IMPULSE: The Origin of Vocal Sound
Feb 05, 2020 09:54PM
The howl of a wolf, the cry of a baby, the roar of a lion, all are a manifestation of “impulse,” extraordinary energy that exists in all of nature. The great singer, and my teacher, Olga Averino, taught her students to sing “on impulse.” Impulse is the word in the arts and medicine to describe “chi” or “prana.” It is life force energy, and it is powerful. “Love Dogs” is a beautiful and evocative poem by Rumi that exquisitely depicts this powerful connection that runs through all of nature.
Luciano Pavarotti sang on impulse. Ella Fitzgerald’s body was so alive with rhythm and music when she sang that she looked as though she could barely contain it. That is impulse. When one performs on impulse both the performer and the audience feel totally focused, uplifted and energized. Dr. Martin Luther King was filled with an impulse which is why he inspired a whole generation. Sometimes acting teachers recommend that their students listen to Dr. King to hear what it means to speak with such great authenticity and intention. Handel’s “Messiah” is filled with an impulse which is why listeners leave a performance of it uplifted and energized.
I describe impulse to my students as “a great need to express.” Sometimes my students will ask me, “but what am I trying to express?” I explain to them that what I am talking about is not “trying to express something” but rather what we hear in a baby’s cry. It is a sound of pure “need.” There is no thought process preparing that cry. It is instinctive and spontaneous. Without words to communicate what is needed, it is just simply “need” or “want.” Impulse is the energy that fuels breath and sound. It acts like a motor that engages the abdominal muscles and the diaphragm, stimulating a continual upward flow of breath which vibrates the vocal cords and creates sound. Impulse makes a voice expressive and compelling. It also ensures that our voices are produced from breath rather than throat tension. When we speak or sing on impulse we are technically “rooting” our voices on the diaphragm and to the ground of our being.
Take a moment now to sense within yourself the urgency that fuels the baby’s cry. Impulse arises from deep within your abdomen, a sort of “fire” in your belly. Sometimes people feel somewhat shy or self-conscious when they try to experience impulse. It is very natural to feel this way initially, for we are truly connecting to a powerful place in ourselves. We may also feel vulnerable and somewhat “exposed,” but only temporarily. Soon we feel strong and energized. The more you desire to uncover and connect to impulse, the more it grows in you, and the worries and fears drop away. Impulse does not burst fully formed in us; it is hidden, and it’s up to us and our imaginations to uncover and grow it. It is the art of singing. Jean McClelland is on the faculty of the Columbia University School of the Arts.
Awakening Your True Voice at the NYOC begins March 23 with a free intro March 16. www.JeanMcClellandVoice.com