Donya Metzger, American Vocal Coach, Learning Track Producer and a Capella Director, recently ran a workshop with Coastal a Capella chorus on Movement For Voice.
Donya invited us to Be, Play and Allow.
While this invitation was fun, it challenged us. Further, I began to explore the importance of creativity, not only for singing, but other pursuits like writing, painting, design, as well as business and work, and life in general.
As an author, (my Young Adult book Collisionwas recently published under my pen name PJ Byer) to be, play and allow during the writing process can be scary. Yet it’s also exhilarating!
Why is it difficult for us to let go, and play? Are we accustomed to the restrictions of adult life, with work and family commitments? Do rules allow us to feel safe, have control? Do we feel a little silly to play, thinking it’s for children only?!
To anyone who has seen Coastal a Capella perform it is clear we are a cohesive, diverse and fun group of women, who love harmony singing. Sweet Adelines’ strong focus on music education, like Donya’s workshop, is crucial to the growth of our art form. Moreover, we need to be open to this learning, and outside our comfort zone.
George Bernard Shaw said, ‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.’ Research shows playing can boost our energy and vitality and even improve our resistance to disease, helping us feel our best. (HelpGuide.org)
Donya described the tension we hold, in our face, bellies, shoulders. Her initial exercise, to physicalise breathing and sing a note, started low in the belly, breathing down and through the pelvis, up the spine and ribcage to the skull, and out the mouth. Next, using this ‘curving’ image, we moved around the space, singing our note to various objects, then people, always restarting the breath from the belly.
During feedback, our group responses ranged from ‘It was strange singing to a red fire hydrant!’ to ‘That was very freeing.’ I was challenged by locking eyes and singing to each member moving past. On the risers we don’t really look at each other!
Playing with focus during a love ballad was very helpful. As we gaze at our director Linda Wareham (!), rather than sing to a real or imagined lover, Donya suggested picturing a loved person (child, friend), animal or thing (wine, chocolate!) Her feedback was that our faces visibly relaxed, and ‘scary faces’ diminished.
Tanner Christensen in Why Play is Essential for Creativity writes, ‘Play-like activities put us into into a psychological state where it’s ok to fail, where it’s ok to wonder “what if?” A result of that thinking is the ability to freely explore the unknown. From that exploration creative insights are much easier to spot.’
In my writing I know this is true. Authors are plot planners, ‘pantsers’ (letting inspiration lead them) or a combination of these like me. In my latest project, a prequel to Collision, I have a general narrative arc.
But I’ve learned to ‘let go’ when I’m uncertain what happens next. I wonder ‘what if?’ and let the words flow. Later I’ll edit, ramp up the tension, restructure…but it’s crucial to explore the unknown. And this is the liberating and exciting part of writing. There is nothing like falling into your imaginary world, seeing where your characters lead you.
Tanner Christensen adds, ‘Play removes limits that otherwise constrain us to what we currently know to be possible. With limits gone, we open ourselves to diversity (through play) and creative insights become the norm of what we’re doing.’
So consider Donya’s challenge to be, play and allow. Whatever you’re doing, singing, writing, gardening, designing, or in a group project at work, aim to be in the moment and loosen a few rules!
Movement for Voice Workshop Donya Metzger, September 15, 2015