Happy New Year! Yesterday was my first day back with my university BA acting students after the holidays. They are all in their first year, so thus far, we’ve been working on the foundations; including beginning to build a vocal warm up that they can use in and out of class.
Before we went on holiday, which was a four-week break, I told them it was important to do a vocal warm up on a regular basis during this hiatus, so that they could continue strengthening their voices and keeping them healthy. Like with physical exercise, taking a full four weeks off from doing any voice work can really set you back if you’re used to a routine of working on your voice consistently.
At the time, they diligently nodded their heads and said they would absolutely commit to working regularly during their breaks. And they are hard workers, so I know they meant it. But since it was the Christmas holidays, I went into the first class of the new year assuming that, even with the best of intentions, those warm ups were likely few and far between. I therefore took them through a long warm up to reconnect them with their bodies and voices after what was probably a several-week hiatus.
Afterwards, many of them mentioned how good it felt to make sound in a space where it felt safe, where they were given permission to do so by a guide. As part of the vocal warm up, we make a variety of sounds—including voiced sighs, chanting and intoning, sliding up and down the pitch range, counting, and various gobbledygook sounds that don’t mean anything but that help students practice coordinating their breath support with vocal onset. It can get, well, quite noisy. And none of it is effective if you’re trying to do it ‘quietly’, without really committing to the sounds you’re making.
Many of them went on to say that while they had been at home, they felt awkward and uncomfortable trying to warm up, because it felt strange to make so much noise that might be potentially overheard— no matter how close of a relationship they had with the people they feared might do the overhearing. It was even strange for them to hear themselves so intimately— as they are used to warming up in a group of people. That intimacy with themselves made it easier to hear, and therefore judge, the sounds they were making.
I was grateful that they brought this up to me, as, for one thing, it means they were at least thinking about their voice work over break, even if they weren’t actually doing it. But these comments also got me thinking about what kind of sounds we are ‘allowed’ to make on a regular basis— what kind of sounds are considered ‘normal’ in western society. The sounds we do in the warm up are not that extreme, but even in my position as a voice teacher, I could totally understand why my students felt embarrassed at the idea of being overheard making them— particularly by someone who didn’t have any context for what they were doing. It made me realize in a deeper way how— based on what I know about the capabilities of the human voice— we as a society use such a narrow range of our voices on a regular basis. Exploring anything outside of that range can therefore feel extremely vulnerable.
With that in mind, it’s important for both actors and business professionals who want to warm up their voices to find a way to create a safe space in which to warm up— a space where you can give yourself permission to make noise. Because, as I said to my students yesterday, drama school is a wonderful safe space, but it won’t last forever. Learning how to build your own safe space is essential to keeping up the craft of your communication. Now, if you have no problem making noise in the presence of other people, then rock on. But if this resonates with you, here are some tips:
TIPS FOR CREATING A SAFE SPACE TO WARM UP IN
So with that in mind, set yourself some goals around your vocal warm up routine in 2016. And if you have other ideas or questions about creating a safe space, please leave a comment below!
(image from http://kimmysmusicaltheatre.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/vocal-warm-up-exercises.html)