The pleasure of discovering our own resources

Annerose Krämer-Hübner

When we sing, we use our body as an instrument and it is one which everybody possesses. As dance also uses the body and trains body tension and control, both disciplines complement one another. Since September 2010, the class 11 pupils of the Kräherwald Waldorf School have had the opportunity to discover their own individual access to their voice, the most intimate of all instruments. The Singing & Dance project is directed by Josef Wiest (music), Christian Sommerlad (theatre) and Annerose Krämer-Hübner (singing). 

Structure of the project

Most people are very shy about their own voice. Developing it requires a protected space to begin with. Yet in the course of the project it becomes increasingly natural to sing in front of others. Everyone starts with the development of their voice from the point where they happened to be at and everyone can hear and follow the improvements and aestheticisation. The project ends each year with a workshop performance in which the pupils reveal their voice to the public with obvious pleasure – solo, in duets or in groups – which is always a touching event.

From Christmas carols to West Side Story

At the start of class 11, all the pupils enter a familiarisation phase in which they receive voice training in small groups for 15-20 minutes during the double music lesson, plus 15 minutes of group singing and 55 minutes of dance lessons with half the class each. The aim is to give them some idea of what it means to develop the voice. The pupils learn that a free and naturally sounding tone is created if they combine a resonant attack with deep breathing, the corresponding respiratory muscles and the diaphragm. Of central importance in this respect is clear, lively, forward-facing speech which brings the content of the literature to life and at the same time helps to combine the body and voice in a harmonious way. The pupils are then divided into two groups in accordance with their interests and commitment. About 80 percent continue to be looked after in voice training groups with two to a group as a rule. As far as possible there is also individual training. The rest continue in larger singing groups. A first performance takes place at Advent. The pupils sing traditional Christmas carols in a home for the elderly. Singing in front of an audience is tried out for the first time with songs which can be well managed by beginners. Mastering a performance also requires practice in presentation. That is why there are three internal performance for which literature in various combinations is prepared. The most suitable pieces are selected for the concluding performance. The final number is preferably a piece which combines singing and dancing. Every pupil can choose the form in which he or she wants to participate. As the project progresses, the confidence in their own abilities visibly grows so that the wish for solo performances also increases.

The class 12 at the Kräherwald school always puts on a class play and there is the option to combine it with singing and dancing. In November 2011 class 12a put on West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein with a full orchestra.

An ensouled sound sends a shiver down our back

According to a study by Albert Mehrabian, a large part (almost 40 percent) of how we view other people depends on our perception of their voice. The voice is the fundamental human form of expression. A pleasant sounding, flexible voice with clear diction in combination with a self-confident demeanour is invaluable throughout life. Expanding our expressive range, developing a basic understanding of the healthy use of our voice – that is not only required in almost any occupation, it is also a direct part of our personal development.

To put it in simplified terms, singing is extended speech. From that perspective, everyone who can speak can also sing. Yehudi Menuhin goes one step further and describes singing as the mother tongue of human beings. Irrespective of cultural background and without the prerequisites which are needed to learn an instrument, quality music making with the voice is possible also for the beginner in a comparatively short period of time.

Developing a pleasant sounding, flexible voice which also carries requires that body, soul and spirit are brought into balance. Too much emotion would impair the healthy development of tone, too little emotion would make the tone sound cold. Such a state of balance is visibly refreshing for the singer.

Learning to sing means mobilising positive energies within ourselves. We cannot sing if we are depressed or physically tired. If we allow the singing to act on us, we overcome our tiredness or depressive mood and deploy life-affirming energy because without the latter a free tone cannot be formed.

That comes to expression in singing technique, for example, in that the cheek muscles are activated in a similar way to when we smile. The diaphragm, too, is deployed in the same way in which it is used as a reflex when we laugh. In this way the interplay between body, emotions and consciousness enables the unity which is singing. The head and chest voice fuse into a single register. We obtain a voice without breaks or transitions when voice leading is learned which is controlled from above, that is from the head, without pressure but with spirited energy and the economical use of air. Such knowledge is fundamental for maintaining a healthy voice and a prerequisite for artistic expressiveness. Once that path has been found, it feels right and natural.

The pupils then say that it feels simple and easy. At the same time the tone gains in strength. The sound is beautiful without being strained and develops a quite individual timbre. In special moments it can send a shiver down our back, something which the fellow pupils present also remarked upon.

In order for artistic energy to arise, a relaxed form of concentration is essential however complex the subject may be. This can only happen in an environment of trust and positive support. Like no other instrument, the development of the singing voice requires security alongside technical skill. Humour is always a help. Finding a personal path for every pupil is recommended in order to reach each one of them.

Technical skill is essential for carrying out the project in such a timeframe. The singing teacher should have a wide range of experience with beginners and soloists of all ages.

How do the pupils experience the project?

“The singing lessons not only  helped me to sing but they helped me to achieve a clear and carrying voice for presentations.”

“There is now such lightness, composure and ease when we sing. That applied not just in my case but there was huge progress in the whole class which also came to expression during the performance where many sang so beautifully. I believe everyone can learn to sing if they practice. The only thing that varies is that some require more and some less practice.”

“The project helped me to find my voice in a new way and it is really only now that I have learnt how to use my voice properly.”

The teachers can see that the performers, particularly the boys, feel visibly well in their bodies. “Singing is clearly a help in finding oneself and one’s own resources in an enjoyable way. There is greater confidence in oneself. We can experience how the singer arrives in himself.” The pupils appeared in a new light through the performance. The remark that a touching performance had made it worthwhile keeping a pupil who had proved a challenge for the teachers speaks for itself.

About the author: Annerose Krämer-Hübner has been a voice and singing teacher for many years