Why We Sing
Every so often I run across a person that adds a depth of clarity for me that I want to appreciate with smiles, hugs. and celebration. I hope you enjoy Professor John Lennon. No, not the incredible Englishman, the wonderful American.
It may well be counter-productive to one’s well being not to sing
reflects a state of balance and a positive inner glow of contentment
and equanimity. It is the audible resonant reality of our existence."
WHY DO WE SING AND WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE?
Retired Professor of Vocal
Note of explanation:
Throughout the narrative there are two printings for the word self.
Whenever the print is capitalized the meaning refers to the individual
self. Small case print refers to the universal collective sense of self.
According to a Chicago Tribune article
people who sing live longer than those who do not. Why? Singing
stimulates better blood flow by increasing the efficiency of chest wall
muscles in air exchange. These findings, the result of research done at
the National Institute on Aging, were reported to the American Lung
Association. While indisputable in so far as they go, these findings do
not present the complete picture. In addition to the demonstrable
physiological benefits of singing as exercise, each individual has a
deeply intrinsic need for the emotional release singing provides.
Actually, human sound is the mind resonating through the instrument of
the body. Conceived and evolved as one indivisible unit, the human body
functions as the instrument of the human mind. Because the balance of
this unity is so crucial I choose to use the word BodyMind, without
separation, to express this oneness
After more than half
a century involved in this business of singing, I now feel the need to
redefine exactly what I think ‘singing’ really is. As a young boy,
when first attempting to master the mysteries of the ‘art of
singing,’ I was convinced that those blessed with “a special talent
for singing” were indeed privileged human beings. Today I find myself
questioning whether or not singing really is a “talent.” The concept
that singing is an art form seems to appropriately apply only to those
dedicated to its ultimate refinement.
singing is only a ‘talent’ or an ‘art form’ is a denial of a
very basic human need, the need to express emotions in a way that
completely satisfies the unified BodyMind of each individual. The idea
that ‘talent for singing’ is the prerequisite fosters the idea that
sustained vocal sound must first and foremost be perceived as
Spontaneous sound almost always incorporates a dimension of noise in its
release. In order to communicate effectively, resonance must first
release the emotional expression without impediment. Emotional release
effectiveness is how well it satisfies the one expressing. With these
criteria as a premise, effectiveness of and satisfaction from my own
perception of singing has evolved considerably.
Singing is often considered something done by one or more persons for
communication with and appreciation of others. And yet, the basic inborn
response of sustained sound emission in singing fulfills a need to
communicate with our Self long before taking on the guise of performance
for others. Innate human BodyMind emotional expression responds and
reacts to the surrounding environment.
Except for birth defects, we all begin with the ability to audibly
express emotion. Most animals use sound to express emotion. The primal
utterance of a newborn child is emotional resonance in response to the
drastic change in immediate environment. The spontaneous release
expresses the mood experienced by the neonate at that particular moment:
a perfect blend of sound and movement as all energy combines in
emotional release. This energy release may be observed throughout early
maturation as the infant becomes more aware of the surrounding
environment and emotionally responds to stimulation. Neonatal and
postnatal experience is almost always an oral investigation coupled with
vocal sound in response to mouth contact. Except for crying voice is at
first limited to various isolated emissions.
experimentation begins about the same time the infant branches out from
the primal means of identification, the oral probe. As eyes, ears and
fingers participate more in the identification experience vocal sound
takes on a broader, more sustained dimension. From primal utterance on
through early development the infant continues experiencing vocal sound
and body movement as simultaneous functions. Body movement without sound
is possible, but not sound without movement.
A vivid example of this association is the following incident. A young
married student of mine complained how impossible it was to console her
ten-month old son once crying became excessive. I suggested that the
next time this happens she take his feet in one hand, arms in the other,
firmly resisting any further movement. At first opportunity she tried
this advice. I was convinced that minimizing body movement would
minimize crying. I was not prepared, however, for what she told me
happened next. He immediately stopped crying, his eyes became very large
and he began to laugh deep inside his body. His laughter increased until
it reached the same intensity as the former crying. For the next few
months he never once varied from this instantaneous response reversal.
Anyone who has watched
a young child wind up for an emotional overflow is aware that the facial
muscle preparation moves with equal facility to either laughter or crying.
Laughter and crying may be opposite extremes of the emotional spectrum,
but think how often one leads into the other. Both are released from deep
within the body moving outward to express the degree of stability the
BodyMind is experiencing at that moment.
In early development when posture is still uncertain and in experimental
stages vocal sound is allowed greater freedom of emotional expression.
Since children unconsciously associate vocal sound with movement it seems
safe to assume that audible emotional resonance is a totally integrated
Visualize in your mind’s eye a four or five-month-old infant lying on
his/her back in a mood of inner contentment. When awake at this age
experimenting never ceases. Sustained noises play around the infant’s
lips as emotions find release in sound experimentation. This same oral
experience continues on through later infancy to further refinement as the
child adds word shapes to sustained sound. At some time in the earlier
years, however, the socially imposed conditioning thought necessary in
achieving maturity begins blocking free vocal experimentation.
Add to that mental image one of a little girl absently singing to herself
as she plays in the sandbox, or a little boy skipping down the sidewalk
singing to himself in rhythm to his movements. Both are perfect examples
of spontaneous, uninhibited vocal sound. It is said that maturity is
responsibility for one’s actions. Who would want to be responsible for
anything so basically natural as experimenting with your voice? Somehow we
become imbued with the idea that mature adults don’t do that. Only
children make noises! Adults are supposed to shape sounds into words that
express mature emotions.
The most genuinely honest emotional expression, however, comes from the
children. Observe a young child’s uninhibited release of spontaneous
vocal sound and enjoy an intimate glimpse into the most audible expression
of that individual’s Self. Does this indicate that mature emotional
expression too often involves a degree of deception? What happens in
maturity that so effectively blocks a complete release of emotional
expression? What precipitates such reversal?
I contend that singing is an inborn response in those moments of absolute
emotional tranquility. Babies sing to themselves. The fact that we
recognize no identifiable melodic sequence does not mean that it is not
singing. Such spontaneous oral response has sustained emission, rhythm,
pitch variation, and emotional expression. Like the infant, we sing
because we feel good and singing makes us feel even better. When we sing
to ourselves we are, in effect, communicating with the Inner-Self. It is
an intrinsic means of truly pleasing and enjoying one’s Self. Singing is
amplification of BodyMind emotional resonance. It satisfies the need for a
unified psychosomatic release not possible by any other biological means.
It may well be counter-productive to one’s well being not to sing.
Singing happens in those moments when no other means but sustained
resonant expression can provide complete emotional release. Sometimes
children are embarrassed when they realize someone is listening, but often
their attention is so acutely focused on the experience at hand they are
oblivious to the surrounding environment. The stimulus that initiates
singing is definitely deeply intrinsic. If most children sing
spontaneously then why do not most adults? Do we lose something on the
path to maturity?
At the very beginning of developmental vocal interaction I find it
extremely important to establish exactly how each student feels about
his/her vocal sound. I ask each student who comes to me for vocal guidance
the same question, “Why do you want to sing?” Usually the answer is,
“Because I enjoy singing.” My next question is, “Do you like what
you hear when you sing?” Responses to that are quite varied but the
consensus is a desire to do it better. By better they mean sound better.
Is the logic that if one ‘sounds better’ one ‘enjoys’ it more? But
do we sing primarily to sound better? It is a coveted fringe benefit but
hardly the primary reason why we sing. Effective release of emotional
expression through vocal sound is an inborn BodyMind response. The best
example is newborn primal utterance. I tell my students that the human
BodyMind innately knows how to effectively produce sound. After all, the
second primal experience immediately after the first breath is the
creation of sound. The quality of emission has no part in the
effectiveness of its release.
Sound emission has two basic forms of release: compulsive and voluntary.
Compulsive release is an irresistible urge over which we seemingly have no
control such as accidentally burning one’s hand. The voluntary release
happens each time we open our mouth to speak. There are times, however,
when these release potentials conflict with one another.
For years sound technicians fussed about the audible humming (not always
in tune) of the late Arturo Toscanini when conducting recording sessions.
Because he always did it, it was almost as if he had an uncontrollable
compulsion to audibly hum. I recall the late Jan Peerce, Toscanini’s
favorite tenor, once confided to me how he loved hearing the Maestro’s
voice, even in out-of-tune competition with his own, because without that
sound it would not be Toscanini.
Nothing expresses the inner-resonance of Self so completely as sustained
spontaneous vocal sound. The quality of vocal resonance is a strong
indication of emotional stability at the moment of emission.
Why do we learn to
suppress that which comes from within? Excessive laughter and crying in
some adults causes throat-ache, and in some instances, hoarseness and
temporary loss of voice. And yet, should not these two inborn emotional
responses provide even greater release if psychosomatic resistance is
My students were always amazed that in the first few minutes of vocalizing
I could hear if he or she were experiencing some kind of emotional
turmoil. Upon several occasions I was accused of having a crystal ball
that allowed me insight to suppressed emotional turmoil. When asked how I
could tell if they were in a state of imbalance I always answered, “I
hear it in your voice.” Emotional upheaval has been studied from almost
every possible perspective except vocal sound.
The BodyMind instinctively emits sustained resonance in moments of extreme
emotional stress. These emotional sounds are only a hint of the
individual’s potential structural resonance. Every designed structure
has a resonance uniquely its own. That resonance depends upon its spatial
vibratory displacement. Inanimate structural vibrations are more constant
and only vary as the structure moves round its axial vortex in response to
gravity. For the animate, living structure the same principle applies
except for the variables of emotion, thought, and flexible movement. Total
structural resonance occurs when all combined parts suspend in
synchronized balance equalizing the pull of gravity. It is the optimal
resonance of which the structure is capable. That pulsating absolute of
total suspension between movement and complete rest referred to as
Start thinking about
the Doo Woppers who are appearing on TJ Lubinski's DOO WOP live shows in
Philadelphia and the National Educational TV specials. Most are in their
60s and 70s and STILL have their voices and the vibrant attitude that
goes with them.
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