“STOP – LOOK – LISTEN” – THE ROLE OF IMAGINATION IN SINGING

 DEVELOPING THE IMAGINATION  is one of the major tools in the development of  the classcal singer’s art and craft.   This concept  enables  the singer to  “allow” rather  than to “try” to sing with ease. This concept of “allowing”  is important to so many of life’s activiities, but especially important to the singer.  Why?  Because as singers we do not see our instrument .  All that we are able to see is our posture, and our speech mechanism (lips, teeth, tongue, jaw & soft palate).  The rest of the instrument  resides deep in the body & cannot be  seen by nor heard realistically by the singer themselves.

Therefore the role of the Imagination  must be carefully  and continuosly developed.  The”Inner Ear” and the “Inner Eye” will   develop a  clear sense of what the singer wishes to achieve technically, musically, interpretively, etc.   Thought turns into beautiful tone, legato line, smooth registration,  clear text,  dynamic contral  – all the characteristics of classical singing  which we call the  “Bel Canto” style and technique.    It first must happen in the Mind.  In other words, we  learn to “allow” what we have mentally heard and seen  prior to singing  rather than “trying” while we are actually physically engaged.  

WE CANNOT “ALLOW” WHAT WE HAVE NOT PREPLANNED IN OUR INNER EAR & INNER EYE.    One will not create images aurally or visually without knowledge. Therefore it goes hand in hand that the young singer develop physical, vocal, musical & interpretive goals.

With the guidance of the voice teacher, the young singer will slowly create   images both aurally and visually .  Eventually the singer will, as they develop and grow, come up with their own specific images, based on the bel canto principles,  and thus take ownership of their own singing, developing  their own uniquness to sound, text and phrasing.  The wonderful American Mezzo soprano, Stephanie Blythe calls it developing one’s owns Point of View.

     This approach to singing well  is often neglected.  A young voice student  very, very often will simply plough into a phrase without first hearing it in their  Inner Ear or having a clear  “Inner Eye” picture of the instrument or of the phrasing  It is  often called “Visualizaton”.   There is no end to its possibilities born of knowledge and that Point of View.

“KEEP THE MIND AHEAD OF THE VOICE” (Benita Valente  MC, NATS) sums up this approach  perfectly. 

 A driver does not get into his car without knowing where he is headed and what he must do to get there. A pilot does not dare fly his plane without filing a flight  plan both realistically and mentally  before he “takes off”.  Visualization has long been a tool for Olympic athletes. The 2010 Olympic Champion Snow Boarder, Shaun White described to an interviewer how he prepares for the performance of his lifetime. To paraphrase “I quietly imagine in my mind’s eye what I am going to do and then I go out and ‘allow’ it to happen.” In other words he carefully preplans in his imagination before, not during, the execution of the program. He does not “watch” himself or “try” as he executes the incredibly challenging curves he must conquer with great momentum and speed. Rather, he sees the pathway in his mind’s eye and calculates mentally how he will physically negotiate these twists and turns. He carefully has programmed his Imagination.

Again praphrasing,  the British Pedagogue, Thomas Hemsley (Singing & Imagination) wisely acknowledged that   the development of a solid technique is about basically  two things:

 1. Training the Imagination  to give clear and precise impulses to which the body will respond. 

2. Training the body to be able to respond with an easy facility. 

LEARN TO DRIVE A CAR – NOT MECHANICALLY BUILD ONE

Too often a singer’s training focuses on “mechanics” – information from the outside either from a book or from a purely technical point of view. Often the Technique becomes an end in itself. Of course, a clear  knowledge as to how the car functions is important, but to drive the car one must allow the coordination of  all the elements that allow one to drive safely and to reach their destination.

“LISTEN TO YOURSELF BEFORE YOU SING, NOT WHILE YOU SING” (Thomas Hampson – Master Class – Manhattan School of Music”

      How many times do we hear a singer say when he is struggling with a technical issues,  – “But I’m trying”?    However,  if that singer would “STOP – LOOK – LISTEN” before he tries executing the phrase he would save himself a whole lot of frustration and he would be “allowing” what is already programmed in his Imagination to do its work.  He will stop listening to himself while he attempts that phrase,  but will “allow” what he has aurally and visually imaged.  It goes without saying, then, tht the Imagination has to be developed intelligently and sensibly.  

      Of course,  there are many aspects to developing the Inner Ear & Inner Eye i.e.    Knowledge of the instrument  and how it works in singing ;   A strong point of view as to the emotional content of the phrase or aria; a thorough knowledge of the text (diction & exact translation).

In approaching it this way the Inner Ear will develop the desired tone color to reflect the emotional context of the music and the text.  

The Inner Eye will allow the singer to  experience certain positive physical sensations.   Calling on these sensations repeatedly is what develops the Technique that allows a singer freedom to express with ease what he wants the audience to hear and feel.

 Remembering that their are no hard and fast rules to developing the Imagination is important.   It is a fertile playground.   Give it free reign.  There is a wealth of potential in every Mind. It takes patience and concentration, and yes, knowledge to “Allow”.  So give yourself permission to Stop – Look – Listen.

No better advice is given on this subject than the following:

“SINGING IS MENTAL RATHER THAN PHYSICAL —-  PSYCHOLOGICAL RATHER THAN PHYSIOLOGICAL.  THINK THEREFORE  OF THE EFFECT DESIRED RATHER THAN OF THE PROCESS”  (Richard Hemsley “Singing & Imagination” (Oxford University Press)

 

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One thought on ““STOP – LOOK – LISTEN” – THE ROLE OF IMAGINATION IN SINGING

  1. There is so much brilliance in this post. I love the analogy of learning to drive the car rather than building one from the ground. Everything you need, you already have–it’s just a matter of learning the system to let it use itself functionally and not re-making it. Love it. Also, I love the references. My perception of “allowance” has broadened after reading this. Thank you.

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