Freeing the Natural Voice

Freedom Sculpture in Phily. Breaking through with the whole body.
Freedom Sculpture in Phily. Breaking through with the whole body.

It's exhausting chasing down one's authentic self. Takes a lifetime. Might as well get started. -Kristin Linklater

I got started, again, this past Thursday in a voice building class led by Andy Wassenich, a member at Church of the Pilgrims and an all-around theater guy. Andy is leading a 2-hour, 3 week class for myself and 2 of my co-workers, Rachel Pacheco and Emily Wilkes.

I approached Andy for a class in order to circle back around to the experience of freeing the natural voice. When I'm in worship, how does the sensation of my voice connect with the sensations I'm feeling in the rest of my body? How does my voice embody anxiety or stress? Joy and community? How does my voice impact the invitation to take risks in liturgy and how is that invitation to risk  expressed through my voice?

How do we as worship leaders at Pilgrims use our voice as a means of expressing the Holy intention that a sacred space is a place of transformation? How do we get out of our heads and into our voice/body while leading?

Andy started off with a reading from Kristin Linklater from her book, Freeing Shakespeare: The Actor's Guide to Talking the Text. Here are some highlights from the reading plus some of my thoughts:

  • The basis of Linklater's work is this---the belief that voice and language belong to the whole body rather than the head alone and that the function of the voice is to reveal the self. This hits home that worship leadership is embodied leadership.
  • Linklater's work book isn't a verse-speaking manual. She aims to recondition the body and mind so that the voice can express visceral and spiritual urgency. What could be more urgent than expressing the Gospel belief that some have food, some have none and God bless the revolution?! (Thanks, Bev Harrison).
  • The breathing musculature is woven around the rib cage, underneath the lungs in the diaphragm, connected to spinal column and roots itself in the pelvic floor. It is  not metaphorical to say "the body breathes." Improvisation is used a lot in Pilgrims worship. How do we let our bodies breathe as we say yes to new beginnings and radical ways of living?
  • When a baby is born, breath is its life. A baby's voice communicate essential information long before words are learnt. So....when a baby cries it worship, my thought need not be "be quiet!" but baby is expression emotion via wordless message.
  • The adult voice is conditioned to talk about feelings rather than reveal them. That's downright yummy.

Andy led us through some breath work that involved being on our backs and creating (creating!) a primordial sound "huh." We did that over and over. And over. Being mindful of where the sound is located in the throat and building intensity with the "huh" sound. Primordial, like the murmuring deep that the order of life came out of in Genesis. We moved on to other exercises to stretch the sound of our voices.

The work of freeing the natural voice is an act of liturgy/chasing one's authentic self--it takes risks, vulnerability, and getting out of my own way. How do I free my voice from social expectations? Break through personal habits? How do I engage mindfulness with my voice while I'm preaching, storytelling, communion-ing?

Two more weeks of voice building. Looking forward to giving space to the authentic self.