I have grown somewhat attached to the St. Gillies area and I often find myself wedged in between the bricks and the mortar of one building or another and last week was no different. The strange thing about my activities in St. Gillies are that they don’t center around specific bars, restaurants or shops. Each time I’m there the activity is different, a new adventure that opens my eyes to the post code 1060 in a whole new light.
This week’s adventure was a journey into my vocal range. Specifically the larynx and how it was created, how it evolved and how I use and or miss use this vital organ every day. No I wasn’t in St. Gillies for a biology lesson, I was there to learn how to sing, or dramatically express my voice, or both.
The workshop was a four-day affair from the 27th to the 30th June held at a space in Pianofabriek. run by Johanna Peine, a calm and talented vocal coach gently guiding us through each exercise. She explained meticulously the evolution of the voice and how we began to use this beautiful instrument to communicate.
Johanna knew her stuff! She had studied singing at the Musikhochschule in Cologne. After graduating she worked as a freelance singer at home and abroad (including the Bayreuth Festival Chorus). She was a lecturer at the University of Cologne and has completed training to be an Alexander Technique teacher. She studied with Cornelius L. Reid (New York) and Carol Bagott-Forte (Toronto) for a long time to learn the principles of functional voice training and Belcanto. Since 2006, she has taught voice training in the theater “Ramba Zamba” for people with disabilities (information from Universitat der Kunste Berlin website) and now here she was teaching me…well not just me…but 15 other people, who were all there eager to learn more about their vocal range.
Being a smoker and someone that only ever sings in the shower I had more to learn than others. My voice has a husky tone, one that is a kin to Marge from the Simpsons and when you push it to do anything more than general chit chat it crackles and breaks. That week I learnt where my stress points were and I was moved out of my comfort zone. I was taught safely how to stretch these weak spots. I have to admit that I was sceptical that my career as a singer would never move past following the bouncing dot that guided me in the lyrics to a poorly chosen Karaoke song, I found that the more that I worked the vocal chord and the muscles attached the more my singing and vocal pitch began to improve.
Now don’t get ahead of yourself by thinking that I am going to end up in the Opera or even a bad version of Belgium’s Got Talent but maybe just maybe one day you will find me singing in the rain without shame and without the howling of dogs to accompany my song.