Monday, January 5, 2015 by Justin Spenner | Introduction
I see so many blogs going out and about around my Facebook newsfeed that I figured it's about time I join the masses. Just like my ill-fated t-shirt business idea, I'm probably behind the game but I won't let that stop me from flexing my voice know-how and letting it lie dormant on an online forum. The purpose of this is for me to spew the various ideas that I've had floating in my head week to week while working with my 30+ students, and to suggest rep/listening material whenever something comes across my ear-holes that I think deserves to make the same journey across yours. I will also arbitrarily highlight individual parts of the vocal anatomy and try to explain via text what they mean to your instrument. I will also probably make jokes that only I will laugh at, forcing me to excitedly show my girlfriend how witty I was on the internet, forcing her to give me a polite chuckle which I will willingly accept as sincere. See? There's one- and that whole scene just happened.
So where to start? Explain the name, I guess- it is an odd one. The Wonderful Vibrating Walnut! While I work with a good deal of new-comers to singing, I find that even my most advanced students (and myself) tend to, at one point or another, start thinking entirely too much with our throats. It's the equivalent of only thinking with your stomach at a 5-Star restaurant- seems the right way to go until you consult with Mr. Wallet. We concern ourselves with sound, our tone, color, this person or that person, vibrato, and, my least favorite, placement *shudder*. What is wrong with concerning ourselves with balance, consistency, support, release, flexibility, security, sustainability, and so many other aspects that leave warm feelings in the heart and mind? The issue, in my experience, is that we live in a music culture that rewards large, inconsistent, but artificially impressive voices over resonant, well-informed, but not artificial voices more and more from year to year. This results in the need to mimic, to become "that singer", and to put the adventure of finding ones own instrument on the wayside. In my opinion, there isn't a more detrimental practice for your voice (besides, of course, a teacher telling you there's only one way of doing things). This kind of practice ALWAYS results in over-manipulation of various musculature in an attempt to control the most important involuntary organism of singing: the larynx.
So to beginners, to the advanced, and to professionals, I say this anecdote: I think of the larynx (voice box, to those not in the anatomy know-how) as a walnut. It makes perfect sense! It certainly is shaped like a (funny) walnut. It's the same size as a walnut. It tastes like a--- nevermind. BUT, just like a walnut, there's a whole lot that goes on inside of it that we don't concern ourselves with. How did the nut get inside the wal? I sure don't know, but it did- there's undoubtedly a process, and I bet when a squirrel tries to futz with that process when they're getting ready for winter that it stunts the progress of that process. What happens in the larynx? Well, that I DO know, but the answer is the same- you futz with the inside and all you'll get is one totally futzed process. So, how do we let a walnut grow? We let it be a walnut- no extra responsibilities, no shaking and prodding, definitely no eating- but maybe with some influence, an ideal environment perhaps, so that it can grow most efficiently. Yes, that will work. Well, that would seem to apply the same way to the larynx! Let it do it's job- it is reactionary, after all- but maybe add some influence. A consistent airflow here, an open resonator there, maybe release the tongue and sing with flexible dynamics- voila! It works! You wouldn't let a walnut be your office assistant, would you? No, because it's a walnut- it can't even take calls. Then don't let the larynx be anything other than a Wonderful Vibrating Walnut!
Well, maybe I condense that in person. Jeez, I hope I condense it in person. Students, let me know if I condense that in person. But, the sentiment is there; that's what I'm about. I want to find what each singer can do for their own instrument so that the larynx can have as little responsibility as possible- that's a healthy, balanced voice. That's what singing should be- freedom, unburdened acoustical freedom. So, check back in week to week- let me help you get excited about your voice, or at least give you something to chuckle then think about. It's a long road ahead for us singers- better take a walnut.