Sunday, October 30, 2016

Overtone Singing Is Actionless Action

We live a sad life when we do for the results instead of for the doing itself. Having been teaching students the fundamentals of overtone singing for ten years now, I can conclude confidently that one cannot do this. One can only be this. To do overtone singing well, one must be for the doing alone.

However, this does not mean we ignore the quality of the results; rather, we can attain enhanced results by desiring the present-time experience of the process itself. 

If that seems confusing, do know that it's supposed to be confusing, as the act is nothing the mind can reason through. To clarify, or to confuse in just another way, we can all think of an instance in life when we cared so much about something that we couldn't do it. Finally, when we gave up, perhaps assuming inevitable failure, the task was more doable. Surrendering our excessive caring for an attachment to the outcome helps us do it even better. 

I call the ideal performance of overtone singing "actionless action," but you'll find other terms to describe this seemingly mysterious, paradoxical process that can apply to the performance of anything. In Taoism this actionless action is known as wu wei, and in Hindu philosophy you can find it referred to as nishkama karma. To grossly summarize these profound teachings, and others like them but not mentioned here, desire for the outcome inhibits the quality of performance and the consequent attainment of the outcome. For example, singing with the desire to make the overtones louder and more prominent interferes with the the act of singing the overtones. 

The most common correction I make to a student's singing is to stop their constant starting and stopping. A student begins to sustain a tone and after only a few seconds, his or her thinking judges the sound as undesirable before the tone has a chance to sustain itself. Then, s/he begins again, once thinking editorially about the tone before it can sustain, and then cuts it off. First, this is a waste of endurance, as the act of setting the vocal cords into vibration costs more energy than the act of sustaining the vibration; in other words, you wear your voice out faster by making repeated attacks with the vocal folds. More importantly, by stopping too soon, you try to rush past the process to get to the result. The process is the sustaining of the tone, and the desired result is the tone and overtones exactly as you want them to sound. 

You will get the result you want, your pleasure, if you find an inner hold by concentrating on the tone itself and all the physiological sensations that occur when toning. Listening without thinking tethers awareness to the act. By listening, I do not mean with the ears alone. Listening is also an attitude of receptive attention, and so we can "listen" to the physical sensations in the body. When we listen we suspend the activity of the internal senses, our thoughts, and something deeper begins to pay attention; next, something deeper inside us begins to sing. 

By temporarily suspending your judgement and listening to your body produce a tone, you get much closer to producing the desired result of enhanced overtones. However, you must continue to sustain the tone no matter how crappy you think the tone sounds. Do not stop. Sing through the undesirable sound coming out of you. You must pay these dues of process to experience the result. Though it seems hard to believe, you can begin to enjoy even the most displeasing of your sounds. Appreciate this process of "sounding through the crap". Fail again and again and love it. This takes guts. 

This method of doing regardless of result has other applications in life. You can practice actionless action in anything. Do it, and prove you are not one of the gutless masses in search of only the pleasure.

Learning to overtone sing, however, seems to be an exemplary method for getting the knack of this kind of doing for a few reasons. First, overtone singing occupies the speech organs and consequently reduces the mind's inner speaking. Second, sustaining long vocal tones requires enhanced awareness of the physiology of respiration, a focal point which further reduces mental activity. Third, singing overtones is itself a paradoxical activity as we attempt to isolate and amplify the overtones that in fact are already present in any continuous vocal tone. 

Considering that, perhaps overtone singing is an efficient defense against the continual attack of your thinking. But to make it work, you must pay the dues of attention. You must love the process so much that even if your reap no reward whatsoever, you'd continue to do it anyway. 

Finally, I still offer lessons and consultations through SKYPE and GOOGLE HANGOUTS and I do guarantee results during the the first lesson. However, the more valued guarantee is in how I teach you to love the process.

To receive more information about lessons, please send an email to alexglenfield(at)hotmail(dot)com













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