforcing the assurance that it is not necessary to experience extreme emotions in order to practice lamenting.
Shifting Points of View
The voice is only one element in the story-telling process; context and physical gestures will greatly assist the lamenter’s intended purpose. For this reason, I invite the actor to explore point of view shifts in the earliest inquiries, one of the first being laughing/crying. We will continue to shift points of view as we explore all other vocal components. It does not matter whether the actor is moaning low in the chest resonance, ululating high in the head resonance, or exploring broken sounds, I continue to reinforce the power of the point of view as the primary source of communication, not emotion.
Group Work and the Issue of Vocal Fatigue
Another challenge is that many colors of lament are placed in and around the passaggio, the transition area (“gear shift” or “break”) between the chest and head voice. This area offers a rich palate of sound possibilities, but because it is a part of the voice frequently avoided (even by trained professionals), the vocalist may tire quickly. Additionally, bright, high-pitched “feminine” sounds–in both women and men–are a prominent vocal feature of lamentation. These, too, can be tiring, but because they are also exhilarating, many participants would work in this area for prolonged periods, if allowed. It is important to limit the amount of time devoted to any given area of vocal exploration to avoid preventable stress.
I remind participants that it is natural to tire when exploring a new or different kind of vocal/physical expression. Experiencing fatigue at the end of a session is neither a sign of damage nor a signal that the participant has worked improperly. When extending the usual mode of voice work, the student may, indeed, not always work in a “clean”, perfectly healthy manner. I believe that it is possible to be too careful and that, in order to embrace the boundaries of any work, we have to be willing to falter and flail a bit. Vocal damage results from repeated misuse and a few miss-starts will not produce lasting effects. I also reinforce to the participants that they are the custodians of their process; they are working for their own personal interests and growth and are free to limit participation in whatever ways they feel necessary.
When the participants enter into small group work, I suggest that they work with the vocabulary of sound that they are able to produce fairly easily on a given day and save the less accessible sounds for another time. This helps avoid potential problems for the over-eager who may be inclined to force the voice to generate sounds before the body and psyche are able to support them.
It is also important to note that since most of my workshops range in number from ten to twenty (or more) participants, they must be cautioned not to “compete” to be heard in the large group; this is a subtle and often, unconscious impulse. It is best to avoid a prolonged interval of large group work. I prefer to introduce elements of lament vocabulary, allowing the group to explore them as a whole, and then break into small groups for further experimentation, incorporating the established vocabulary in relationship to others. Consistently placing the various vocal aspects of lament into a structure, with communication at its center, reinforces the active and communal characteristics of lament while providing short resting times when the group is listening and witnessing the explorations of others.
Whole Voice Playground–Warming Up and Preparation
Playful warming up body and voice in preparation for lamentation include:
• loosening and softening the body; grounding legs and feet; opening ribs; releasing the pelvis and engaging the abdominal muscles
• integrating sound and breath: panting, light and dark breath; toning, sighing, warming, glides and glissandos; easy exploration of range and timbres of the voice, i.e., what’s readily available?
• chuckling, laughing, guffawing
• warming up different resonating chambers
Registers, Resonance and Timbre
For simplicity, when referencing vocal registers, I will use the familiar terms head voice (including soprano or feminine sounds in both women and men), and chest voice to describe the area of the voice used primarily for speaking by both men and women. Despite their subjectivity, I will rely upon commonly used words for qualities of resonance and timbre–light, soft, dark, warm, bright, nasal, and so on.
Beyond our dependency upon the breath to carry vibrations of the voice, the sound of breath itself can be exploited for aesthetic and dramatic effect. It serves as a rhythmic component or, as mentioned above, as a source of aural color (dark breath or light breath).
Spoken, Sung, Chanted and Declaimed Voice
Used in combination and in a continuum, the lamenter blurs the boundaries of these vocal alternatives, leaping or gliding from one to another, exploiting one element or blending them, as he is inspired. For example, in heightened moments, spoken text expands to declamation or sung sounds. The ecstatic eruptions of the ancient Greek scream flow more organically from the vocal energy behind declaimed text than from conventional delivery.
Before the lamenter works with scripted language, we explore moving through the elements of lament vocabulary by employing our own invented “babble” language and combining it with intentions and points of view. I use the term babble to describe any variation of spoken, chanted, or sung sound released on a stream of changing vowel shapes with consonants added to imitate language. Often referred to as “gibberish”, the babble stream takes on a resemblance to language when it is influenced by the speech rhythms that flow naturally from intentionality and points of view. Unhindered by literal, logos words and their contextual meaning, the actor is freed to bypass the intellect and express from a more primal state.
The use of animal imagery is common in traditional laments. The wide variety of sounds emitted by birds are wonderfully provocative–from high, light cooing to dark, screeching soprano qualities–so I include this imagery in the vocal explorations. Poetically, wolves represent those on the outer margins of society, the outlaws, and are frequent images found in Greek poetry depicting this status. Archetypically, the howling wolf calls to the disenfranchised loner in our psyche. For men and women, howling like wolves offers inspiration and open throated access to strong, free colors in the voice. Additionally, access to resonance colors though the imagery of dogs barking and bears growling holds a central place in my approach to the work.
Singing Off Key
For most of my workshop participants, the notion of singing “off key” is an easily recognized departure from the norms of western musical standards, including our cultural assumptions about tuning, melody and harmony. However, because it is difficult to communicate the emotional dislocation of grief or outrage on the beautifully sung harmonies to which our ears are accustomed, I exploit singing off key as an effective means of embracing the dissonances involved in certain aspects of lament. By establishing a melodic line, the singers can explore bending it musically and blending dissonances with others. This simple inquiry forms the basis for a number of vocal inquiries that follow.
Call, Cries and Clamors
Calls are generally full-voiced expressions directed to animals, humans and divinities. Herding peoples create individual calls “understood” and followed by their flocks. In the human realm, we recognize them from the stentorian quality of the train conductor’s “all-aboard” to rural calls summoning men to their labor. The heart-stopping beauty of the Muslim call to prayer echoing across city streets is another example. Cries express the full range of ecstatic sounds emitted by an individual. They include a range of whoops and yips of both joy and anguish. Wavering, high-pitched cries called ululations are commonly heard throughout Africa, the Middle East and parts of India. These utterances, emitted in worship and secular celebrations, are also used in war cries. Clamor describes multiple cries of a group. The power of three or more wailing women crying out in pulsing, high pitched, dissonant sounds affirms the potential of this “weaker vessel” to ignite revenge and violent reprisals within her community. Equally powerful is the danger suggested by the clamor of male voices rising in war cries or public gatherings of protest.
Open Hearted Chest Resonance
This timbre of this sound is most often found in the ethnic singing styles of Eastern Europe, Slavic people, and the Middle East. It is a strong, open, free sound. The quality was developed, in part, from calling across mountains and fields, as it carries well. The singing group Kitka and a wide ranges of traditional Balkan music magnificently render this particular resonance. It requires an open throat, full body connection, strong breath support and deep physical relaxation. When applied to this vocal quality, ornamentations broaden the lamenter’s vocabulary.
Strong Feminine / Soft Feminine Sounds
Working with strong feminine sounds in all accessible parts of the actor’s head range is both empowering and energizing. It is also an important element in our vocabulary. Once the actor has warmed up her voice, the possibilities in this register are limitless. Hooting and howling in the higher pitches (the OO sound helps locate it firmly on the hard palate) opens easy access for many women and men. With the hoot/howl, explore adding strong pulses and sob qualities; alternate these with light, soft soprano sounds for variations.
Within the strong feminine placement lie a plethora of heart-rending, evocative and sometime terrifying sounds. Vocalizing in these tones gives meaning to the term “dangerous voices”, exposing the potential power within the women (or men) releasing them. It is an anarchic, unruly place, and harbors cries, shrieks, whoops, calls and ululations. It also generates energy in the room like no other vocal quality!
The counterpart to the strong feminine is the soft feminine; it encompasses the same placement and same notes as the strong feminine, with less volume, and more free air. By adding cooing, soft sobs (pulses), a wavering pitch, or babble language, the lament takes on a vulnerable quality oppositional to the power displayed above. Adding small, broken sounds to the soft feminine is effective and, for some, easier to sustain. For both men and women, this color is often the denouement of a full-throttle lament, the calm after the storm.
Vibrato is an ornamental aspect of the sung voice, although not considered so in western or bel canto style singing, and therefore, I invite the vocalists to exchange vibrato for straight tones as we explore sung sounds. When the many varieties of vibrato are added as ornamentation, our vocal vocabulary is immediately enlarged. The high-pitched, forced vibrato is one example. Often heard in cries and clamors, it heralds an array of ecstatic noises and can be expanded further by adding vowels and changing registers from chest to head while keeping the strong pulse of the vibrato. (This sound is heard in Native American ceremonies and a range of Asian cultures, among others.) It can be both hauntingly beautiful and deeply disquieting. Combinations of vibratos (also referred to as “pulses”), trills and melismas offer the lamenter colorful choices to express her desired intentions.
Ornamentations common in the ethnic singing and lament traditions of the Balkans, Greece and neighboring countries include variations on the release of the final note in a phrase; they enhance the richness of the melodic line and include:
• releasing the final voiced note in a phrase into a forced pressure of breath;
• releasing the final voiced note in a phrase on sustained, pulsed tone, flicked up in pitch to head resonance, then allowed to fall back to chest range;
• releasing the final sustained note in a phrase into high pitched yips or short screams, quickly cut off at the end.
The Mysterious Break
Metaphorically, the register shifts in the voice are the locus between worlds, a region where imagination, inspiration and memory live. In this place, both the singer and the song are open to new, often unfamiliar vocal possibilities, as she releases familiar controls of vocal placement. The yodel, used for a variety of effects across cultures, occurs by allowing the voice to move rapidly between chest and head registers without attempting to smooth the transition. It can be sounded powerfully or softly utilized for its own effect or as a passageway for exploration of the break. Variations of the yodel, cracks and broken sounds are highly evocative and effective for expressing pain and rage.
I use the term polyphony freely to describe distinctly different parts sung in a small group lament. In modern day mourning practices variations within groups reflect different musical traditions, ranging from highly organized to a seeming cacophony of multiple voices. Some consist of a structured, if uncomplicated, melodic line sung by all the participants. Others display a musical line that serves as the hub from which the lamenters improvise and elaborate. Some incorporate an instrumentalist who provides a melody while the voices add varieties of sung words, cries and clamors. In other traditions, one hears a continuum of sung, declaimed and spoken lines, punctuated by sobs, cries, pulses of breath and audible inhalations. To my ear, however, even the cacophonous sounds of raw, unstructured grief carry a unique melodious quality–however loosely one understands that word.
When organizing small group lamentation inquiries, I suggest that each participant choose one element of our vocal and physical vocabulary. For example:
• lamenter A, sustains a drone while rocking and swaying
• lamenter B, works with a continuum of soft inhalations released in high, light sob-like sounds while gently striking her chest
• lamenter C, is the “soloist” using declaimed babble erupting at irregular intervals into sobs, cries or ululations, combined with hair tearing.
Within this structure, they improvise a 3-part lament song.
With the drone, one voice holds a sustained pitch. At the end of a breath phrase, she may add a subtle ornament, such as a sharp exhalation of dark breath or a high-pitched yip. In a lament, the drone may be used to provide continuous vocal support throughout.
Some Thoughts on E–Motions
Emotions on stage are a tricky business. The pitfalls are well known. Either the actor can’t connect to them or falls in love with his own emotionality and indulges them, making the scene more about his emotional life than about telling the story.
For the actor-lamenter it is critical to trust that, unless he is holding on to them, emotions have a life of their own–they move. The Latin root of the word “emotion” is emovare and means, “to set in motion”. When emotions arise, and they will, given the sounds and images with which we are working, we must remember that the lamenter need neither encourage nor discourage them; emotions are neither good or bad, right nor wrong, they simply exist. If emotion is allowed to “ride” the sound and affect its color and quality, it will move through; it will either intensify or shift to something else, but it will not get stuck.
As an example, this scenario was borrowed from a recent exploration: The actor begins with a specific intention, for example, “to challenge God about the loss of a missed opportunity”. He chooses deep inhalations, breath pulses with high, light sound and babble language as his vocabulary. After a brief time exploring this action, he finds that the inner emotional experience or his intention begins to shift. He follows the shift. The sound begins to reveal outrage; he allows it to grow louder, more guttural, finally building to high pitched shrieking. Again, he follows this path, exploring it freely. Soon another shift begins to move through the actor towards self-comfort (a legitimate action); he explores this action state until it has found fulfillment and suddenly he is, for the first time, weeping freely, grieving the loss while staying on voice. The first part of the journey was necessary for him to contact the sadness under the anger. Regardless of the emotions arising, he kept the “text” moving on the broken sounds and stayed connected to his intention to communicate this sorrow to his partner in the scene, in this case, his God. For some, the lament may cycle back to the start place, led either by the actor’s inner life, or side coached by me as a means of helping the actor close the lamentation. Or the lament may find its own organic end point. Throughout the explorations, I do not hesitate to side coach if it seems appropriate to offer suggestions, affirmations, or to question the lamenter’s comfort or unease at a given moment.
Listening to and following the internal experience of sound helps the actor avoid forced emoting and keeps him actively present to the journey. He is both act-or and act-ed upon, initiator and receiver. He is never a passive recipient of the experience.
For the actor called upon to express heightened emotions on stage, this ability to “follow the voice” by allowing it to shift and change without controlling it, prevents him from one-note acting, a concern expressed frequently by actors working with heightened
text. When using a script, the playwright has verbally organized this forward movement for the actor. In improvised lament, the actor’s ability to balance the both forward movement and emotional expression is enhanced by practice with non-literal, babble explorations.
Across cultures, specific physical manifestation of grief and protest are easily recognizable. Introducing these elements to our vocal and imaginative inquiries offers the third facet of the trinity of elements: voice, imagination and body. It gives the actor-lamenter something to do and connects him bodily to his story.
Beginning an exercise with a physical gesture before releasing sound (e.g., gentle, rhythmic breast-beating, hair tearing, swaying, a gentle rhythmic fist-pounding upon the ground), helps establish the corporeal world, but more importantly, by engaging the actor’s body, it promotes the free flow of energy fundamental to healthy vocal production. Like the voice, movement patterns will change as the lament story develops, but it is important to establish a physical life at the outset. With regard to theatrical productions, we should not underestimate the extent to which the actor’s physical gestures heighten and support the imaginary connection of the audience to the story.
In much the same way that the communal aspects of actual mourning rites draw the grieving one into a supportive and empathetic community where she can find solace, escape isolation, and provide structure for her grief, the same is equally vital in theatrical explorations of this work.
I would like to offer a picture of how this plays out in a theatrical setting. Even working with imaginative circumstances, the lamenting actor may find her emotions swelling to the edge of her capacity to contain them. Through previous instruction, careful side coaching and guided practice, the choral group or witnesses learn to use their voices to draw the lamenter back into the safety of the group by gathering around her physically and over powering her vocally. The lamenter allows others to carry the lament while she regains her balance still remaining inside of and present to the story. Thus words intended to deny or suppress emotions never need be spoken since the lament is constructively shaped by the give and take of the group in their role of supportive witness and guide. Within the workshop setting, it is awe-inspiring to see women and men, relatively new to each other, use this structure to improvise with sensitivity, and to observe the beauty of this age-old tradition alive in the contemporary theatre.
Suggestions for Exploration
Over time, I encourage participants to work freely with imaginary circumstances or bits of their own stories, invested with metaphor. I do caution lamenters to avoid emotionally explosive and unprocessed situations and events. Some possibilities include:
• lament of the throat (what I didn’t say)
• lament of the feet (places I have never traveled)
• lament to raise the dead (a part of your psyche)
• lament of the sirens or lament of the furies (both were marginalized communities of women, feared for the sound of their voices)
• Cassandra’s lament (Electra’s lament, David’s lament (2 Samuel), etc. Use bits of texts and the circumstance of the story.)
Choose an active, intentional reason to explore your lament, for example, to challenge (Self or Other), to chastise (Self or Other), to expose an injustice, to comfort. Even as you set out to pursue an action, your emotions and intentions are likely to shift, evolve and change. Let it be fluid.
Re-centering and warming-down is a crucial element in the process; it encourages the actor to shift out of one state and into another. It is done at frequent intervals during a workshop or rehearsal, when finishing one exploration before beginning another, or at the end of a session. Warm-down techniques include toning of all kinds: yawning, sighing, moaning, purring, small glides and humming. These gentle soundings beckon the vocalist back from the edges, emotionally, physically and vocally. In The Way of Woman: Awaking the Perennial Feminine, Jungian practitioner, Helen M. Luke, reminds us that primitive societies understood the importance of creating rites designed to aid transitions from one life activity to another. To the same end, we use toning and re-centering moments as we shift in and out of strong inquiries.
Tribal Communion and the Land of Memory
As already alluded to, the imperatives within the “tribe” governing rites of lament are varied. Some are bound by a sacred duty to honor the dead in song; others lament to assist the deceased’s journey into the next world, while others must sing over the physical remains until the soul has fully departed from the body. But it is also an acknowledged time of passage for the living who must continue on in this life without the beloved. The physical gathering together of the tribe is an essential aspect of both authentic lamentation practices and theatrical explorations.
Written accounts of mourning rites across the globe stress both the active and communal aspects of it. Photographs of men and women engaged in mourning practices reveal them gathered in groups, connected physically and relationally. Field recordings, interviews I have conducted and both literal and fictional accounts, underscore the significance of multiple voices sounded in a mutually supportive communal gathering. And while I am not suggesting variations do not exist, to a large degree, gender paring are globally represented. Two memorable images are contemporary Greek men singing a two-part, antiphonal lament swaying together with arms around each other’s shoulders, and the “crying clusters” of the Tamil women. In this tradition the women gather together, squatting in a circle with arms embracing each other, weeping together for the deceased. For each newly arriving woman, the circle is opened to literally embrace her into the cluster.
Lamentation invites her followers into a liminal space where time slows, listening deepens and memory opens out. In this slowed down space, the lamenter is able to re-visit and perhaps integrate experiences previously glossed over, rushed past or avoided through the act of acknowledging and voicing them within a welcoming community.
Ecstatic Voice and Actor Training and Beyond
With twenty years devoted to personal study, performances and the teaching of ecstatic voice and ten years devoted to its relationship to ritual lamentation, I am fully persuaded of its value for actor training. If we desire to train actors willing to risk, eager to venture into unfamiliar territories, we must incorporate into their preparation a space to experience the thrills and terrors of this enormous “yes”, a space where they can explore the undiscovered country within their own essential beings and express it creatively.
For all of us, regardless of our reason for study or intended use, the doing and the witnessing aspects of ecstatic voice and lamentation are generous and generative acts. We come along side each other in our search for ways to connect with and make audible our inner experience. I believe that by opening our voices to the outer limits of the human experience, we grow, we heal, we become more empathetic, more available to others, and thus, more essentially human.
I would like to close with a few words from Anna Akhmatova.
…And the power that propels the enchanted
Voice displays such hidden might,
It’s as if the grave were not ahead,
But mysterious stairs beginning their flight.
Alexiou, Margaret. Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974.
Danforth, Loring M. Death Rituals of Rural Greece. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982.
Foley, Helene P. Female Acts In Greek Tragedy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
Goff, Barbara E. Citizen Bacchae: Women’s Ritual Practice in Ancient Greece. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, 2004.
Holst-Warhaft, Gail. Dangerous Voices: Women’s Laments and Greek Literature. NY: Routledge, 1992.
Loraux, Nicole. Translated from the French by Corinne Pache. Mothers In Mourning. Cornell University Press, 1998.
Wege zur Stimme
Reisen ins menschliche Stimmfeld
Unverzagt Verlag, Köln 2008
English résumé of my book “Wege zur Stimme” (paths to the voice)
The book is divided in two big parts, the first under the title “Voice and Thinking”, the second entitled “Voice and Personality”.
In the first part I try to talk about the philosophy of the voice, whatever that can mean. I start with a chapter about the question how we can talk about the voice at all. What kind of subject is “the” voice? I use an idea of Gilles Deleuze and F. Guattari who write about the distinction between copy and map. The old way of philosophy was like making a copy of the things they were intersted in. But since there are great doubts if the mind is able to copy the world philosophers look for other ways of describing what we do if we think as philosophers. Drawing a map – the suggestion of Deleuze – is one way that seem to fit to the thinking of the voice very well. If we draw a map it is something that can be prooved only if one goes into the “countries” or fields that are described in this map. So it doesn´t make sense just to read about the voice. You have to use it, if you want to know something about it and the map can be a good orientation, but not the “truth”. (It is not easy to give a short abstract about this issue. But for me Deleuze has been very helpful. Although he never talks about the voice of course!)
In the next chapter I show that the voice has never been a subject for philosophers in our history. It was always seen as part of a language theory, in other words, the voice has always been in the shade of the language. You can say this started with Platon (but one could also start with Parmenides or others). I talk about his view (!) on the voice, later about Herder, who was one of the first who saw the meaningful qualities of the voice independent from the language. Then about Derrida who started to make the voice to a subject in french Philosophy although he was more interested in written language.
In the next chapter I discuss the concepts of the so called beautiful voice in european history. I talk about the voice of the castratos, of the angels, and of the moment when the women came on the scene to sing. Afterwards I try to explain Wolfsohns idea of the whole voice or the human voice and I use some ideas of Nietzsche to make it clearer. Not so much the thoughts that Nietzsche had about the voice, although they are very close to Wolfsohn, but Nietzsches way of thinking morality. His attempt to think from the other side of good and evil. This is very much like Wolfsohn trying to find the human voice without judging about beautiful or ugly.
Then I talk again about the way philosophers could think about the voice and I present the idea of a “singing philosopher”, because I am sure that one cannot understand the human voice in only thinking about it, you also have to use it yourself!
Then I talk a bit about my idea of the “Stimmfeld” the voice field, in which all possibilities of the voice are potentially there and structured in some form.
The second part of my book starts with a discussion about the image of the voice as a mirror of the soul. I do not agree with this image and I would prefer to call the voice an echo of the soul.
Then I discuss the idea of the strange parts in the voice that seem not to belong to oneself.
The next chapter is about “physiognomie”, a kind of strange “science” that began with Aristoteles, was pretty important during the time of enlightment in Germany and in the beginning of the 20th century. It is about the idea that the body (and the voice) can tell you something of the character of a human being. So for instance the form of your head can give you information about your inner qualities. This is an idea not far from what we do in the voice work, because we see a relation between voice and personality, but the relation we are interested in is very different from what physiognomy wants to say. We have to be aware that in the singing process the voice – with its stories behind – always is confronted with an ear that has its own history of listening. What you hear tells you something about the listener as much as the voice tells you about the singer!
Then I talk about voice in modern Psychology in the beginning of the 20th century when some people started to use voice recordings to analyze voices. Karl Bühler, a psychologist and philosopher from Vienna is one of them, Paul Moses an other one. Again the result of the discussion is my conviction that analysing the voice in a scientific way doesn´t lead to valuable knowledge about the voice. Valuable for the process of liberating the voice. You need to have the relation of singer and listener with their stories behind and not a scientist who stays behind.
The next chapter is about the idea of a healthy voice. What could this mean? Are there relations to the idea of the liberated voice?
In the last chapter I talk a about the art of the extended voice. What is the artistic value of the voice we are looking for? Do we have to look for meaningful sounds? I say: yes, but people like John Cage (who I adore very much) says no!
Here I discuss Roy Harts big contribution to the extended voice art and I compare it with Antonin Artaud. In between this chapters there are three letters that I have adressed to Alfred Wolfsohn, in which I tell my story of looking for my voice and at least partly finding it. There are also small anectdotes, stories, thoughts and quotations added everywhere in the book.
by Amy Rome
Currently Amy Rome’s post-doctoral research rooted in both the praxes of fundamental Roy Hart and it’s development through Pantheatre’s approaches, examining the relations between voice and body, is available at:
What is the voice embodied? How is it possible to understand the voice as a gesture: a movement perceived as body? What are the creative processes of expressing voice? An interdisciplinary study into the artistic training and performance of voice, the aim of this thesis is to explore these research questions by examining three contemporary voice practitioners in conjunction with my practice. The practitioners, Noah Pikes, Enrique Pardo, and Linda Wise, are original members from the Roy Hart Theatre (1969-1990). Founded in the 1960s on the pioneering work of the German musician and voice teacher Alfred Wolfsohn (1896-1962), Roy Hart and the Roy Hart Theatre extended Wolfsohn’s distinctive interdisciplinary approach to voice training within theatre practice. This investigation brings together the practices of Pikes, Pardo, and Wise for the first time to explore a lineage of Wolfsohn and Hart’s work. Examining the practitioners’ interdisciplinary methodological approaches to voice training and performance, the research reveals how these original members of the Roy Hart Theatre are challenging conventional methodologies to the way in which the voice of the actor-singer-dancer is trained through practice.
If you want to know more contact: Amy Rome
Dark Voices: The Genesis of Roy Hart Theatre
A NEW AND REVISED EDITION
by Noah Pikes
Published June 1st 2004 by Spring Journal, Inc.
Paperback, 174 pages
Price: 25 euros
George Steiner called him a genius. Harold Pinter saw an enormous creative intelligence, Peter Brook a unique theatre researcher. Composers Maxwell Davies, Henze, and Stockhausen were all inspired by his six octave voice. However R. D. Laing, founder of “anti-psychiatry,” refused to hop, skip, and jump for him. His name was Roy Hart. He was the inspiration for an artistic community from about fifty diverse and disaffected individuals which brought art into life and more life into art. That group became the Roy Hart Theatre and Pikes was a founding member of it.
Dark Voices shows how the current interest in voice–its origins, its potential for extension, for therapy, and personal development–began with the pioneering work of Hart and his teacher Alfred Wolfsohn. After WWI Wolfsohn seemed to suffer from “war neurosis” (now known as post-traumatic stress syndrome) and found a cure through his own voice. As a Berlin Jew, he had to escape to London in 1939 where he continued to work on his voice research. Dark Voices quotes from interviews and Wolfsohn’s own unpublished writings to present his vision of “The Voice of the Future” and its place in his ideas on human psychology.
Dark Voices tells Wolfsohn’s and Hart’s remarkable stories, their ideas, practices, and achievements, as well as of Pikes’ own path through a dark night of the soul to get to the Roy Hart group of the 60s.
This first volume of Dark Voices ends in 1975 when the group sells everything they have in London and moves into a half-ruined château in the south of France. Shortly afterwards tragedy strikes the group. A second volume will relate how they survived this tragedy and became an internationally acclaimed theatre company valued for their teaching and technique; aspects of their work which continues to the present day.
Paul Silber was the lone survivor of the tragic accident in 1975 which ended the lives of Roy Hart, his wife Dorothy, and the actress VivienneYoung. This book is a home-edition, embellished by original writings and sketches. In it Silber looks at the life and person of Roy Hart and his wife Dorothy. It comes with a CD of extracts of previously unedited sound recordings of Roy and Dorothy, compiled from the Roy Hart Theatre archives.
Price: 20 euros (includes postage and handling)
Contact Paul Silber at e-mail
Nota Bene: Available only as an ebook and CD. The limited edition of 100 copies of this publication have been sold out.
Voix de l’inouï – Le travail de la voix au Roy Hart Théâtre, hier et aujourd’huiMarianne Ginsbourger, 2000
Sorry, this entry is only available in Français.
‘THE PROPHET OF SONG’
The Life and Work of Alfred Wolfsohn
by Paul Newham with Overture by Marita Günther
published 1997 by Tigers Eye Press (London & Boston)
” Wolfsohn became Charlotte’s first love – Indeed, he was her idol; she worshipped him as a father, a lover, a teacher and a spiritual emissary. She was a highly gifted painter and Wolfsohn spent many hours nurturing her belief in the significance of her life and in the worth and value of her paintings. In fact, it was only her art that saved her from an all, consuming melancholia.
But the third and most important process of that period occurred in response to Wolfsohn’s recognition that the only way to further develop his investigation into the voice was by taking on his own students and experimenting with what he had learnt – that the voice was ‘capable of expressing itself over a much wider range, emotionally as well as dynamically’.
During his time at the Salomon residence, Wolfsohn took on a number of students, some of whose voices he believed had been ‘broken by years of wrong training’ and others whom he described as having ‘suffered mental damage’. Referring to this latter category Wolfsohn wrote:
” I discovered that you cannot make progress and succeed unless you are able to correct and alleviate the mental damage they suffered, to build up their belief in themselves and their own strength.”
His development during that time brought him to formulate a fundamental link between the artistic process of singing and the psychological maturation of the individual. ”
Paul Newham, London 1997
Eight artists are giving their time and work to the windows and the gardens of Malérargues and in exchange ten senior teachers are offering their own special view of our work in daily classes. This experimental project is in the context of the essential Roy Hart Theatre principle that ‘there should be no division between art and life’.
We hope that it will be the first of a regular programme of studies engaging the question of how to take the deep personal research and freedom of Roy Hart Theatre work into professional performance.