Judy Pozsgay on the Integration of Voice and Movement

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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.

Hi Liz
How very true that movement can be a difficult concept to add to singing. You definitely do not want that arm flung about or an awkward lunge forward that could detract rather than add to the music. Every operatic singer can concur.
A friend of our daughter's is singing in The Magic Flute in London, U.K. When they went to see this production our daughter commented on how the audience recognized the difficulty of the Queen's aria. Her friend had sung that part of the Queen of the Night in the past. What she found so challenging was that the character and situation of the story is tense but the singing (colouratura) needs a relaxed style to sing such a demanding aria. She had to divorce the tenseness of the acting from the fluidity and relaxed physicality needed to sing the demanding aria. It would be interesting to watch something like that to get the idea if you didn't have a wonderful workshop leader such as yours.
The standing on one leg theory is such a great exercise. It is also a treat to hear people honouring the various learning styles. Bravo.

Hi Kitty,
That's a great example you give there with the Queen of the Night aria - the vocal demands are so extreme, and the emotional content is also really strong, but as you say they have the potential to pull the singer in completely contradictory directions. Thanks for the thought.


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