Judy Pozsgay on the Integration of Voice and Movement
Sunday morning's workshop at the recent Sweet Adelines Region 31 Convention developed on from Sandy Marron's work on the vocal instrument to an exploration with Judy Pozsgay on how to effectively combine the voice with bodily movement. It's an interesting contradiction that, while there is a fertile theme in mainstream choral pedagogy around the use of gesture to facilitate vocal and musical skills in rehearsal, it is also a truism in more formally choreographed choral traditions such as barbershop that 'the singing goes as soon as the moves go on'.
Judy's approach is designed both to integrate the body so it is working as a unit rather than a set of atomised parts, and thus also to integrate the voice with bodily movement. The idea that the body needs to be integrated both for grace/ease of motion and effective vocal support is hardly controversial of course, but knowing that it is so and actually doing it are not the same thing. (I am reminded of Steve Jamison's comment that 'understanding is the booby prize'.)
In particular, the need for 'vocal support' as muscular engagement can all too easily result in muscular tension and stiffness, in strength gained at the expense of freedom. A delightfully simple exercise that circumvents this problem was to sing standing on one leg. This immediately engages muscular activity throughout the body, but because balance is a dynamic state, nothing could get locked up.
Just as Sandy modelled the vocal instrument using a simple but richly connotative conceptual structure, Judy modelled the whole body as being driven from a central core. This is an idea that will be familiar to people who do activities like Pilates, but it is rather different, if you think about it, from the fragmented and very limb-focused ways we usually represent ourselves. You don't see the core in stick figures.
She developed the idea of the core as the origin of all movement by having participants repeat an arm movement several times, each time thinking of its origin differently. First from the fingers, then the wrist, then the elbow, shoulder and finally the core. This is a nice application of the Inner Game Principle of Will, and she also appealed to different modes of learning by giving the chance both to feel the difference this made and to observe it in others.
So, this idea works as a way to keep the whole body integrated in movement, but it also intersects neatly with Sandy's model. The central core that drives movement is the same part of the body that Sandy modelled as the box that drives the voice. You could see this intersection in action when she asked singers for continuity of energy throughout a move (rather than energising the start and then losing interest in it). Because they had to connect with the same part of the body to energise the move as they would for continuity of breath, they achieved a more compelling delivery of the phrase as a by-product of the more convincing move.
And this integration of attention is the really clever bit of their team approach. The reason why one set of skills degrades when another is added is because any element that's in a state of conscious competence will drop out when attention is diverted elsewhere. By building movement skills on the same foundation as vocal skills, Judy not only conserves attentional resources, but even leverages them.