Vocal Play and Deconstructing

Today was day 1 of my first post-certification course after taking Level III of Somatic Voicework™ the LoVetri Method in 2011. The course I chose to take was SPEAKING AND SINGING WITH THE SAME VOICE, taught by Joan Melton. Joan is a powerhouse – she is a pianist, a composer, a vocal coach, a voice scientist, an author, and an all-around force of nature. Everyone who has taken her course has raved about it, so I decided that I was going to do it. Even though I can ill afford it right now, with only two students through the end of July and my private studio not starting up till after Labor Day, I decided I could ill afford NOT to do it.

It’s a three day workshop, and this is what we covered today.

  • Session I Foundational aspects of technique: Alignment, Breath Management, Range, Resonance, Articulation, and Connection, or the Acting dimension, as outlined in One Voice (Waveland 2012)
We launched right in to making sounds and movements coordinate. These were not necessarily pretty sounds or pretty movements – they just were. They were functional exercises to tap into how the breath works, how to explore range, how to find where sounds live in your mouth (a passion of mine), and feeling how those are manifested in the body. 
In the afternoon, we did an exercise that I found eye-opening. We took a poem and all of us were asked to walk around and speak the poem, all simultaneously, while walking around and exploring the important words and stresses in the poem. Then we came back and got in a circle. Each person took two lines of the poem and read them, exploring ways of interpreting the words and the text in a manner that didn’t necessarily have to be “poetic” or even related to what the person before you had done. After that, we did it again, but this time with just one line.
We took words and deconstructed them, making sounds on each phoneme and physicalizing them, and then putting them together as a word, not necessarily interpreting the word but reveling in its individual sounds.
And it made me re-think a project I did in 2000. I sang on a program called Variety 2000: The Soul Turned Inside Out. Three hours of expressionism and surrealism. It included film, instrumental music, theater, vocal music, and adult puppet theater (!!!). The piece I sang was Yehuda Yannay’s “Incantations,” with a text by W.H. Auden.
The poem, from his collection The Age of Anxiety, was:

Lights are moving

on domed hills
Where little monks 
Get up in the dark.

Though wild volcanoes
Growl in their sleep
at a green world 
Inside their cloisters,

They sit, translating
A vision into
The vulgar lingo
Of armed cities

Where brides arrive
Through great doors
And robbers’ bones
Dangle from gallows.
Yannay had completely deconstructed the text. The first line was set as follows (approximating here):

“Lights … a … a a a a a aaaaa …. aare ….mooooooooooooooooo …. ooo…. ooo … ving” (interspersed with atonal punctuation from the piano). The remainder of the first stanza was set similarly.

The 2nd and 3rd stanzas were completely deconstructed and put into boxes on a page. Wherever your eye fell, that’s what you sang. Sometimes it was with your hand over your mouth, or humming in the middle of a syllable, or yelling or whispering, or just being silent (the pianist had a similar page, requiring her to play inside the piano with mallets, fingers, slamming the keys). This is referred to as aleatory or chance music.
And then the final stanza was set similarly to the first. 
I got great reviews for this piece! (I was paid pretty well for it, too.) But I did not like the piece. I did not like that the poem had been shredded and the text serving Yannay’s composition, rather than his composing serving the text. It was not something I had ever experienced, and until today, not something that I ever wanted to re-experience.
But now I want to go back and play with it. And find a way of interpreting it that might be personally rewarding for me (and hopefully an audience) instead of just fiscally and professionally rewarding. I’ll need to find a pianist who wants to deconstruct and play with me as well (which I don’t think will be a problem).
If you’d like to see what we did today, here’s a video of Joan Melton in action in a similar workshop at the University of Michigan in 2010. 
I’ll cover Day 2 tomorrow!

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

One thought on “Vocal Play and Deconstructing

  1. Ah, here's the REAL Christine at work. Loved this post and hearing how you linked your work to the experience of Joan's class. Thanks so much for posting and sharing!

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