In My Own Words: Singing Field
Music for Transformation
In My Own Words: Singing Field
Cover: Minature steel drums in a craft market Tobago Photograph: Anna Watson/Axiom
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International policymakers share their sound.
I WAS RECENTLY invited to introduce the work of The Naked Voice at a conference. Many countries were represented: from the USA to Eastern Asia and they were told that there would be a “musical surprise” one evening. For two days I witnessed this committed group of policymakers thrash out their strategies. As I listened to the intense communications – which were full of fear – the scene appeared to me as an operatic display of unredeemed conflict, fuelled by centuries of ‘divide and rule’.
The primary aim of The Naked Voice is to establish a deep non-judgemental listening that is able to recognise, observe and embrace fear, without reactive involvement. The process then involves transforming negative emotion into positive human feeling through the power of sound.
On the night of the “musical surprise” I opened with a sung improvisation based on the terminology used during the conference. This surprised the delegates as they listened to this interpretation of their strategies, freely expressed through sound. My intention was to shift attention from the head to the heart as quickly as possible. A stunned silence ensued.
It was time to pose my first question: “As we have been investigating ways to protect humanity from annihilation, may I ask if anyone here has actually been present at the death of a loved one?” A long pause followed. The atmosphere was potent. Their empty, questioning faces revealed years of obsessive left-brain activity, as they endeavoured to expose themselves to this unexpected right-brain question. No-one responded. For once these delegates were disarmed and lost for words.
“Well,” I continued, “my father just died. I sang with him while he was dying. We sang ‘Thy will be done’ together. I had never honoured my father’s request to compose a song for the Lord’s Prayer. Now was my moment.” Everyone in the conference was engaged… I continued my story.
“As my father and I sang and cried together in the last moments of his life, I realised as we sang ‘Thy kingdom come’ that he was free of attachment. With a final roaring sound, his voice softened to a gentle whisper, as he crossed the threshold into the new kingdom. What he revealed in these final utterances was a simplicity of being that let go, eyes wide open, without a trace. His last breath expired into a silence so peaceful, I shall never forget.”
I looked around and the group was fully attentive. “This unforgettable opportunity to honour my father’s life was a major inspiration in experiencing the power of the human voice to transform fear into Love.” The silence in the room was audible. It was time to involve theëm more directly.
“So,” I continued, “as death is the presenting issue for this conference, may we practise dying together?” Some delegates immediately made for the door, clutching their glasses of port. They remained there, a safe distance from the centre of action. I scanned the room for playmates as I spoke about the potential of our sound to build bridges and dispel differences between opposing forces and belief systems. Then came the first exercise.
“We have an exercise called ‘One Breath One Voice’. In one breath, you take the deepest in-breath, and without any thought, you sound out one long ‘Aah’. You then stay there for a moment, and breathe in again. Would anyone like to join me?”
A guillotine of fear slammed down shut, followed by a stony silence. “OK,” I replied, and immediately let out a loud spine-tingling “Aah” across the room. Finally the breath died away and I was empty in the presence of forty amazed onlookers! Eventually my next breath jerked back into my body, and everyone quietly sighed with relief. Clearly no-one was going to follow this raw momentary encounter between life and death. We moved into safer territory. The group began to relax. Ties loosened and dinner jackets came off.
The next exercise, ‘Offering’, was an invitation to open up, and make a gift of one’s voice to another. I invited each ‘country’ to make their way, one at a time, across the circle, offering their sound as a gift to another participant. “As you offer yourself up to the voice inside, open your mouth wide, forget yourself, and follow your sound across the circle.” I demonstrated first, then scanned ‘the world’ for a volunteer. My eyes lighted on central Europe.
“Italy!” I exclaimed. “A most musical European culture. Will you lead us?” His head remained lowered. Yet an irrepressible smile gave way, and with it, an uncontrollable burst of applause and support from the rest of the world, and “Come on Italy, you can do it!”
Our courageous friend quietly surrendered. Silence and awe swept through the group as they watched this brave countryman slowly breathe in, and open his arms to sing. We were transported to La Scala! The voice showered us all with Latin in a devotional, operatic stream of Ave Marias, expressed in an authentic voice of love. He moved majestically across the room, landing in front of dumbstruck Canada, who staggered back, primal utterances sounding from the depths, finally bowing to Norway. Receiving the torch, Norway was moved to sound through tears. So the web wove itself, from one side of the world to the other, until every country had been heard and honoured. The whole group was resonant, unified, open-hearted and still.
This article is an edited extract from Chloë Goodchild’s forthcoming book, Sound Intelligence – A New Language of Consciousness, which will be available from The Naked Voice in 2009.
Chloë Goodchild is founder of The Naked Voice, an international singer, recording artist and author of Awakening through Sound.