EASTERN EARLY MUSIC FORUM
The Singing Body
A day's workshop with Ashley Stafford, osteopath and singing teacher
12th March 2005
this was my first EEMF event I was not sure what to expect. I certainly didn't anticipate finding myself impersonating an elephant whilst
singing Purcell to a room full of people, but more of that later! I had never
heard of Ashley but the unusual combination of singing teacher and osteopath
was enough to excite my interest. As I made my way through the beautiful
THE workshop began with Ashley explaining the three main tenets of Osteopathy and how he had related them to three cornerstones of singing. The physical aspects translate to posture, the chemical to breathing and the emotional side to the sound we produce. The day was structured around these three areas with lots of opportunities for willing volunteers to take the stage and sing something from the 'early' category. The popular choice of the day was Purcell and other English lute songs with a little bit of Handel, courtesy of Robert Johnson. A number of beautiful performances were an added highlight to the day and Ashley was certainly delighted with the array of vocal talents at his disposal.
TO help us improve each area of the Singing Body Ashley taught us exercises all with specific purposes. These started off with simple 'Cross Laterals' (a challenge if your coordination is as poor as mine) to give us an awareness of our body before and during singing. There were lots of stretches to reduce muscle tension which can be detrimental to tone quality. For other exercises the cause and effect were much less obvious. The demonstrations with each singer helped enormously in seeing the benefit of these. It is one thing to be told to "wiggle your brain buttons" in order to liven up your body and prepare it to sing (they are just below each clavicle in case you were wondering). It is quite another to see and hear the effect for yourself. I don't know if there were many sceptics there. After seeing the improvements in every single singer and feeling them for myself I would be very surprised if there were any left at the end of the day.
ASHLEY'S approach to teaching involved the whole body. From tension held in the eyes to the calves let alone bits we didn't know we had (earth line anyone?) it was clear that the whole body can be thought of as an instrument which will benefit from all sorts of fine tuning. The hands-on approach demonstrated throughout the day may not be for everybody (don't let it put you off but Ashley did say "all my pupils have bruises across their chests!") but it certainly worked, especially where there were specific problems.
AT the start of the day we were all very hesitant to volunteer to sing. By lunchtime however the demand had become much greater and not everybody was fitted in. This was clearly a sign of the benefits singers were obviously getting from Ashley's personal attention. For me Ashley immediately identified some areas which I suspected were problems. In common with most of the singers these were bad habits that I had fallen into through years of singing. I have already referred to my elephant experience above. Ashley taught me this as a way to get out of my bad habits. It consisted of holding one arm out like a trunk and waving it in a figure of eight movement. The hardest bit was singing If Music Be The Food Of Love whilst swinging my trunk. My girlfriend tells me I looked ridiculous but that was not the point. The point became clear when singing after it which felt much easier.
I was lucky enough to get to chat with Ashley at the end of the day. Apparently our bodies are a bit of a disaster area. One of the main reasons for this is modern living. The invention of the chair just seems to be the crowning glory in a series of posturally disastrous events, starting with the development of agriculture. The sedentary lifestyle that most of us lead only makes it worse.
OVERALL it was a very successful day - we learned an awful lot and if I got the opportunity to do this again I would jump at the chance. In the meantime I will be attempting to cross my laterals, wiggle my brain buttons and wave my trunk about.
Extracted from EEMF Newsletter 59, July 2005