“Sometimes voice teachers are so preoccupied with how to sing that we forget why we sing.” ~ Heidi Erickson Moss SFBAC NATS Newsletter September 2021
I had the privilege of meeting Heidi Moss Erickson a few years back, when my friend, Kerrie Obert came out for a visit, and said: “Kelly, you should meet Heidi, she’s a vocal scientist and teacher, too”.
For those of you in the vocal world, I just dropped some big names in that last paragraph. So you might be thinking I’m going to talk about some super scientific-sounding phenomena that was just observed and recorded in the lab.
But every once in a while, I need to step back and embrace how incredible this gift of music really is.
Can you remember when you first fell in love with music?
For me, I remember as a very young child lining up the shoes in my mother’s closet and pretending they were my audience in the stands. I’d get lost in a full-blown performance of song and dance and wait for my imaginary applause from the shoes. The songs were most likely bits and pieces of songs from Sesame Street and Disney, pieced together in my preschool mind. But truly, I still remember being transported to another world. It was sheer joy. It was play.
Years later, that sheer joy is still the fuel that makes the whole machine work for me.
Heidi Moss’s recent article “Making Play a part of Practice” in the SFBAC NATS Newsletter illuminates the need to play even as we pursue science. She points out the fact that “our brains are not good multitaskers. Not to mention, the act of singing requires the coordination of over 100 muscles making it almost impossible to strategize all the elements impeding a singer’s progress in a given moment.
Thus, there can be too much of a good thing in teaching voice: it is impossible to address all of the permutations of factors which can impact a singer’s output.”
Simply put, we can’t think about every single aspect of vocal production and put it together in a performance. We’ve all been there: overthinking our way through practice, and then freezing up in performance.
Moss-Erickson points to an interesting (and not so new) concept from the field of neuroscience. “Jaak Panskepp was a pioneer in affective neuroscience and he discovered … the idea of using play and seeking to learn is more universal for ALL animals that one might think”. Moss-Erickson goes on to say that ‘a student’s curiosity, freedom to play without judgement, and uninhibited exploration were the keys to both their improvements and happiness about their instrument… Play is not a method. Play is for both the studio and at-home practice. It gives the brain ‘more than one way’ which it likes. Then, in performance, it has more resources to draw from: the voice ‘remembers’. “
In our performance-based society, we have become so stressed out that we often forget the need for play and the need for us to experience music for the sheer joy of making music.
So, before you dive deep into your next practice session, take a moment to remember to play. Think about how good it felt the last time you truly laughed hard. Remember how lost you once were in the beauty and joy of simply making music.
Sure, there’s discipline and work in becoming a great singer.
But as Jo Estill used to say: “Even that ‘work’ can be fun. Let your spirit sing. Let it all hang out. Your voice is beautiful. Believe!”
Get out there and sing and play. Play in your singing. The world, including you, will be better for it!
Moss Erickson, Heidi Making Play a Part of Practice SFBAC Newsletter, September 2021
For Heidi Moss Erickson’s full article, click here.
Steinhauer, Kimberly, et al. The Estill Voice Model : Theory et Translation. Pittsburgh Estill Voice International, 2017.