The world is a lot smaller now...

It's been several months since my last post, and much has happened!

I presented at the VASTA conference in Singapore last summer, my first time to visit anywhere in Asia. It was great to present my work to other professionals, and get some perspective on not only where my work has come from and can go to, but also in confidence and ownership over it. I was pessimistic about surrounding myself with a lot of, mostly American, voice teachers for an intensive week or workshops and seminars, but it certainly paid dividends. It was also a relief to discover that many of my misgivings about current voice practise are shared by a great many other practitioners across different sectors. Those who loathe guruism and doctrine fear not - we are not alone (albeit we are in a minority)!

I don't generally fly very much. I didn't fly anywhere until I was 25 years old, and only then because I had to because getting to Bahrain otherwise would have meant travelling through Iran (long visa process), Saudi Arabia (very difficult), or Sudan/Eritrea/Djibouti (very dangerous). If you can afford the time to travel by land I'd certainly recommend it. Aside from meeting people in a very different manner (usually for longer and more relaxed), you also get a much better sense of how far you've gone. Sometimes seeing the changes in physical landscape can also aid other knowledge, history for example. I remember always knowing about the siege of Leningrad in terms of hard facts, for example, but it wasn't until I travelled from Helsinki to Moscow by train that I understood how the physical terrain hindered the fascist advance and supply through Russia during WWII; the surrounding land being either swamp or immensely dense forest (or a combination of both) for many hundreds of kilometres. There's a great website in English at www.seat61.com which tells you how to get anywhere in the world without flying, mostly by train. It's very detailed, and well worth a look. Train travel can often be cheaper than flying on short or long journeys, and you don't have baggage allowances to worry about - let alone falling out of the sky!

But so I went to Singapore from Dublin via Helsinki and back in the space of 10 days. Was it a dream? Did it really happen? Thus feels my body. The country was certainly interesting though, one of the first places I've been where multiculturalism seems to genuinely work/gel. Singapore has four official first languages - Malay, Mandarin, English, and Tamil. School students have to take at least two of these languages, and all state services are available in each language. Of course there are areas where specific communities come together - Little India, China town etc, but these areas don't feel as ghettoised as other metropolises I've been in.
 It also has an incredibly easy relationship with it's colonialist past - all the Singaporeans I met were either indifferent or positive towards the imperialist Raffles. "Well, he made the country really - it wouldn't be so prosperous if it wasn't for him" was the general run of things. All of this says nothing of course about the vast migrant worker population mostly from the Philippines, whose language does not enjoy the same rights, and whose citizens clearly do not enjoy the same benefits as the people they work for or serve...

Unfortunately, my return to Ireland did not a great bounty of work afford and so I set about looking for stuff abroad. I'm now living in China, teaching Public Speaking, Theatre, and a bit of Debate for a specialist education agency in Beijing. As much as I dearly love Ireland, I wasn't making a comfortable living there and so I've jumped ship for a bit. More on China in another post (or perhaps a book haha), but it is certainly an adventure and has already allowed me to visit Vietnam for a holiday, and to see and learn many many new things. Funny old life ain't it?

Escaping London - effects on the body and voice

The last few months have been an interesting time for me...

After 12 years of London as a base I've decided to jump ship and emigrate to Ireland. Life in one of the best cities in the world through my 20's has been great fun, but I'm ready to tone things down and once again embrace the small town living which I longed to escape as a teenager. 

To that end I've been back in Yorkshire for a few months, learning to drive (essential for life in Ireland) and spending some quality time with family and friends. Yorkshire has plenty of clean air and small towns, but to add great music and craic to the list I need to get to Ireland - and with Brexit around the corner, sooner rather than later!

From being back up north, the effect on my voice and spine have been noticeable. Both are essential as a performer and teacher, so care and knowledge of these is essential to best working practise. 

Firstly, within a matter of weeks of being back, my voice dropped. This isn't the usual accent adjustment you'd find moving to a home region after being away (usually a change in tone rather than pitch), but a drop in the habitual voice level by three of four notes. Essentially, this is a result of relaxation of the laryngeal muscles - the cause? No, not the various muscle release techniques (direct and indirect) favoured by so many acting and voice teachers, but just from escaping the madness of London, "The Big Smoke". I wonder, is having the vast majority of acting conservatoires in London conducive to the most efficient models of movement and voice training? Much as I have my reservations about Linklater training (a distinct understatement), I can nonetheless appreciate why Kristin conducts her training in beautiful Scottish countryside. After so may years of cramped tube travel (the metro), striving to get through crowds, and appalling air quality; my habitual pitch had simply become that slight bit higher - both by necessity of needing to be heard, and by slight tensions in the vocal tract from the general stresses of living in the capital.

Secondly, I've noticed a big difference on my posture and spine. This has been positive in day to day use - the space in even a busy city Yorkshire shopping street being akin to a quiet day in even a suburban London high street, thus allowing a freedom in use of my full width and height. At 6' 4'' (1.93cm) I'm fairly tall so it's been a great relief to avoid the daily stooping in small underground carriages. However this has proved problematic in learning to drive! Surely a body awareness course should be available to sit alongside all driving tuition? So many vehicles, all different shapes and sizes, with different force needed by arms, legs, and feet to operate them...
 After the first lesson is was my knees which felt strange, asking them to be positioned and used in a manner I'd not done in the previous 31 years. It was almost as if my knees were twisted, like I could feel my Popliteus muscle for the first time (this connects the back of the Tibia to the outside of the Femur). Of course, this got better after only a few lessons, but until now the main issue had been driving in cars too small for me, ones where I had to hunch/crick my neck slightly to ensure that my head wasn't pressed hard against the roof of the vehicle. After a four hour lesson before my test I knew I'd pulled or knotted a muscle, likely my Iliocostalis (cervical part) or Longissimus Cervicis (these connect from between the shoulder blade and spine up to the same side of the neck) - and painful it was too! Every lesson required spinal work afterwards, and I may still even go for a deep tissue massage even now, to be sure. 

But hey-ho I passed my test first time, am now fully mobile (a strange feeling after so many years of depending on lifts/public transport), and have a vehicle with plenty of head room so am rid of the posture problems plaguing me for the past few weeks. Hooray!

I'd be interested to hear thoughts from tutors on this matter, driving position must have an enormous effect on our student's posture and use of spine, and until now wasn't something I suppose I'd considered much.

Have you posture or back pain problems from driving? Do you know you get tense in your neck when using your voice? Driving may be a cause, and a massage might be a relief, but training yourself in body awareness is undoubtedly the best full time solution. I've been fortunate to study both Alexander and Feldenkrais techniques and would recommend either. These are minimum effort (though require strong/specific focus) practises which will help many people, and certainly any performer. Search online for a practitioner or group class in your area and give it a go!

For Alexander teachers/classes look here or here.
For Feldenkrias teachers/classes try here or here (UK).

And if you want to try something without paying, have a go at these short, free, online Feldenkrais lessons here.

Thanks for reading, comments very welcome.