‘We came into this life crying and calling, wailing and singing and for the first few months of our life all our needs and instincts, our dissatisfactions and discoveries are immediately vocalised without apology and without censure. The, along comes language and the oppressive demands of family, of school and society.

For many, the road to becoming an adult involves being increasingly silenced to the point where the original call of the heart is but a dim echo in the corridors of hidden memory. Our healing begins with reclaiming this call of the heart which so many people have lost”

(The Healing Voice, P Newham)

On Saturday, I attended an excellent training day with vocal coach and music therapist Phoene Cave. (I did this as part of my new work project as a Singing for Better Breathing facilitator with the Sidney De Haan Centre for Arts and Health – more on this another time).

Phoene introduced a concept that is long familiar to me but powerfully summing it up in only five simple words. She asked workshop participants to ‘get out of the way’ of our voices.

When we sing, we use these wonderful bodies of ours to produce sound – the power of the breath, the vibration of the vocal cords and amplification of the sound, the shapes created by our lips and tongue and teeth. If we can talk, we can sing. And woah, we can often sing with gusto!

There are patterns of behaviour that we often add to the singing process that can restrict our voices. The tightening of the jaw, the neck, the stomach muscles. The locking of the knees. The holding of the shoulders, the tensing of the tongue.

Our bodies become used to these patterns over time – living in a busy city, sitting at computers, trying hard to make a living, look after loved ones, maintain social networks and all the rest of it. Our body responds to these challenges in certain ways.

In my years leading song workshops, I’ve learnt to take more and more time to support singers to specifically notice and loosen some of these ‘holding’ patterns. To ‘get out of the way’, basically, and let the body and our natural voice just do its thing. Exercises which are not just a cursory warm up before the main event of singing a song, but which can help us create some fundamental changes in our bodies.  And through awareness practices such as yoga, Alexander technique and mindfulness, I’ve been learning myself to ‘get out of the way’ of my own voice.

After investing more time in these exercises for the body, the breath and the voice, I’ve noticed a difference in the sound produced by singers I work with. Working with people of different ages and backgrounds and with all kinds of bodies. My aim is never to have us rehearse to perfection for performance – I’m interested in what’s happening in the room and in our bodies and hearts, right here and now. But I have noticed the circle of sound we create get stronger. Individual voices sound louder and more resonant – and something magic happens in the group sound, the collective vibrations we create. The singers notice it too.

When I see a change in posture, the dropping of the shoulders, a smile that came from nowhere, longer breaths being taken… well all this makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up in excitement.

Try this right now, as you’re reading. Without moving, just scan your attention over your body.  Your neck, your shoulders, your lower back, chest and belly, arms and fingers. Your hips, legs, feet and toes. Are you tensing, straining, curving, tightening any more than necessary? Take a few seconds to notice – and take a gentle tone with yourself as you do.

Is there a way to ‘get out of the way, to be in a more comfortable posture? Are you any looser, taller, wider, lighter? Does it change how you feel?