Voice and Body

by Margaret Pikes and Patrick Campbell

Ed. Note: The following entry is part of a series of posts marking the 1-year anniversary of the Special Issue ‘What is New in Voice Training?’

Linking body and voice in vocal training is a complex process and, at times, little more than lip service has been paid to the labour necessary to actually embody this connection. The complexity of this task is often reduced by a limited understanding of the psychosomatic nature of vocal expressivity. In the book Owning our Voices: Vocal Discovery in the Wolfsohn-Hart Tradition, which Dr Patrick Campbell and I have recently published in the Routledge Voice Studies Series, we discuss this link in closer detail. 

Figure 1 Margaret Pikes at work with a student. Source: Susanne Duddeck.

Given that the voice is a nexus of psychophysical activity, rather than a singular ‘organ,’ building awareness of and access to the deep and varied vocal sources in the body involves more than a series of mechanical exercises or simply ‘sounding out’.

When speaking of vocal sources in relation to the Wolfsohn-Hart tradition of extended voice, we refer to ‘spaces’ in the body and along the spine, broadly corresponding to the lower abdominal (belly), chest and head regions, which:

 …are psychosomatic in nature and correspond both to qualities of timbre and ranges of pitch and feelings (both emotional and physiological) and images … Vocal sources serve as both evocative, imaginary frames for vocalisation and somatically identifiable nexuses of muscular engagement and sonorous vibration, which are consciously activated physiologically during breath-work and vocalisation.

(Pikes and Campbell, 2021: 102)

In order to connect to and integrate these vocal sources, a level of reflexive listening and discrimination needs to be developed through practice and experience of connecting with inner space, as well as with external space through movement. Both of these dimensions are activated through attention to the soma, with a focus on the feelings and images evoked while vocalising.

Embodying and owning our voices requires this dynamic and experiential work, which eschews cartesian duality. This painstaking, creative process can, eventually, enable us to reconnect with the feeling-ful core of our being, that which phenomenologist Michel Henry describes as ‘the pathetic immediacy of life’ (Henry, 2008: 2), which is manifest in the affective, psychosomatic layers of the libidinal drives that haunt the voice. This holistic process of vocal exploration and discovery, although requiring practise, guidance and assiduity, is deeply rewarding and life giving.

References

Pikes, M. and Campbell, P. (2021) Owning Our Voices: Vocal Discovery in the Wolfsohn-Hart Tradition, Abingdon: Routledge.

Henry, M. (2008) Material Phenomenology, New York: Fordham University Press. 

Biogs

Margaret Pikes is a founding member of the Roy Hart Theatre who trained with Roy Hart and participated in all of the Roy Hart Theatre’s early experimental performances. She has been teaching the Wolfsohn-Hart approach to vocal expression internationally for more than 50 years and regularly leads workshops in the UK, France and Germany. 

Patrick Campbell is Senior Lecturer in Drama and Contemporary Performance at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is a core member of Cross Pollination, an expanded, nomadic laboratory for the dialogue in-between practices, and is Associate Editor of the Brazilian Journal on Presence Studies

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