Weight-Lifting and Voice Training

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?

Voice researcher and teacher D. Ralph Appelman writes: ‘A man cannot lift a heavy object without laryngeal closure, and he can become quite hoarse in the prolonged performance of this act’ (1967, p. 43). Appelman here is referring to an involuntary Valsalva manoeuvre: the reflexive closing of the throat in response to heavy lifting. The glottis closes to trap air in the lungs. The increased air pressure in the lungs and the accompanying increase in intrabdominal pressure exert force on the anterior surface of the spine, increasing spinal stability and allowing force to be transferred through the body more effectively.

The Valsalva manoeuvre during a deadlift
(image by Holden-Boyd, 2020; adapted from Rippetoe, 2011, p.59)

Appelman articulates a belief historically shared by many spoken-voice and singing teachers: that heavy weight-lifting and optimal voicing are incompatible. Voice professionals have often recommended against heavy lifting: either out of a concern that weight-lifting generates physical tension and brings the body out of alignment (Rodenburg, 1992, p.59; Bunch 2010, p. 158-8) and/or out of a concern that it produces harmful effects such as hyperadduction or structural damage at the level of the vocal folds (Chapman, 2012, p. 68; Houseman, 2002, p. 12).

There are both personal and professional reasons that an actor might choose to engage in weight-lifting. And yet there exists limited practical advice on how to do so in a way that supports rather than hinders voice training. Furthermore, while voice teachers couch their recommendations against weight-lifting in scientific explanations, there is limited scientific research to conclusively support the assertion that weight-lifting necessarily has a negative impact on the voice.

I am investigating this issue through my current teaching practice at Bath Spa University and through a practice-as-research PhD with the University of Exeter. I aim to generate different interactions between weight-lifting and voice than those historically envisioned by voice teachers. I ask how an actor could learn to actively shape these interactions. For example, I investigate the adjustments I need to make in order to lift a heavy weight without laryngeal closure.

I also ask whether it is valuable to consider more than simply the mechanical interactions between weight-lifting and voice. Fundamental to many actor voice practices is the notion that how one uses one’s voice is contiguous with one’s sense of self. How, then, does weight-lifting intervene in one’s self-experience? For example, could the sense of agency and empowerment that potentially comes with learning to weight-lift challenge and re-form one’s embodied experience of social identity? In this respect, my research has socio-political resonances and I use weight-lifting as way of probing tensions in contemporary feminisms: particularly neoliberal feminism.

Though my project is practice-based, I analyse and shape my practice using ethnographic and autoethnographic research. I interview voice teachers and also draw on my own expertise and experiences not only as a voice teacher but also as a weight-lifter and weight-lifting coach. This (auto)ethnographic framework allows me to consider the broader cultural and social resonances of my work and the ways it challenges or affirms existing voice training practices and discourses.

In the following video, I demonstrate one element of my practice. I explore the idea that, contrary to Appelman’s assertion, laryngeal closure while lifting a heavy object is negotiable rather than inevitable.

To resist the involuntary Valsalva manoeuvre, I have to consciously inhibit my body’s instinctual response to heavy lifting. I do this by sustaining a position of inhalation even as I exhale through the hardest part of the lift: I actively maintain an open throat and hold my lower ribs open. The impulse to close my throat, to grunt or to cry out is strong, and the amount of physical and mental effort to sustain the inhale position against this impulse is significant.

This technique does not come naturally to me; and indeed, feels counterintuitive given my particular voice training history. I am a spoken-voice teacher trained in what Tara McAllister-Viel refers to as the natural/free voice approach (2019, p. 46): a pedagogical approach that emphasises physical release as a means to vocal ‘freedom’ as opposed to consciously applied effort. On the one hand, I find that effort in the body helps me sustain ‘freedom’ in my throat. On the other hand, by resisting the impulse to allow my throat to close or to grunt or to cry out when I lift, I deny the vocal release so fundamental to the free voice approach. 

To grunt or not to grunt? As a natural/free voice practitioner and in the spirit of ‘freeing’ the voice, I am working on cultivating the choice to do either: to lift with an open throat, silencing the effort in my body; or to express the effort, voicing the intensity of the somatic experience of working at the edge of my physical and mental capacity. Both options involve an embodied understanding of effort, where to put it, and how to voice it. Thus, in contrast to natural/free voice practices that focus primarily on developing the voice through muscular release, I propose exploring the voice through muscular effort. I suggest that this guiding principle could form the basis of a new pedagogical approach to spoken-voice training for actors: one that provides the actor not only with the tools and knowledge to protect the voice while engaging in physical effort, but also with the freedom to give voice to that effort. This pedagogy aims to give students a broader toolkit for ‘thinking-through’ and constructing their physiovocal selves.

References

Appelman, D.R. (1967) The science of vocal pedagogy: theory and application, London, Indiana University Press.

Bunch-Dayme, M. (2010) Dynamics of the singing voice, 2nd ed, London, Springer Wien.

Chapman, J. (2017) Singing and teaching singing: a holistic approach to classical voice, San Diego, Plural Publishing.

Houseman, B. (2002) Finding your voice: A step-by-step guide for actors, London, Nick Hern Books.

McAllister-Viel, T. (2019) Training actors’ voices: towards an intercultural/interdisciplinary approach, Abingdon, UK, Routledge.

Rippetoe, M. (2011) Starting Strength: basic barbell training, 3rd edition, Wichita Falls, TX, USA, The Aasgaard Company.

Rodenburg, P. (1992) The right to speak: working with the voice, 1st edition, London, Routledge.

ATHE Awards: Konstantinos Thomaidis’ Honorable Mention for Excellence in Editing on TDPT 10.3, ‘What is new is voice training?’

Huge congratulations from all at TDPT to Konstantinos Thomaidis who has just won the Honourable Mention for Excellence in Editing at this year’s ATHE Awards, for his special issue for TDPT ‘What is new in voice training?’ 10.3. The award was announced today at the annual (online) conference. The full list of winners and mentions in this category are posted here.

Konstantinos’ success arises from his tremendous hard work and dedication as a guest editor on the journal combined with his extensive knowledge and experience in the field of voice studies. Jonathan and I as co-editors were full of admiration at the way Konstantinos overcame some initial setbacks that were out of his control to ensure the quality and adventurousness of the issue.

In his introduction to the special issue Konstantinos offers a brief survey of the literature and practices of the ‘emergent field of voice studies’ and comments in the following way:

‘These studies have invited us to listen to the voice anew: voice as that which encompasses and exceeds textuality and linguistic meaning-making, voice as embodied and materially intersubjective; voice as both individual and political, affective and ideological, semantically potent and pragmatically interpolated, demandingly present and abjectly haunted – as simultaneously knowable and perpetually undefinable.’ (2019: 295).

And listen he does in his role as guest editor, inviting us to engage with the wide range of authors who address ‘what is new’ through both varied content and in a range of different formats.

To celebrate this achievement, Taylor and Francis Online and the Theatre, Dance and Performance Training journal has made the following three articles from the Special Issue free to view until October:

Beth Osnes, Chelsea Hackett, Jen Walentas Lewon, Norma Baján & Christine Brennan (2019) Vocal Empowerment Curriculum for young Maya Guatemalan women, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 10:3, 313-331, DOI: 10.1080/19443927.2019.1637371

Konstantinos Thomaidis (2019) Between preservation and renewal: reconsidering technology in contemporary pansori training, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 10:3, 418-438, DOI: 10.1080/19443927.2019.1645040

Mel Drake (2019) ‘Next year’s words await another voice’1: British Sign Language and voice work with D/deaf actors at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 10:3, 448-454, DOI: 10.1080/19443927.2019.1677388

Click here to see the full list of authors and issue contents as well as Blog posts related to the issue.

At a time when TDPT had to postpone its 10th Birthday celebrations it’s wonderful to have this moment of success, an opportunity to raise a glass to Konstantinos and shout out our congratulations – whilst listening anew, of course, to our voices. 

TDPT 10.3: What is new in voice training?

We are delighted to share that the latest Theatre, Dance and Performance Training special issue, ‘What is New in Voice Training?’, is out.

The issue, guest edited by Konstantinos Thomaidis, proposes a timely re-examination of voice in performer training. The literature on voice, theatre and pedagogy is, of course, vast. In the case of singing, it is largely dominated by paradigms appropriate for operatic and musical theatre performance. In the case of speech training, areas that have been systematically explored include the pedagogies developed by an influential generation of mid-twentieth-century, UK- and US-based speech trainers – and, to a lesser extent, the voice practices pertaining to (post)Grotowskian lineages or the integration of first-wave somatics into voice work. While drawing impetus from these significant insights, the purpose of this special issue has been to lend an attentive ear to the transformations such established pedagogies are currently undergoing as well as to less widely circulated and emergent methodologies.

In other words, the issue asks: What is new in voice training?

Contributors to the issue shared their practice and research in a variety of formats (peer-reviewed articles, essais, visual essays, postcards, ATQs, blogs, reviews) and engaged with topics and sets of questions such as:

  • Renewing voice training: How are existing systems, exercises and practices reconfigured in new settings? How can we re-evaluate the foundational premises of voice training through recent discoveries in physiology and advances in critical theory? In what ways are such methods adapted, hybridised, repurposed, recycled, rethought?
  • New practices: Which are the new approaches to voice, speech and singing training currently in the making? How do they depart from or extend current conceptualisations of voicing? What performance contexts are they designed for? How are they taught, recorded, written about and transmitted?
  • New documents: Which practices of voice training have not been systematically documented and disseminated? Which practices have received less critical attention and how can new archives engage us in dialogue with them? What is the place of the ‘document’ in practice-as-research approaches to voice pedagogy?
  • The new voice coach: Which are the new exigencies placed on coaches today? What challenges do they face? Which methodologies have been developed in response? How is voice training conducted beyond the conservatoire studio?
  • New contexts: How is voice training taking into consideration gender, class and ethnic diversity? How is the pedagogy of speech and song responding to neurodiverse trainees? How are interdisciplinary performers trained in voice work? How is training originally developed for artistic performance adapted in other contexts and circumstances?
  • New criticalities: Which emergent critical methodologies can we deploy to critique voice training or to generate new approaches? How can voice training embrace ecocritical or new materialist strategies? What is the place of the expanding corpus of vocal philosophy in the studio?
  • New histories, new lineages: What does new archival research reveal about the lineages and historic practices of voice training? How is the history of voice training rewritten? How are premodern forms of voice training revitalised in contemporary performer training?

CONTENTS

Editorial: What is new in voice training?

by Konstantinos Thomaidis

https://doi.org/10.1080/19443927.2019.1677384

Answer the question: How are voice trainings adapted, recycled, transplanted and repurposed?

Rockford Sansom: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1667179

Abimbola Adetola Stephen-Adesina: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1667180

Luis Aros: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1667181

Oliver Mannel: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1667182

Sarah Weston: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1667183

Article

Vocal Empowerment Curriculum for young Maya Guatemalan women

by Beth Osnes, Chelsea Hackett, Jen Walentas Lewon, Norma Baján & Christine Brennan

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1637371

Essay

Pitch and gender in voice training: new methodological directions

by Jane Boston

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660523

Essay

The act of listening: Gardzienice’s mutuality practice and the ACTing voice

by Anna-Helena McLean (collaborating academic advisor Demetris Zavros)

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660524

Article

Singing bodies: reconsidering and retraining the corporeal voice

by Gavin Thatcher & Daniel Galbreath

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1637370

Postcards

J. Ariadne Calvano: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660530

Rachel K. Carter: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660531

Essay

Support: birthing the voice

by Leah Lovett

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660525

Article

Speech-language pathologists with a vocal music background: exploring impact on the training of the transgender voice

by Danielle Cozart Steele

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1640781

Postcards

Ben Macpherson: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1677387

Annie Sanger-Davies: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1677386

Article

Devisers in the dark: reconfiguring a material voice practice

by Electa W. Behrens

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1637372

Essay

Approaching Italian gorgie through Karnatik brigha: an essai on intercultural vocal transmission

by Charulatha Mani

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1677385

Article

Between preservation and renewal: reconsidering technology in contemporary pansori training

by Konstnatinos Thomaidis

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1645040

Visual Essay

Becoming robot through voice: training in artificial voices

by Francesco Bentivegna

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1634639

Essay

‘Next year’s words await another voice’: British Sign Language and voice work with D/deaf actors at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

by Mel Drake

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1677388

Obituary (Cicely Berry)

Stephen Kemble: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660538

Postcards to the future of voice

Kate Godfrey: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660532

Margaret Pikes: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660533

Darryl Taylor: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1667178

Subhashini Parthasarathy: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660534

Theodoros Terzopoulos: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660535

Jaroslaw Fret: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660536

Anne Bogart: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1660537

Reviews

Marcus Cheng Chye Tan: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1640782

Sarah Holden-Boyd: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19443927.2019.1640783

For colleagues without institutional access, the editorial, the obituary and the article by Cozart Steele are freely available.

Further, the special issue is accompanied by a series of entries posted on the journal’s blog: http://theatredanceperformancetraining.org/category/comebacks/what-is-new-in-voice-training/

Special thanks to all contributors, the TDPT team and the community of artists, trainers, trainees, practitioner-scholars, peer reviewers and interviewees that the special issue represents.

With all best wishes,

Konstantinos Thomaidis

Senior Lecturer in Drama, Theatre & Performance

University of Exeter

Computers, Humans and ‘Daisies’: Becoming Machine through Voice.

This post commences with a brief video extract taken from the photo-essay that I wrote for the special issue of the TDPT journal (10.3: ‘What is New in Voice Training?’). I decided to share on the blog a different audio-visual standpoint on my work. In contemporary academia, the so-called ‘practice turn’ allows scholars to find new and creative ways to share their research. In this sense, Voice Studies has necessitated a vocal approach to dissemination, and performance training needs to be addressed inclusively. I felt the urge to ‘vocalise’ my project, therefore my blog-entry aims to embed voices in the discussion and to offer a different way of listening to it.

What if a computer, or a machine, could teach us to sing or talk? As part of my practice-as-research Ph.D., I tried to train myself to ‘sound’ as an artificial voice, with an unusual coach: the computer itself. From November 2017-April 2018, I worked on an experimental training of voice re-production, with the specific aim of inverting conventional approaches to the loop of vocal mimicry: normally, we shape artificial voices on the basis of ‘natural’ voices, making computers mimic humans. My idea was to reverse the process and investigate how humans could mimic computers. I decided to develop a training approach that started from artificial voices, exploring human-machine communication, as well as approaching performance training differently. This blog entry contains audio-visual documentation of this process and, further, it is designed to accompany the self-reflexive and contextual account that can be found in the photo-essay. With these documents, I explore the work undertaken, explain the pitfalls and frustrations involved in the process, and outline future possibilities for performing machines differently.

Becoming Machine – a brief collection of my screen recorded exercises

Screen-recorded, the first video shows the process of editing and recording through the DAWs – Digital Audio Workstations – Praat and Ableton Live. The plug-in Chipspeech was the primary tool for this research: it allowed me to digitally recreate the original IBM 704’ speech synthesis that sung ‘Daisy Bell’ in 1964. In the first part, I have included one of the exercises that I created. My wish was to mix digital and real-life training, so I devised mixed-sources exercises. In this case, I present my attempt to ‘be taught by the computer how to vocalise vowels. It is possible to see how I created the vowels on Chipspeech, how I tried to replicate them, and then how I filed my recordings on the computer and sorted them by frequency and in alphabetical order. Praat, the sound analysis DAW, was fundamental to investigate the files phonetically. At 01.45 the video shows the analysis and comparison between audio files – the letter ‘I’ for example – and the difference in frequencies.

The second part – starting at 03.13 – introduces the other approach I developed for my project. Ableton Live is on vertical mode; the top left column has a speech synthesis version of ‘Daisy Bell’, in each cell. The second column is empty, as well as the third, the fourth, the fifth, and the sixth columns. On the top right, the seventh column, in every cell, has my human-voice-produced version of ‘Daisy Bell’. As the video continues, I filled the empty cells in the empty columns with ‘new’ recordings that attempted to increase the ‘robot-ness’ feel in my voice. First by copying the speech synthesis, listening to it. Secondly, by adding ‘robot-ness’ to my voice as I was listening to my human recording. On the left, you can find recordings based on me trying to replicate the speech synthesis; on the right, recordings based on myself trying to emit a robotic version of ‘Daisy Bell’, while listening to the human version. The central columns are meant to be filled by ‘re-worked’ and improved versions of the recordings, after a close listening to the ones in the second and the sixth columns.

The second video is recorded with the front camera of my laptop. After a brief introduction of the work that I am about to do, I start vocalising what I understand as ‘human speech-synthesis’. I decided to upload this part to the blog to help the reader engage with my struggle of trying and failing. My intention was to show the numerous attempts through which I realised how hard—impossible, even—the project was, and to invite the viewer/listener to think how a human could look and feel while ‘becoming a machine’ through newly devised voice pedagogy. This video documents my training on two separate days: one at the beginning of the project, the other towards the end – and allows me and the reader (or viewer/listener) to notice the differences in my voice.

The three audio files that I have chosen among more than a hundred represent my two best attempts in recreating the speech synthesis version of the song – included here under the name Robot.

Robot

The file Struggle is probably the most important: in less than 2 seconds, it embodies the struggle of months repeating the first two syllabi of ‘Daisy Bell’.

Struggle

The third file, Robot-Human, is a comparison between me and the computer voice.

Robot-Human

This work invites and cultivates a different point of listening, and hopefully, provokes a discussion on how human practitioners might engage with computers, speech synthesis and robots. I hope that other practitioners are inspired to engage in a similar attempt, and share these attempts in vocally becoming a machine (perhaps as comments below). Will their struggle be the same as mine?

About the author: I was born in Italy in 1990. I am a Ph. D. student, a musician, a trained actor, a DJ, and a comedian. My field of interest moves between voice, artificial voice, voice training, hauntology, posthumanism, HRI and HAAI. I am currently a PhD student at the University of Exeter working on a project on analysing the Posthuman Condition through voice, looking at the differences between artificial voices and natural voices in Performance Practices. My work with voices echoes in my musical project called Mr Everett, where we investigate human and machine communication through voice, comedy, and dance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiyrp4qXTdc

NEW PLATFORMS FOR SHARING RESEARCH ON VOICE

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to draw your attention to the new publication initiatives spearheaded by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Voice Studies:

Voice Studies Journal Cover

 

1) With the publication of its second issue, the Centre of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies is currently celebrating the first year of the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies. You can find more information about the journal, including guidelines for submission and subscription, here. The first issue is freely available online while 1.2 is our first themed issue on the topic of ‘Voice and/as Devising.’

We would also like to draw your attention to the Call for Papers for issue 2.1 (Spring 2017):

Special Issue of the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies

‘Voicing Belonging: Traditional Singing in a Globalized World’

Editors: Konstantinos Thomaidis and Virginie Magnat

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