The Balanced Voice – Part 3: More elements of balance

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So far we have explored the more concrete elements of balance in a voice – those to do directly with the use of the sound-producing body, and those to do with the acoustics of the sounds we hear. It is time to move on to balance in the more experiential dimensions. Here we are clearly working more metaphorically, counter-posing ostensible opposites within the singer’s awareness.

Experience of Self

The first cluster of opposites all relate to the singer’s executive control functions: to what extent do sing with a conscious awareness of what we’re doing, and to what extent do we lose ourselves in the music?

The opposition between head and heart is the classic metaphor to describe this experiential distinction. Actually, the difference lies entirely in the head, with both analytical, system 2 thinking and holistic/intuitive system 1 thinking taking place in the brain, while the heart continues to beat throughout, helpfully keeping us alive.

Still, such is the power of metaphor that our brains intuitively understand that to invoke the cognitively-irrelevant organ of the heart is to describe a mode of experience in which we commit ourselves without reservation. The lack of calculation entails both a sense of honesty, authenticity, and the risk of folly.

Now, clearly musical performance needs some sense of control, some respect for good form as implied by the word ‘decoro’, some decorum. But it also needs some sense of spontaneity, of living in the moment, of letting go, of sprezzatura. The simultaneous requirement for logical and experiential opposites is something I will return to in my next post when I consider what kind of relationship between elements the word ‘balance’ can suggest.

Relational

All of my metaphors so far have been expressed in terms of the individual singer, though some – particularly the sonic qualities - can also apply to the collective. The next cluster of opposites pertain to the relationship of the individual to the group.

  • Self/other
  • Giving/taking
  • Leading/following
  • Inner ear/outer ear

There are two types of novice choral singers. The first are good at blending their voices into the sound around them, but are easily pulled off piste by voices singing other parts; they get labelled ‘leaners’. The second are good at holding their own part but don’t yet have the knack of harmonising, of slotting their voice into the whole; they get labelled as ‘overly soloistic’. The leaner needs to develop the stronger sense of self that the soloist brings to the party, while the soloist needs to develop the awareness and sensitivity that comes easily to the leaner.

You can express this distinction in purely musical terms of inner/outer ears – to what extent is a choir member singing along to their internalised guide track of how the music goes, and to what extent are they singing along to the actual sound around them? But self/other captures the sense that it’s not just about musical skills, it’s also about direction of attention and attitude.

Likewise, giving/taking and leading/following describe aspects of teamwork that need to be in equilibrium if the ensemble is going to function effectively. All the individuals involved need to participate both proactively and responsively, otherwise the sound won’t cohere. A balanced choral sound refers not just to volume relationships, but a sense of equality of contribution and commitment across the group.


I am sure that by now you will have a host of other analytical elements that need to be balanced in the individual voice and/or the ensemble sound. But I am going to stop here on the enumeration of elements because we have enough in hand to generalise from as we move in the next post onto considering what kind of relational structure the word ‘balance’ can entail.

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