Jack is originally from California but he has lived in the Lot department for ten years. He is 76 years old, he practices yoga on a daily basis, prepares his own Bulgarian yoghurt, is an avid swimmer and used to be a windsurfer until well into his fifties. Today is his first singing lesson and he is completely fascinated by the concept of breath support. For a good part of the lesson he compares breath control with yoga breathing and under water swimming, and his happy concluding is that singing is basically a sport. ‘So I got a new sport now!’ he chants.
We set to work. Scales and other singing exercises are produced with a lot of enthusiasm. The results at first are a bit wobbly, which is normal as Jack has never ‘really’ sung before. However as the lesson continues, his tone becomes firm as he is becoming aware of that is happening in the body and how ribcage (for breath) and head (for resonance and vowel formation) are connected.
‘Wow!’ he exclaims. ‘This feels real good! You know, this would be great for everybody?’ He then explains how he sometimes becomes sad when he sees how people of his age – and much, much younger people too – walk around slumped, like gravity is something you can’t deal with. He illustrates his lecture by starting to walk around the room in a slump, and, miraculously, suddenly really looks like an old man. It’s just shocking, like a real metamorphosis. Jack’s shoulders are bent forward, belly outward, an aura of continuous exhaustion. Then, he jumps up again. ‘It’s so imPORtant to breathe well, you know, and stand straight!’ he shouts. ‘Look at Freddy Mercury, or Mick Jagger!’
Now there are a few favorites of mine. Do look them up on Youtube and watch how they move on the stage. I have to say I prefer Mick because he looks more human. It’s not so much about the way they dance, but rather their posture, so the best way to study these gentlemen singer’s attitude is when they sing a ballad. It becomes especially interesting if you mute the sound. No distraction. Just watch, like a scientist. Ask questions. What aspects of the posture make the guy look strong and dynamic? Key words can be: movement, head, jaw, neck, shoulders, chest, spine, arms, legs, feet, and more movement.
Even if you don’t have an athletic figure like these guys, or like Jack, for that matter, I cannot stress enough the importance of good posture. I love to think of this Buddhist monk who interrupts his teachings on how to meditate every now and again with the words: ‘Yet…. spy stay!’ Meaning ‘spine straight’. Meaning, in the words of the eighteenth century singing masters in Italy, the noble posture. The noble posture enables you to breathe deeply, which stimulates blood circulation, which stimulates oxygen distribution in the body, which nourishes all vital organs, which improves health, which improves happiness, which improves good posture, and the whole cycle continues.
Singing combines all that, and more. To sing is to play. To sing is to express yourself. To sing is to be a vessel that carries art: the vivionary art of composers and songwriters, whether you sing Cohen or Mozart, or one of those folksongs that have resonated through the hills and mountais of the British Isles for a thousand years. To sing is to resonate with your body, and to work to achieve a healthy body. No running or weightlifting involved. However, your voice is asking of you one thing: your proud and noble posture.
Some of us have un-learned that posture somewhere during our lifetime. We tend to breathe superficially and bend our shoulders and back forward. Perhaps it is because we have been told not to appear arrogant. Or just because we have spent too much time in front of a computer or the telly. So if you want to do your body and soul a favor, play a little. Stand in front of a big mirror and do a Freddy or a Mick. Stand tall, chest lifted, shoulders low. Exhale through the mouth. Wait a few seconds, let your mouth drop open. Then inhale through the nose, your mouth still open, lift and spread your arms. It is the ultimate alpha male or female posture.
Keep standing like that for ten seconds, breathing comfortably in and out, keeping your chest high. You will notice that it is in fact possible to breathe without letting your chest drop completely.
Great. Keep playing.
Whatever you do, don’t stop playing.