Will the response to Ananth Vaidyanathan's interactive and lively session lead to workshops in the future?

Any singer will affirm that his or her voice is both a boon and a bane. An anomaly that voice culture expert Ananth Vaidyanathan was only too happy to throw light on in the stipulated space of 45 minutes in his lec-dem. Roaring, whispering, booming and of course, singing, his way into the collective psyche of a fascinated audience, this former Head, Indian Classical Music, HMV and Member, Sangeet Research Academy kept them engaged, amused and spellbound in turns.

Ananth emphasised the truism that to protect the voice, a singer must adopt the art of voice-friendly singing. While there are some fortunate vocalists in whom this art is inherent, the others would benefit greatly if they were to acquire it through voice awareness, analysis and training. The first step in this journey is voice awareness. Voice production is an in-the-moment process. The artist must realise its nature and unlock its potential.

Voice moulding is the result of the singer being schooled in a specific style, when for instance, articulation acquires certain distinct characteristics of a gharana in Hindustani music. Voice development and engineering were also terms that figured in this context.

Why should a singer be interested in voice science? While some voice problems may be rooted in medical issues, these can be addressed through treatment and therapy. Other voice problems can be overcome by just adopting corrective techniques. Even vocalists, whose voices pose no problem can benefit by a heightened awareness of it, which will enable them to break the glass ceiling in terms of pitch, range and enhanced flexibility. To push the envelope with regard to the parameters of tone, range, dexterity and ability to render stylistic genres, a conscious effort is usually required on the singer's part, and this is where voice culture comes into play.

What is the intended function of the voice? Speech is not the original function or nature of voice. Instead, to shout, laugh, hoot, howl, sing and produce knee-jerk tonal responses to emotional and external stimuli – these are the natural forms of expression for which voice was intended. The faculty of speech developed much later, a result of social and cultural factors. With speech came the aspect of conditioning, which curtailed the natural tendencies of voice. When you make unmusical sounds through proactive exhalation, use of voice is raw, spontaneous and reactive, a direct expression of voice-body connect. However, familial and societal conditioning impose certain do's and don't's that contribute to living through your mind and your voice thereby becoming disconnected from your body. Voice is an extension of the body. Voice box alone should not be viewed as voice. Voice involves all parts of the body, working together in consonance. It is a dynamic entity, always moving, not static.

To activate the voice, there must be an ignition of as well as a flow of energy generated by harmonious emotional and physical states. If a singer is disturbed, anxious or distraught, the voice reflects this emotional state. Ditto when a singer is physically unwell. Ideally, a performance should leave a singer energised, not enervated. This would indicate that the voice has been employed in the right method.

Natural instinct

Music making is a natural instinct. Every human being has the ability to sing. If dormant, this ability can be unlocked. Interestingly, vocal excellence is a blueprint, not acquired by concept and knowledge. Hence we have prodigies. Great Indian voices have happened due to the phenomenon of vocal instinct combined with cumulative voice sense.

Ananth explained that tone and voice are invariably inimical. As the voice ages, tone may retain sweetness, losing out on vocal agility. The converse may also apply with agility remaining intact and tone losing sweetness. Negotiating different registers, calls for a mixture of tones. For instance in the upper register, head tones must increase. Otherwise, problems may arise. However, the method varies for each musician, style and genre. Problems can also surface due to overuse of voice. The advice to singers was to keep practicing different styles.

Answering questions was all in a day's work. Adopting a hands-on approach, Ananth invited volunteers from the audience to sing, identified their problem areas and got them to apply his suggestions instantly in actual practice. Whether in pentatonic scale ragas such as Hindolam that are highlighted by glides and plain notes or in heavyweight ragas such as Todi and Shankarabharanam with pronounced gamakas, the chief concern appeared to be how to acquire a better reach in the higher register (tara sthayi). The magic mantra was to relax, loosen up, mix in head tones, open up voice and enjoy the music. Also to mix treble into bass tone for brightness and not to constrict larynx.

The lively, interactive session ended all too soon, leaving unanswered questions in its wake, to be answered another day. Judging by the intensity of popular demand, it would seem that a voice culture workshop is on the anvil.

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Workshops & EducationMay 14, 2012