teaching statement

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"the voice is the muscle of the soul”

This short phrase, coined by my teacher Roy Hart in the 1960s, eloquently sums up the practical philosophy of my teaching: the voice as a manifestation of the psyche, a potential key to often hidden areas of personality and spirit. Martha Graham said something similar when she described a dancer as being “an athlete from God”.

The fundamental and guiding principle of my classes is: work on your voice, and you work on yourself. Work on yourself, and you work on your voice. For me, the sounds we make are the audible glue that binds our inner and outer worlds together through the container of our bodies and the boundless universe of our imaginations. I want to introduce students to (or in some cases reaffirm) this fundamental principle, that the sounds we make are the audible expression of our identity, a Geiger counter to our states of being. Students have often had voice training that looks at correcting and modifying th.e manifestation (i.e. the sound) ONLY, with little or no realization that working on the information that lives behind the sound, will lead to amazing yet very practical transformations in the sound itself, without having ever focused on it directly. Many of the ‘games’ and progressions I do, are intended to release that information, and the students’ connection to it, and THEREFORE the sound, rather than the other way round. Once this dynamic is established, the reverse process can be explored: that is, the revelatory sense of listening to the sound as symptom can lead the students back towards its origin.

The training can be seen as a conscious return to the uninhibited sounds of the newborn, with its dynamic unrayeling of the repression imposed by the conditions of growing up, and leads to a free and unchained yoice. Although the results are sometimes described as the ‘extended voice’ to differentiate it from the specialized classical voice, the term is a misnomer since a multi-octave expression is in fact the normal healthy range of the human being.

I have often been invited by composers researching new forms of vocal expression to help develop new works, evolving new notation for the specifically ‘unusual’ sounds, from doublestopping ‘motor’ sounds, to multi-stranded chords, high sinal vibrations and the huge broken sounds of released aggression. Some of these sounds are often still considered a freak phenomenon, hence their inclusion for many years in the Guinness Book of Records! They are however a natural result of integrating opposites: head and body, beauty and ugliness, male and female , ‘muscle’ and ‘soul’.

Students who have been trained classically find that, apart from equipping them for the demands of much contemporary repertoire, the training brings great therapeutic benefit. There is no damage to the vocal cords, and the limits of the traditional voice are gradually extended, not least through a release from the elemental fear of height and of depth.

The work leads to the exploration and expansion of range and character, and emphasizes good use of breath, body alignment and physical grounding. The special emphasis on the connection between the voice and the personality of each student happens through both individual and group work. The exercises I do in class change in function of those present, dissolving and being reborn at every moment and there is no preset order to their inclusion. Though I can truly say that in thirty-six years of teaching I have neyer given the same lesson twice, it is possible to describe in very general terms some of the themes that the voice class looks at. They are (in no particular order): range, resonance, tension release, grounded strength, story, confidence, motivation, excitement about singing, excitement about repertoire, dynamics, connection to imagination, love of all human sound , singing with accompaniment, repertoire, audition requirements. The classes will often include the development of original material through
improvisation with scenes, text, songs and space.

My vocal training is equally relevant for actors and singers, dancers or instrumentalists, composers and storytellers. My aim is to not only assist in the development of the versatile performer but also help anyone, whatever the level of their experience, to develop their full potential through the pleasure of the training.

Richard Armstrong