My Voice Journey
I began singing, just like everyone else, as a baby, before I could talk, and then… something happened. I don’t quite know what, but I lost my ability to sing and be joyful through my voice. It may be that I was told so many times to ‘be quiet’, ‘shut up’, ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about’, etc that I believed I had no voice.
WORKING WITH GILLES PETIT
And that’s how it was, until my absolute love for harmony eventually led me to work with Frenchman Gilles Petit. Gilles, who lives in Paris, is a musician, singer, performer, and teacher. Much of his early life was as a troubadour playing and singing in Spain and then in the 60’s he travelled overland to India. He has many stories to tell about this trip but one of the most profound was in a village square in Afghanistan, he heard for the first time Indian Raga being sung in its true form. Since then he has devoted his whole life to developing his own way of being in relationship with the purity of sound; and I have been lucky enough to learn with him since 2000.
Using the Indian Raga as a tool for voice development. Gilles coaxes and guides us through our bodies back to our authentic voice. Learning another music system has helped me to understand my blocks, my body, my voice and opened up a whole new musical window. Gilles has guided my voice and my voice has guided my body and my life!
NATURAL VOICE PRACTITIONER
Later I trained as a Natural Voice Practitioner with Frankie Armstrong, an inspirational woman who founded the Natural Voice Network (https://www.naturalvoice.net), which has been responsible for the birth of so many Community Choirs. Working with Frankie gave me the skills and more importantly, the courage to allow my voice to be heard and to begin working with people who classically say: 'I love singing but, no, no, no... I can't sing' Well lets just get one thing clear:
YES YOU CAN!
I love working with my voice and with people.
ROY HART THEATRE
Apart from my regular work with Gilles and ongoing Natural Voice Practitoner work I have also worked with The Roy Hart Theatre in France which Is based on the work of Alfred Wolfson. Wolfson, a German Jew, served in the trenches in the Prussian war and, as a result of the atrocities he experienced, developed what we now call post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He spent his whole life working on his own and other’s voices, and believed that the voice could cure psychological blockages and physical illness too, such as PTSD.
COLLABORATIVE VOCAL IMPROVISATION
Just before lockdown my interest was sparked by Collaborative Vocal Improvisation (CVI), an emerging form arising from the creativity of two remarkable people Rhiannon (https://www.rhiannonmusic.com) and Bobby McFerrin (https://bobbymcferrin.com) and throughout lockdown a collective of CVI teachers developed a daily on-line CVI forum, this certainly kept me sane over an incredibly difficult time, and my voice developing. The collective staged the first CVI Festival and Retreat in Bristol in 2022 (https://www.curiosa.org.uk/ukvocalimprovfestivalretreat).
DARE YOU SING?
For an informal conversation please call me on 079 697 38142
What is Natural Voice?
Natural Voice is about celebrating the voice you were born with, rather than trying to train it to an ideal of perfection.
Some people see themselves as ‘non singers’ because of previous experiences of criticism and judgement and many are excluded from singing because they do not have music-reading skills or gained voices, welcoming all voices into a group without audition and working from there
Natural Voice Practitioners aim to give people confidence in their voices by providing them with a supportive learning environment and suitable repertoire, making workshops, choirs and courses accessible and inclusive, accommodating mixed levels of experience.
We avoid technical language and musical jargon teaching songs traditionally, mostly by ear and include vocal warm-ups to facilitate vocal health, confidence and fun. We see the voice and singing with others as a fundamental community building activity. We respect and acknowledge all sources and songwriters, and take care to set songs in their historical and cultural context.
Natural Voice Network
The Natural Voice Network http://www.naturalvoice.net is a network of people who share a common philosophy in relation to singing and group work, whose working methods and philosophy emerged out of the pioneering work of Frankie Armstrong who began leading voice workshops in the early 1970’s, www.frankiearmstrong.com.
Natural Voice Practitioners (NVP’s) believe that singing is everybody’s birthright. For thousands of years all over the world people have sung... to express joy, celebration and grief, to aid healing, to accompany work, devotion and the rituals of life.
Having a ‘good’ voice or ‘getting it right’ is out of the question when singing is part of life and a way of binding communities.
How the Natural Voice Network was Born
by Frankie Armstrong
“Everyone can sing!” rang out from the stage of the Albert Hall in 1963. Pete Seeger was on his world tour and, having been influenced by him and The Weavers from my teens, singing many of their songs, I was absolutely willing to go along with this assertion.
In 1975 I had been singing professionally for over ten years when I started running voice workshops. By then I had got to know folk song collectors such as A L Lloyd, Ewan MacColl and Kenny Goldstein. They confirmed the idea that singing had been a fully inclusive activity for thousands of years.
I think this made a great difference to the way I facilitated my workshops and singing groups. I was determined to provide a place where anybody, regardless of past experience, could come and simply enjoy voicing and singing with others without judgment or criticism. If you trust that there is a voice inside everyone which may or may not have been encouraged to make itself heard, then that belief in turn inspires the confidence and courage of the participants.
In 1977 I ran my first training weekend and took on my first “apprentices”. “But you’ll do yourself out of a job”, I recall somebody saying. I replied I’d have to take the risk, but if it was true that there were thousands of people who would love the opportunity to sing in an accepting atmosphere, and find themselves able to make beautiful harmonies and gain in confidence, it was a risk I was willing to take!
Since 1988, I’ve run week-long courses for people wanting to run voice and singing groups, assisted by my partner Darien Pritchard, who teaches movement, relaxation and anatomy.
Central to the way NVN members have grown to define ourselves is the folk and world music background many of us share. Recent research suggests that humans have been singing for at least 50,000 years. We know that our ancestors sang. Singing was an inclusive activity for all these thousands of years and in Northern Europe only began to turn into an “exclusive” activity primarily in the 19th century. The singing of the “common people” in church and on formal occasions was actively discouraged by the new gentility who referred to their sounds as “vulgar” and desired only the sweet sounds acceptable to the aspiring middle classes. As one of our Network members summed up: “A cultural injustice was perpetrated on the British during the 19th century which effectively robbed a large number of people of their hitherto held belief in their ability and right to sing.”
So we see it as a social, cultural and politically empowering act to encourage and to bring back singing as a natural communal activity.
We are a broad movement with many different genres of music being taught and with an increasing number of members composing for their and others’ choirs. However we all hold to the knowledge that singing creates a sense of individual wellbeing, brings communities together and gives us the opportunity to create sounds of power and beauty.
I am proud and privileged to have been one of the pioneers of such a movement.