Sutras from a Singer 

Sutras from a Singer is a document made from 196 Aphorisms that describe the internal life of a singer. It refers to the 196 Sutras of the Sage Patanjali that are considered to be the foundation of the Yogic System. It is compiled from notes taken at regular intervals at The Contemporary Singing Studio between 2004 and 2017. It was first published from The Nobel Peace Centre, Oslo on May 14, 2017.

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SOUL

1. I must have heard something when my mother accompanied singers and I was in her womb. She has perfect pitch. My father’s father was a violinist and music store proprietor. This may explain why I am asked to teach.

2. She taught me at the piano to feel music and encouraged me to immerse myself in the gyrations of its phrases. Musical pieces became feeling outlets and I poured my inquisitive creative impulses into them over and over again.

3. At seven, I was transported to the Conservatorium on a nun’s lap, in a car packed with Sisters of Mercy. My fare was to sing the score of The Sound Of Music. I was everyone in it, prodigiously in tune for my car of doting mothers.

4. I sang in my bedroom to the songs on my first transistor. I was a soprano in the lounge room when I gave frenzied performances to reel-to-reel recordings. When my voice changed, I sang in Competitions to sing in Opera House.

5. My mother is my first music teacher. Patricia gives me everything. Kevin was my radar and provider of the task. He never got caught handing out orders so we never had to fight. We knew that we were different but the same. 

6. I have taught people to sing since I was twelve; it started with school concerts and became professionals in the theatre. I have never applied for a position as a singing teacher, but I have lived as one for most of my working life.

7. I describe what it feels like to sing and lead singers through a range of processes. I am paid to nurture and provoke. How does it feel and why do you sing? How do you prepare to perform optimally without another’s mask?

8. I surrender to a powerful instinct when I use my voice as a singing instrument and enter an abstract place of tone, shape and desire. I feel sensitized and focused on musical intention, in an intuitive musical state.

9. It feels like play; you have fun and run around. You taste colours, textures and shapes. When emotions and attitudes come in; you send them out like paper rockets. Then you try to do it better and someone you care for listens.

10. No idol accompanies my return to the water, but infinity and mystery that in public or private I will never pretend to understand. I am naked with what I need when I consider my fortune; my track leads me back to the water.

11. SHE: (from the clothesline) “E flat.” HE: “Help me take photo of you.” SHE: “You’ll stay at the piano till you get it right.” HE: “Help me lay the red cement and you can put the pebbles down the drive.” She went to the Beatles.

12. The belief in Soul is the genesis of my music. She and He were one in their practice and never faltered in my presence. I am an Artist; my practice is my way, and I remember as miraculous the moment IT started.

13. It was dark, I was three; a man came to the nursery with a stage. His shadowed hand moved coloured shapes into space. Later in puddles of rain, I found that ink from crepe paper could paint me. The woman smacked me.

14. My mother wrote in my baby book that I was left handed and happiest with a pencil. In our weatherboard timber war veteran’s estate backyard, I arranged shapes from what was lying around. My first backyard was my place to play stages.

15. Dad and I put up the fairy lights and I met Santa. Everyone in my family made music, did paintings, dressed up, cooked and decorated cakes, went to church and laughed a lot. Nanny made me clowns and poppy cut my hair.

16. Nanny took me to a pantomime; mum bought me matchsticks. One day I was bored at school and pretended to be sick. I needed to build my theatre. My dad Kevin went to Rome to meet the Pope and brought me home puppets.

17. Singing, Soul and Feeling are mysterious. Singing communicates what cannot be expressed by speech and words. Music is a life that exists beneath the surface; it’s difficult to explain. I mix metaphors; it seems to help.

18. Singers are poets of sound. Aphorism and metaphor allude to our spiritual and emotional yearnings. Vocal lines track our impulse to share the joy of our vibratory experience. Music, its tasks and our skills conjure a golden stream.

19. Metaphor invites me to a curious investigation into the interior sensations of musical utterance. My understanding of Air, Anatomy, Vibration, Pitch, Range, Velocity, Identification and Intention is sensitised by its provocations.

20. We recognize Soul in the feel of a guitar solo and understand it as musical feeling. Musical feeling is powerful and can only be alluded to. It is conceived by the composer and directed by the musician to the listener.

21. Each village or tribe expresses itself in musical sounds based on the structures of its inherited traditions. These traditions share a relationship with the animate and inanimate landscape. You can hear the village in the tongue.

22. Birdcalls, traffic or politics can inspire patterns of vocal communication. Intervals become phrases and are joined by silence and breath. Phrases become sections or verses. Choruses are proclaimed and immortalized.

23. Who is that singer now? Choruses become anthems that emit a primal celebration of unity. Classical singers are feeling centers for their part in the timeline of song. Classical singers exist within many musical traditions.

24. When I am black and come from an impoverished background, where my freedom is denied; the colour of my soul is blue. When the Blues gained rhythm, with accents on two and four, the style is Soul.

25. Musical Soul is like an abstract painting; you don’t know exactly what it means; it has its own language. It has colour, texture and rhythm that guide the eye and imagination along a time line; so does lyrical abstraction.

26. Music and Painting share a common language. Line, Composition, Structure, Tone, Light, Shade and Colour can be applied to visual and aural inventions. They can serve a narrative, or abstract and analytical design.

27. Structure and form divide line. Harmony and counterpoint colour and vary temperature. The composer guides the expectations of the listener; the painter guides the path of the eye around a painting from shape to shape.

28. There are positive and negative shapes in visual narrative. Shadow is a negative space that encloses form. A musical rest is a silence. Silence precedes vocal performance, punctuates and encloses it, like a frame.

29. Why is the meter altered? What do I expect from, and how long till I know the resolution of this harmonic tension? What danger exists in the silence of the shadow shape? Let the imagined speak; you have things to do.

30. The human singing voice is a potent and sacred instrument. It brings dignity and ceremony to our rituals and accompanies our most profound moments. It painted religion with the language of the heart.

31. In monasteries, congregations of monks chanted simply melodies, in choirs of tranquil voices that echoed upward as one. From this monophony came clusters of tones, in glorious harmony to praise the God of Rome.

32. In the fields, folk songs mirrored the rise and fall of the sun and four seasons. Tavern songs told bawdy tales of land and sea. Court songs mythologized ancient heroics, for the glory of the Sun God and his Empire.

33. With the ‘Doctrine of Affections’ came a musical language that sourced nature for its percussive and melodic metaphors. Sighs became mordents, trills and bravura ‘Fioratura’. A musical philosophy was born…Bel Canto.

34. The Romantic imagination took singing to heightened states of utterance and prolonged cry. Thoughts of beautiful singing gave rise to the Bel Canto tradition, and gymnastic voices reached for highest achievement in held line.

35. As Industry, and Orchestras grew, voices bellowed from the golden river of mythic archetypes. Expanded Symphonic and Operatic resources spiritualized grandeur, then the scream in the unraveling metropolis.

36. Classical Art was once the Contemporary Art of its time, and then time filtered the unremarkable. It is distinguished by its clarity and taste. It continues to reward attention. Contemporary Art is born oblique.

37. Though we strive to exist as sensors for our time, there is a vast heritage of perception, taste and literature that precedes us. It is never only now and real. It is now, back then and future imagined and executed authentically.

38. Each generation contributes the music of its childhood, adolescence, love, pain and rebellion to the collective of song. Song lines maintained through custom, are reinvented in performance, for all times and signatures.

39. The Synchronicity that exists amongst choirs and instrumentalists is communication that defies rational explanation. It comes from a place of refined intuition. There might be angels in this part of daily life...or something.

40. Musicians dress in saffron or black to surrender identity and focus on their conductor and musical literature. The combined excellence of fine musicians, with an agreed musical intention is religious without dogma; we float.

41. When I listen, I acknowledge that another person is speaking. When I observe the composer’s intention, I listen for the cry at the heart of the music, the craft that reveals it and I direct my respect to another’s understanding.

42. The audience has the same needs as the singer and approaches its altars consciously and habitually for consolation. Many famous singers have craved a distorted sense of power and died from this hunger and shamanic pact.

43. The listener may not be interested in fragility at the center of the icon’s persona. Singers are emulated then mocked for fashion, body type or lifestyle. Our masses and packs expect familiarity then abandon their icon worship.

44. Listen to who you are; you will need to return to that place from the highs and lows. You will need to know how to allow your vulnerability to radiate and when to draw a protective line. Soul is private; care for it in the public arena.

45. Artistic taste springs from a sense of independence. It values intuition and freedom; cultivate it by rigorous exploration. Present it with simplicity and clarity and observe the similarity of opposites from an Ariel perspective.

46. Margaret said to prodigious Ben; ‘Are you one of them, or are you one of us?’ Are you a brand, or will you be known by your intuitive independence? Are you married to replication, or do you keep a diary?

47. Stop spreading the news. Stop leaving today. Stop trying to be a part of something that will eat you. Who’s franchise do you worship. Do you dream to wake in a land of frescoed brand power? Are you a prisoner of a paradigm?

48. The proper and should voice in each of us exists for its own example, and does not occur in nature. Exploit it then dismiss it. Choose versatility and authenticity. There is no correct way to sound in pubic; sing as you evolve.

49. No idol was born from cockpit karaoke in the brutalizing empire of the Idol brand. A singer is lit by friction of polarity; a singer is not a star. I send no regards to the great white way; my way is the path of my tracks.

50. What do you call the moment an idea is born, ’Inspiration’, the ‘Thrilling Spark’? A voice cares for that hunch as mentor and critic. A broken child, little champion or dark demon may have lit the spark, so build a Bon Fire.

51. What games did you play and what songs did you sing in your magical backyard? What songs did you listen to when you were first broken? Who do you cry to in exaltation and despair? What will they play at your funeral?

52. Have you found yourself singing in a daydream? Listen to your spontaneous notes, sighs and melodic patterns. You may hear half-words or baby talk. Don’t be alarmed; you are composing. Stay magical.

53. What’s are the tasks in your magic playground? What do you avoid? Who do you think you are, and how are you received? What surrounds you and what is the problem? Be naughty, be smelly and juggle your obstacles.

54. Play as an infant in a magical half-light theatre. You can start with a catastrophe to fix, or you can devise a series of events. Creative instinct, hunch, itch, scratch and yearning are communicated by process and strategy.

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 A SINGERS INSTRUMENT

55. The soul that we have imagined is at the heart of each intake of breath for music. The voice that you feel and imagine is supported on a column of air. Imagine a tall, slender and vertical column of compressed, spinning vibration.

56. Air is the life force that oxygenates a flow of fresh blood to our pumping hearts. The compression of its force activates all wind instruments of which the singing instrument is the most versatile. Musical air circulates as tone.

57. When air releases, it strikes the vocal chords and you feel vibrations at the base of the neck. Vibrations radiate into the throat and down to the chest. Then up through the pharynx, into the mouth and skull. What do you notice?

58. In a forward and high position in the centre of the skull is the place where all tone focuses; Appogio — placement. The Appogio is a vibrant awareness focused along a vertical line from the centre of the skull down to the teeth.

59. Focused Pitch, Tone, resonance, vibrational activity, gather and radiate from the Appogio. Tone is not force. Force is gross, out of tune and causes damage. Force produces hysterical tone. Cultivate tone gently and regularly.

60. Tone loves flattery: modulate tone. Modulated tone is balanced between light and dark, Chiaroscuro. Modulated tone does not force emotion or opinion onto the flow of breath. It is conversational and of moderate temperature.

61. The deep AH contained in the sacred sound AUM is at the core of all singing. Vowels touch bass, extend to the sky and glow with every colour. They are like the core positions of a classical dancer, or postures of yoga. 

62. Vowels are shapes inside the mouth filled with vibration. Consonants punctuate shapes. Shapes are thoughts and are shared as words. Ideas and intentions are shared as articulated shapes. How do shapes fit the column?

63. All wind instruments manipulate a column of compressed energy. Some are large, thick, twisted brass columns with valves that change the shape of vibrant air. Tubas sound like thunder and armies; bamboo flutes…the forest.

64. The vertical column that we imagine is slender. It radiates from a high position in the centre of the skull; the Appogio. Yogis emanate light from there. We think, we feel, we imagine the exact pitch of music and its direction.

65. There are many disciplines that observe and give poetry to the flow of air through the body. Yoga refers to the intake and flow of air as Prana. Cultivate with curiosity, feelings of air, expanding lungs and the use of the diaphragm.

66. Focused awareness of the movement of air is a primary focus in meditation. Attention brings peace to the meditator. We harness attention to make music. Singing is a meditation on free intake and sustained release.

67. Air enters a mouth opened to a width of two fingers and passes over the tongue, which rests on the floor of the mouth; it’s tip behind the lower teeth. Make no asthmatic constrictions, gasps or hisses, no sound at all; just drink.

68. The cello is like a Singers Instrument. The bow is the breath; the strings are like the vocal chords. The skeleton and interior cavities of a singer are like the wood of a cello’s body. The body vibrates when the cellist bows and caresses.

69. The voice is also like a saxophone. You blow it through a mouthpiece and a reed. The position of the lips on the mouthpiece is called the Embouchure. We use our lips as an Embouchure to steer the shape and colour of tone.

70. I know what you mean by the tone in your voice. I know what lies behind your intention. The tone of your language can cause concern or seduce me. Tone describes air circulation in your internal cavities; you can change it.

71. The shape of the column varies the voice of the instrument. Recorders are small wooden columns that sound ethereal. They cannot be blown too harshly or they loose pitch, splat and squawk. Singing Instruments are big and small.

72. Become aware of the subtlety of sensation as you discover your instrument. Vowel shapes exist on a tone scale from dark to light. The singing instrument communicates as tone; tone becomes unbroken sonority; Legato.

73. Vowels and colours form your vocal design. When you plan a painting you consider the size and shape of your canvas. Small ideas only need a small canvas. Vowel shapes can be big or small according to the level of intimacy.

74. There is no such thing as correct vowels. Affected people talk with a plum in their mouth, so can institutions. On the positive side it alludes to the rounded shape of a plum, it also sets a tone of pretence. Think again.

75. Fuel is stored in a tank. It would have no shape and be of no use if it were not contained. Fuel, a container, a valve, and a valve operator, operate a tank. Use the diaphragm to control the intensity of your compressed energy.  

76. Air, released by the controlled movement of the diaphragm flushes through the larynx area up through the pharynx and into the middle of the skull. Air like water flushes into the mouth and contains power to generate.

77. Energy, enthusiasm, confidence, exhilaration and release are some of the feelings that come with this release of air. Pouring, oozing, tasting, flushing, buzzing and vibrating are some of the interior sensations of vocal resonance. 

78. High bright overtones spin in the skull, the forehead and the resonating chambers of the face. Dark colours vibrate from the pharynx to deep in the chest and give tone weight. They can also make the instrument feel heavy.

79. Dark colours live in the pharynx around the larynx and deep in the chest, abdomen and pelvic floor. Dark colours contain weight. Excessive dark tone produces a gothic quality. Light and dark co-exist as object and shadow.

80. There is a difference between sort of in tune and exact intonation. Suspension of disbelief and music happen when tone, pitch and intention merge. Too much exertion can destroy this balance; converse at Mezzo Forte.

81. The Sphenoid is a compound bone that forms the base of the cranium, behind the eye and below the front part of the brain. This is also the region of the mystical third eye. It is a mystical vibrant place where the voice spins.

82. Focus of vibration and exact pitch are imagined in the centre of the skull. The voice is placed forward and high. Tone is placed and projected by will, clear thought, observation of vibration and pitch of each note, in each phrase.

83. A spread tone results when the mouth pulls sideways or upwards and sounds hard, tight, and feels constricted. It starts when you clench and pull sideways. It happens when you feel threatened; you grip and prepare to defend.

84. Pulling sideways is a big obstacle. You do it when you’re false and you clench your jaw because you’re angry. It’s hard to reach high notes; the muscles feel tight. When you spread your lips sideways, you spread the tone.

85. Nasal singers sound bossy. Spread tone is white and hysterical, with a false smile. It sounds like it’s strangled and locked into a tight mask that cannot respond naturally to the music. Don’t paint with bright white tone.

86. Tight tone is constricted and strident. It sounds like the range is going to run out. You can hear the struggle. Free tone is like laughter; you feel grounded and hearty when you laugh your head off and find really high notes.

87. Round tone comes from freedom. Rounded tone exists as an international sensibility and reflects moderation. Rounded tone blooms when it has been gently explained and cultured. Round tone is a natural result of freedom.

88. How does air vibrate as it strikes your vocal strings. Notice its vibration radiate downward into your deepest imaginable experience. Then spin it from the centre of the skull. Project this into the auditorium or microphone

89. Projection is a desire to communicate into a space. Desire to project brings the voice forward. Don’t press; let thoughts of beautiful singing guide the Legato…Bel Canto. Bloom, soar and embrace your favourite listener.

90. Interaction between you and your listener can be private, public, formal or casual. The intensity of projection varies; intimate musical ideas intended for a lover can be whispered. Public sentiments need size, energy and authority.

91. The space you sing into has potential to amplify sound and create a resonator as you project. Let your voice inhabit the space. Bounce it around from left to right. Throw it low to high and all variations. Make space vibrate.

92. Project up over and out. In a large theatre with stalls and a circle, the target is the back wall. It’s like throwing a paper rocket. The path of the projectile is like an arc. Include sound, desire and imagination in your arc.

93. When you sing into a microphone, sing into your lover’s heart from close proximity. Don’t let it catch you watching yourself, or affecting a persona. Relax, you will be heard. Your vulnerability can console those who discover you.

94. Diction singers plagiarise cast recordings and distort vowels to create a proper sound. They sound stiff, aspire to an arcane elite and affect drama from hunched shoulders and claws. Some find work in globally franchised musicals.

95. Good diction is the ability to be understood within the cultural conventions of the musical text. There are many spoken and sung dialects within the English language. Dialects, styles and conventions have their own flavour.

96. Consonants divide vowels. They can be soft or percussive. They cause a vowel to hum or dice it. They punctuate, create rhythm, clarify intention and guide vowels along the vowel track. Diction singers like their choppers to spit.

97. The Consonants S, P and B sit at the front of vocal sound; soften them for the microphone. Tongue twisters drill muscles; use them but don’t become an elocution robot. Think the word, say the word and do the same for phrases.

98. Force of articulation varies from minimal with a microphone, to muscular over an orchestra. Observe the balance between Legato and punctuation. Simplify the information until you know it cries from somewhere inarticulate.

99.There are tone zones or registers within each voice type. We aim to make these one. Within each range, the middle register is most important. Bridging middle to the upper is a place called Passaggio. Chest blends into the head.

100. Speak and sing with your own voice from the middle of your range. The upper and lower registers are natural extensions of the middle. All voices should first be trained from Passaggio down. Head blends down to the chest.

101. Approach the isolated chest voice from the middle of the chest register. Do not stress the chest voice by excessive extension into its upper reaches; you will cause damage. Never do violence to your instrument; treat it with respect.

102. It is a misconception to believe that the top of the range should be high, dramatic and loud. The louder you try to sing the upper range, the less range you achieve; you get stuck. Sharp singing comes from force and hysteria.

103. Think of the arc of the musical and literary utterance. Don’t think of high notes as difficult; think of wild cowboys shrieking ‘HEE HAH’. What happens when you laugh your head off? Stay slender and vertical, focus and shoot.

104. Support is not an extreme sensation; it is sustained compression and release. Shake a bottle of aerated water; the energy would be invaluable if you suddenly opened the lid. Contain breath pressure to spin free tone.

105. Seek purity and simplicity in vowel shapes and fill them with vibrant activity. Clarify pitch, focus tone, and draw your musical intention to your listener’s heart. Ping like a ships bell. Expect to be heard and understood.

106. Start from the centre of the skull. Focus and make choices. Spin a bright and shadowed tone and send it up over and out. Feel it’s touch along the column of compressed energy that you imagine. Your lips will steer for gold. 

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 A SINGERS PRACTICE

107. Air travels down through a deep and private ocean; an anchor to stabilise the vessel above. Soul and a Singers Instrument vibrate with compression and are maintained by A Singers Practice. The practice of Art is my way.

108. Stand with your weight evenly distributed between both legs at hip width; feet a little pigeon toed turned inward. Press outwards into the floor; feel your arches rise and send an elongating force upwards through your tallest spine.

109. Lengthen from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. Widen through the back, and feel the shoulders surrender their hunch. Feel tall from the base of the neck to the crown of your skull. Tuck the chin; release the jaw.

110. Clench paws and release. Arms want more than they should and try to dance the music. Shoulders rise to grab at character. Enter the Inquisitive Fidget Expert who monitors the artistry of Fancy Dancing Phoney Limbs.

111. Grip, swallow, release the tongue and jaw; the Oesophagus descends. Repeat this till it is lower than you expected. Make no sound, feel safe in a space like AH and notice the Oesophagus go down to the air. It drops again.

112. Open your mouth to the approximate width of two fingers. Position the tip of the tongue behind your lower teeth. Press gently into the lower teeth with your tongue. The tongue flattens as air flushes through an open space.

113. Breathe through the mouth to sing. Make no other sounds; no asthmatic constrictions, no little sighs or hisses; no sound at all. Breathe like you are drinking. Air fills you like the first breathe after swimming under water; AH!

114. The intake of air can feel like drinking; it’s delicious. Relish it as it tanks you makes you feel centred and hearty. Send it to the lowest imaginable place in your torso, compress it then flush it through a tall slender column .

115. It may take a lifetime to learn how to remain present with your own circumstances in the silence before you sing. Onset. Focus on the task; breathe low towards an objective. The task is to prepare for the Onset of tone.

116. The moment you move from silence to sound is called the Onset. It feels like a combination of a yawn and a sigh. Yawn to release and open the throat area. Sigh from the centre of the skull. We call this the Yawn-Sigh Onset.

117. From the middle of your range make spooky sounds on the interval of a fourth; HOOW. It’s tiny and ethereal. Slide through the chromatic semitones as you conjure a mysterious wind. Be gentle stay Pianissimo, this is a secret

118. Feel a warm light hit your cheekbones and draw attention to your eyes. Avoid the clenching sensation at the back of the mouth, at the root of the tongue, and in the muscles of the neck and upper back. Release the hold.

119. Experience space and openness. Swallow and observe the gentle rise of the larynx and its gradual release then descent at the completion of the act of swallowing. Feel grounded and deep. It’s large inside where the wind blows.

120. Air travels to a place deep in the body. Its heavy, like a ships anchor as it drops to the bottom of the ocean and rests there. Go down, be curious; you are a navigator. What have you found? Release: OOH AH…it’s amazing!

121. What is the experience of air in the spaces it fills and passes through as it is taken in and released? What does air feel like as it enters the mouth, and travels over the tongue through a high soft pallet to the pharynx and down?

122. How does air vibrate as it strikes your vocal strings? Notice vibration radiate downward into your deepest imaginable experience. Then spin the onset of tone from the centre of the skull. It is soft, light mysterious and free.

123. Stay loose and calm and peel away to the raw fresh centre. Don’t let it get too serious or it gets tight and locked. Throw it around. Don’t play roles; observe tonal clichés and unchallenged Romanticism. Yawn Sigh…HOOW.

124. Focus on tonal activity in middle of the range. Observe the high, middle and low frequencies. It is within the middle of the range that you find your authentic voice. The upper and lower registers arrive as its natural extensions.

125. Onset: Enter your Practice long and free in the spine. Lengthen the back of the neck and tuck the chin. Tongue behind lower teeth, yawn to breathe and sigh. Do this for a week before you sing, then do it for the rest of your life.

126. Daily practice to maintain the Singing Instrument involves: Instructions to bring breathe into conscious awareness; instructions to elongate the spine and release grasping; Onset of Tone on descending patterns from Appoggio

127. The practise of singing, like any discipline, is an ongoing process of exploration. There is no point of completion. There are always tensions, releases, activities and poetry to observe and refine, retain or dispose of.

128. There are times of exhilarating progress, times of despondency and set back. Try not to clench thoughts of progress and achievement; trust that process builds technique. Thrive on and indulge your exploration

129. Direct your need for self-expression into Practice. Confidence breeds confidence in yourself and trust from your audience. If they feel safe with you, they agree to suspend their disbelief and entrust their emotions into your care.

130. My Practice began as child’s play. From age five I practised the piano, later the trumpet. Art Practice is the major ritual in my life. My Practise is a fusion of Yogic Musical and Visual Art concepts. It engages my enthusiasm and attention.

131. A Singers Practice and public performance are two different matters. The regular discipline of vocal meditation and gymnastics prepare you for performance and embed skills to control the nervous system in public.

132. The task of the Singing Performer is to create the believable illusion that authentic thought, feeling and intention, are conveyed through song, as speech. Styles of singing are like dialects from a place and time.

133. Read and understand the musical text. Observe the exact intonation, rhythm and structure of the musical ideas. How do the rhythm and melody of the spoken word relate to the musical setting and its inherent conventions?

134. Read the lyrics casually, like you are reporting fact. Be careful not to adopt a formal tone when you read. You are not a newsreader or an old fashioned proper person. Understand words and text as your own thoughts.

135. Understand the text, its ideas and architecture and how they are conveyed as musical utterance. Listen to text and let it speak. Identify with and humanise the intentions of the author; the source of the material you consider.

136. The form of a piece of music is governed by the content. Trust that an emotional truth, the pursuance of an objective, and the will to overcome an obstacle will produce authentic form. Refine and continue your practice.

137. Be aloof and conscious when you approach new material. You don’t need too much adrenaline. Observe the intonation with minute precision and maintain it as the material develops within you. Don’t perform; practice.

138. Break the composition into smaller parts. Observe the piece in phrases and attach breathe to these patterns. Understand the technical and tonal palate. Repeat these patterns until they infect you. Feel the arcs of vocal line.

139. Report facts. Notes describe direction, structure, articulation, light and shade. They describe the musical imagination of the composer. Understand these patterns and empathise with the composer’s yearnings and intentions.

140. Direct the phrase and pay attention to vowels and intonation on passing notes. The tones in the middle of a sequence can often be out of tune or generalised. If they are out of alignment, the following notes will be affected.

141. Vocalise the melody gently on your favourite vowels until you have digested the information. Use any vowel or consonant that feels comfortable. Stay aloof from the text when you first put words to the melody. Be curious.

142. Sing the words exactly as you say them. The conditioning forces of time place, circumstance, relationship, obstacle and objective govern the emotion. Do not impose emotion onto text; the text has supplied it, if it is well crafted.

143. Be wary of practicing with another singer’s voice, or tone concept. Don’t characterize or emotionalize, and avoid clichés during practice. Don’t get lost in star dreaming. You are present; you are authentic and sound like yourself.

144. Taste and discernment are educated by constant enquiry. The more you embrace, the more you have to choose from. Originality can be both educated and spontaneous. Trust that the process will produce an authentic result.

145. Listen and observe. A stable approach builds the mental stamina needed for performance. The fear that you feel in public is fear that produces negativity. Negativity is disarmed by positive thought steered towards an objective.

146. Listen for tone when you practice and listen for the intention of the music. Let the work speak to you. Become your own artistic monitor. Consolidate by repetition. Practice in order to get lost in performance. Do it often and always.

147. The presence of a creative journal in an artist’s life makes the vagaries of inspiration concrete. Ideas arrive when they are ready and are fragile and confused when they first form. Store them safely, they inform your practice.

148. Picasso said; ‘Art is keeping a diary’. Write random thoughts; they become activities. Make lists of what you hope for. Observe behaviour. Do things another way and say things you shouldn’t. Claim Art to grow.

149. Keep a notebook, sketchbook or journal and make it ritual activity. Write random thoughts that you agree never to contest. Write bleary-eyed and semi-conscious. Do this to prime for creative action. Make this part of your Practice.

150. Write thoughts that might sing in a notebook and keep them. Provoke and refine these thoughts and expand them into an argument. Sometimes songs will leap from the subconscious but most songs are crafted and distilled by time.

151. Write random phrases of notes about anything you are experiencing, these are your song ideas. Take note of when you sing in the shower, car or anywhere the private spring bubbles to the surface. Songs escape in their own way.

152. Write down your observations, collisions and issues. Encourage what is unsaid and yearned for to come to the present. Do this by playful writing, and engage an imaginative and provocative dialogue with your magical infant.

153. Creative activity can be stimulated. What sixteen songs describe your evolution? Go back to your childhood make lists of songs from the chapters of your life. Remember the music that partnered you; you’ll be in the collection.

154. Engage with other artistic practices. Draw, paint, dance, play many instruments. Start with a catastrophe and look at the ideas that stimulates. Then apply strategies to stimulate and refine a creative palate and process.

155. Engage with a dialogue of art practice and look for the spark of creative potential in everyone you meet. Provoke vibrant conversations about strategies, ethics and the spinal paradigm of your times. Provoke creativity.

156. Put it away weekly. Take one day off from everything every week, to be alone with gratitude. Art practice is not obsession, do not serve practise; practice serves life. Exist within magical possibilities and inevitable mortality. 

157. On your journey you will recognize an inner archetype, ‘The Critical Opponent’. This character is a trickster and has positive and negative attributes. Dialogue with your trickster. Your teacher is a protagonist for this.

158. The rules of musical practice and tonal harmony are the distilled from centuries of learning. They define the boundaries of stylistic convention and form. Your teacher should be liberal in the understanding of Musical History.

159. Your teacher should guide your choices but not impose dogma; have a simple method and be diligent and attentive. Your teacher should understand the credentials required if it is your intention to pursue a professional career.

160. I encourage a dynamic relationship with my student. I like to be included in each person’s private dreaming aspirations and musical taste. I hope that I am trustworthy in this and that the student is empowered by this trust and support.

161. It takes time to develop a trust that allows private intention to come to the surface. My challenge is to hear without prejudice and listen sensitively from the inside to what is presented. Concentration and Intuition are my trade tools.

162. I say less as I improve as a teacher. I sit and listen with less agitation or need to appear to be in control. I try to play softer and slower and I favour my left ear when I listen. I am left eared, left handed and bad at mathematics.

163. The teacher is a guide not a guru. Your intuitive intelligence is your guru. Imagine all knowledge you require can be found by dialogue with your inner expert. Let your expert provoke you but don’t allow it to intimidate you.

164. The negative aspect of your ‘Critical Opponent’ plays on your vulnerabilities. Acknowledge this voice, it is a valuable provocative catalyst, but don’t let it belittle or bully you. Do not surrender to deflating adjudication.

165. The teacher and student should remain at a professional distance for the duration of the teaching process and should avoid physical or social contact. Service should commence and proceed with respect for the code of practice.

166. You only need one teacher, it is dangerous to jump around. Don’t teacher taste. Don’t become dependant on teachers. Stay alert to the teachings of public rhetoric, mass opinion, and clear of all cosy club clichés.

167. Institutions and academic processes that preserve teaching and evaluate achievement at the highest level are an invaluable part of community life. Students learn to achieve, in order to progress into the alumni of graduates.

168. Before the performance you will have understood your function in the ensemble. You will have prepared and rested. Enter: your attention is on your tasks, objectives, obstacles, identification and the chemistry of contagion.

169. A confident attitude is necessary. The term Bravura evokes the stance of the gladiator in the centre of the arena. This confidence produces energy in the singer. Believe that you possess something important and take the stage.

170. You are primed for authentic performance. You commit to overcome obstacles as you pursue your obstructed objective. You are primed by: Enquiry, Objective, Obstacle, Identification and your chosen track of Action.

171. What is the size of the arena? Microphones and earphones place the listener in a singer’s private world. Private is public; sighs communicate what was once proclaimed. The size of the arena determines the size of utterance.

172. Recording technology enabled performance to be made in small pieces. Singers sang and crafted shorter phrases or hooks. Amplification of the arena presents the singer as superhuman. Tribal anthems resonate as intoxicants.

173. The camera brings the listener close to the mask of the singer. We expect intimacy and credibility. Video technology markets the singer into and electric arena. Romance and mystique are graphic and easily disposed of.

174. The movie camera tries to convince us that humans communicate through song, in each other’s arms, in the hills, and over the phone. We observe behaviour as small movements, sighs, shrugs, assertions and retreats.

175. The Internet blurs the distinction between the public and private. The campfire, amphitheater and auditorium can be the living room, bus or bed. The musical dynamics of Piano and Forte exist in a diversifying spectrum.

176. Don’t get lost. Your audience believes they have access to your privacy. Don’t let them tell you who you are. When you exploit concepts of Emersion, Identification and Suspension of Disbelief; you should have the skills to return.

177. Pretending in public is a form of mental illness. You don’t have to believe you are the character. Stay present and true to yourself and you will avoid the dangers. The peculiar commitment to a task makes an artist fascinating.

178. Consider a guiding principle of non-violence. Do not do anything that would cause damage to your instrument. Do not press your voice tightly into its edges. Don’t smoke or consume in a way that dries your throat and mouth.

179. Think healthy thoughts. Avoid too much attention to how good your voice feels on a particular day. Do your practise then trust and presume that you are vibrant and healthy. Drink plenty of water but avoid singer’s remedies.

180. Don’t take medicines or lozenges with local anaesthetic; they can mask the real problem. Do not use stimulants to temporarily induce creative states; they occur naturally. Be sick when are sick, your body is asking for something.

181. A steam vaporiser by the bed is helpful with mild hoarseness if you have to sing with nasal and head congestion. It is dangerous to sing with an inflamed throat, tonsillitis or nodules. Do not use menthol; it dries the throat.

182. Do not cough to clear the throat when there is nothing to clear. Like muscles in other areas of the body, the muscles of the throat inflate with exercise and can be sprained by force. Rest your voice when this occures.

183. Aspire to high levels of artistic achievement. Be alert to the ideas and issues of your times. Seek to understand the art and times that precede you. Know your instrument and aspire to technical excellence and authenticity.

184. High Art sensibilities make me aspire to: Authenticity, Invention, and Excellence. Popularity may come as a result of achievement in these areas, but it is not everything. I am an artist; my poetry is not scientific, it is my diary.

185. This is an art form; there are no rights or wrongs. Use these thoughts to provoke a dialogue about singing and performance; to prepare and condition yourself to enter the genius zone and perform optimally within it.

186. Singers often get carried away with the emotional connection to music. Let the music speak and let the writer’s intentions be heard above your performance. Emotion is summoned through attention to the specific intention.

187. Enter into a trusted relationship with your audience. Live and breathe with them. Offer them your experience. Let their emotions be yours. Recognize their moods. Receive your applause but don’t be seduced by it. Give to receive.

188. What could be more audacious than opening your heart to show your soul to an audience? It is a gift to wrap in bright coloured paper.  Make it look attractive and with dedicated care offer it with love. Give it with discernment.

189. My task is to lead the Soul of a singer to an awareness of the Singing Instrument so that it may used to express authentic experience. I am subservient to the power of music. My poetic insights come from an innate curiosity.

190. I try to explain what I feel when I sing. The experiences I describe come about as part of an organic interaction between a student and myself. I tell stories and mix metaphors to access the tonal poetry of a singers experience.

191. Patterns of utterance remind us of our primal instincts for territory, survival and affirmation. Indigenous and world music continue to inform the Western traditions that are my heritage, and my curiosity for the spirit of place.

192. Ethnomusicology looks into the archive of tribal communal ceremony. In a primal place, woodblocks beat the rhythms of fire dances. Witch doctors summon the benign and malevolent spirits from the other side. We will sing.

193. It’s best not to say too much about singing but I thought I should say something. I looked at my notes from over twenty years and found that I said the same thing many times, in many different ways. It is my meditation.

194. I am gifted to know what I heard from the womb. It was Patricia’s genius guiding her younger sister Marea through her early training as a Coloratura Soprano. It was Alleluia by Mozart; they knew about Joan Sutherland.

195. I knew where I wanted to sing from the day my Father Kevin James Smith took me to the site of the Sydney Opera House. His Father Frederick was an independent musician on Sydney’s North Shore. This is the temple to me.

196. I know that I am one with nature because of the wisdom of Yoga. It is supposed that the Sutras of the Sage Patanjali are central to this universal gift. Perhaps this is why it is better for me to pretend to be a Sage than a star.

© Copyright SUTRAS FROM A SINGER. Michael C Smith. 2017. All rights reserved. 

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© Michael C. Smith 2017                      All Art Work by Michael C Smith