Free your Body, Free your Voice

Workshops with Sally Burgess and Fiona Bryan

Sally and I met a couple of years ago at Co-Opera.Co and in working together found that we felt similarly about the importance of the body in musical performance. I was thrilled when she suggested that we do a series of workshops at her studio in Chiswick this year to explore this further.

In our workshops at Co-Opera each singer performed and was given coaching from Sally and then myself. Sally guides the singers in all aspects of their technical capabilities insisting on the highest quality and in incredible detail at all times. I am looking at the performer to see the ways in which they interfere with the optimum “use” of their bodies, and especially the parts most concerned with singing- the vocal chords and breathing and support mechanisms. Together we explore the impact this is having on the quality and control of their voice.

We felt this worked well and so decided that this would form at least some part of our day, but I then asked Sally if we could include some “table work” and she agreed so that added a new and exciting dimension.

Table work is a regular part of an Alexander lesson, you can see pictures and read about it by clicking here, because it brings a great deal of muscular release throughout the body.  No matter what the reason for a person’s having lessons, this is always beneficial and leads to great improvements.

I wanted to include it because when working with Sally previously it had been so clear to me that tension within the singers bodies was compromising their sound and all aspects of their expression and I knew that if they could be helped to release it their voices would blossom in every way.  In addition I know that often no matter how much we want to do something differently, even though we understand what is being asked of us, it is sometimes impossible because the body is unable to respond. The hands-on work, as well as releasing unwanted tension, re-ignites the natural mind-body connection so that a change in thinking can create a change in muscle tone and movement and we can therefore create more optimum conditions for performance. Working in this way will bring improvements in sound quality, volume and resonance, help increase stamina and prevent injury and is a practical way of tacking performance anxiety. In time we can learn to release this unwanted tension from our bodies not only before and after but during a performance when we most tense up and most need to let go. If relevant we will consider the reasons for that tension and explore the idea that it arises not only from habitual ways of standing and moving but from our feelings about ourselves, fears to do with performance, our understanding about the music, our relationship to the people we're performing

with and the environment we're in.

So our days consist of an open workshop in the morning and then in the afternoon an individual hands-on session with me followed by a lesson with Sally. By working in this way each person then gets a very clear experience of what is possible for them before and after the table work. Below are some of the comments that people have made:

“Working with Fiona and Sally was a brilliant experience. I left the day feeling as if I had achieved better control of my voice and my confidence had grown as a result. Having more awareness of your body is a must for any singer and Sally and Fiona make this possible in one day with them.”

“Many thanks for the fabulous workshop last Saturday! :)  I have been meaning to write both you and Sally to tell you how much I did enjoy it and benefitted from it. The table work absolutely amazed me, and I'd love to do more, I had no idea Alexander Technique could be so beneficial for me. I had an audition on Monday for an opera agent, and I really tried to employ what I learned from you and Sally, and I felt much more grounded and still than I have ever felt.  Very enthusiastic about continuing to harness more of that power.”

“I'd like to thank you so much for a wonderful workshop day on saturday. I really enjoyed it and found it extremely beneficial both in the moment and in my practice yesterday too. I'm sure I will continue to reap the benefits for many days and maybe even weeks to come.

It was very well organised, informative and helpful. I felt that each singer got plenty of time and attention as well as the chance to put new ideas and ways of being into practice. 

I find as a working singer and teacher there are a lack of such workshop style classes available and it was so refreshing to come to something of such high quality and good value for money and have my energy and enthusiasm renewed. It's lovely to be reminded that I can sing well and there is still lots of scope to sing better especially with workshops such as yours.”

“I was really grateful that Fiona was so patient in explaining about the Alexander Technique, and the physical session on it was fascinating - I don't think I would have ever believed it could have that sort of physical effect until I experienced it! I think I now have a better idea of how I should be standing when I am singing. I got home and told my mum, who replied that she always wondered why I had leaned back slightly in recitals!

Performing in a masterclass situation is something very alien to me, so I was grateful to get some practise before September. I am quite used to performing as a character on stage and in auditions, but I have never had to work on anything as myself in front of people before - it is quite a different skill! It was a really nice group, and lovely to hear everyone sing. “

“Overall I really enjoyed the alexander session the other day: everything that Fiona said about using our body in a better way made complete sense, and I think it is something that we (or at least I) tend to forget about sometimes. What really surprised me was that already after the first session I immediately felt the effects of the 'therapy'. “

“Going straight into singing after the alexander session was rather weird: everything that I was used to feeling in my body while singing had completely changed! It was off-putting to start with, and in fact I didn't feel like singing at all, because nothing of what was usually 'natural' to me was there, and I felt very much exposed, like I couldn't control my voice. 

But as I went on, I felt more relaxed and it seemed like my body was more able to respond to the directions I was given (release the sound, support it, use the body and not the throat/tongue to produce sound, etc...). Singing felt more natural, like less effort, and everything around the throat felt more relaxed.” 

“Fiona, I really had a fabulous time last Saturday, it was a real eye opener and I caught a glimpse of the singer I could be!”

“I kept meaning to phone to say how brilliant the day was!!! I really got a lot out of it and it was so fantastic to be able to see other people sing as it pointed out to me many things that I can also correct in myself. Sally’s corrections were readily visible, tangible and gave instant results.The session was highly informative.”

“I was really thrilled by the change that I've felt from working with the Alexander technique “

“Quite amazing!”

“I was inspired by the Alexander Technique and really loved Sally’s teaching style.”

I asked Sally what she thought about what seemed possible for her students after the table work and she said -

“Having worked with 20 singers over our first 5 workshop days, it was quite clear to us all what becomes 'available', what openings can happen, for the singer when working in this way. 

A combination of the time we give to each singer in the morning, then the afternoon hands-on session with Fiona, and the following session with me makes up the whole experience, and allows the singer to let go of habitual unnecessary tensions. The body then can follow clear instructions given by the singer to him/herself with our guidance.

Often, the body is so caught up in it's wrongness of balance, the singer is simply unable to get it to try new patterns of behaviour. When these tensions/imbalances are removed or softened  (by the table work ) rapid development happens, all becomes 'available'.

The over-riding result is an increase in the quality, clarity and 'presence' of the singer's sound, along with an ease within the body in producing that sound.

Hearing and watching the other singers involved going through a similar experience - but inevitably different for each person - is valuable too. All in all, a thrilling experience.”

Click here to read Sally’s CV and click here to read mine.

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