Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines the word energy as “a dynamic quality,” “a usually positive spiritual force,” “a vigorous exertion of power” or, more scientifically, “a fundamental entity of nature that is transferred between parts of a system in the production of physical change within the system and usually regarded as the capacity for doing work.” Whew! That last one is a mouthful! However, as singers, it’s important to understand that since our bodies are our musical instrument, the movement of energy through the body – that transfer of this “entity” “between parts of a system creating a physical change” – is essential to great singing. So, what is this “entity”? Hard to define. But when giving voice lessons to adults and children in my Marin studio, I can tell when it’s there or not.
Once someone asked me, what do you mean by energy? I said, well, have you ever met someone and instantly liked or disliked them? Yes, we all have. We are picking up something energetically. I remember stepping into a St. Paul, Minnesota church once and being awed by the sense of quiet and peace it exuded. Its “energy” was unusual. And when you watch someone singing, you not only hear their voice, but you notice their “presence.” I would say that “stage presence” is an actor’s ability to energetically transform themselves for whatever character they are playing. Or, in the case of a singer, commanding the stage in a “bigger than life” way.
When we sing, it’s not only a physical act. It has a huge emotional and spiritual component. When you take Alexander Technique singing lessons, you learn to free your head-neck relationship so the spine and whole body can decompress, coming, as F.M. Alexander said, to your “full stature.” However, our sense of ourselves as a singing “instrument” is based on physical habit, emotional conditioning and how we respond to the world. If you believe that your voice ends at your skin, you will have one sound. If you believe that your body is the biggest sound emitter in the solar system, that will be a different sound.
I remember an exercise in my Alexander training that was quite fascinating. We were asked to snugly place ourselves in the corner of a room, where two walls meet. Then we were asked to sense ourselves. We were then told to take two steps away from that spot and again sense ourselves. Then we were invited to step into the middle of the large room. Yet another experience. And, what I like to add now is to go outside and stand without walls. The best sensation of all. What is that sensation? The sense of expansion. Energetic expansion. We tend to live our daily lives as if we are scrunched in the corner of the room. No wonder we struggle with pain issues. Try this exercise. It’s very enlightening.
So, next time you’re singing, notice whether you allow yourself not only physical freedom – an organized, dynamic body or what we in the Alexander community call “good use” – but also energetic flow, letting your voice soar on the breath, past your bones, through the walls of your studio to the heavens. Not pushing on yourself. Using your imagination, breath, and vitality to make more vitality. It feeds on itself. Walter Carrington, one of the most well-respected Alexander teachers, put it beautifully. He wrote: “The process of conducting the energy, that is what use is all about.”
When I give voice lessons for kids and adults, we explore energy and its importance in singing. In my book, it’s the difference between a so-so sound and one that truly captures the listener.