I love smart friends. 

This morning, my smart friends drew together students, faculty, neighbors, and friends (all of them smart, as evidenced by their presence at this workshop) to make up some music.  Beginning with a simple, minor pentatonic scale, we improvised a tapestry of mercy.  We sang of inanimate objects that suddenly realized they could ride horses, leaving their stagnant existence forever (Woody and Buzz, meet Thelma and Louise).  We meditated on the complexity of brains and larynges and felt the powerful connections that grow from mindful practices.  In the concert, many more smart friends, the members of Sing! and Triad, filled the Keith Auditorium with gorgeous sonorities. 

Such was but one day in a week of mind-blowing revelations, all thanks to my smart friends Laurel Irene and David Harris.  Founders of voicescienceworks.org, this dynamic duo specializes in translating the technical intricacies of vocology into concepts even complete beginners can apply.  We’ve seen (and heard) their scientific magic at work all week!

Tuesday evening, I heard two students’ voices transform after simply focusing on harmonics already present in their own voice.  On Wednesday, I swept several students’ jaws off the floor after they heard C3LA’s film score for The Fall of the House of Usher.  On Thursday, I met “the family larynx” as students and faculty imitated the eleven muscles of the larynx and learned about the unimaginable complexities involved in every sound we make.  Yesterday, I watched thespians discover the true power of their voices.

In the process, I’ve encountered so many new concepts, my brain is about to explode.  Did you know that it might be possible to develop perfect pitch as an adult if we simply ask our brains to listen in a different way?  That every sound a larynx makes includes every vowel we could ever need?*  That a straw and cup might be a singer’s best friend?  I didn’t, but I’m a believer now!  I even witnessed a technological take on Harold Hill’s “Think System” that may be the most effective pedagogical tool I’ve ever encountered.  (BTW, the technique evolved from a treatment for Autism, proving that both brains and music are miraculous)

The only “problem” with smart friends is that they force me to face the bogeyman:  change.  I can’t be content to keep doing things according to my own bias, when there is so much more to learn about the world, especially if I dare to call myself an educator.  Thankfully, smart friends also ease the adjustment process.  They’ve already done the research and blazed the trail.  I don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but I do have to change the tires.  I think we’ll start with the rear driver’s side in Sing! rehearsal on Monday.

I have smart friends, and I’m so very thankful some of them came to visit this week!


* Vast oversimplification which is likely flawed (think Tim Taylor regurgitating Wilson’s wisdom):  Every sound a human larynx makes is actually a complex combination of many sound waves.  Our vocal tract (the air column stretching from our larynx to our lips) filters out some of those sound waves, and what remains is perceived as a single vowel on a single pitch (though it is literally neither).  When we shape the “ah” vowel, the vocal tract filters out most of the waves that aren’t “ah”.  When we shape the “ee” vowel, the vocal tract filters out most of the waves that aren’t “ee”, and so on.  In short, our larynx constantly makes all vowels (both when singing and speaking), and our brains create shapes that eliminate the vowels (aka harmonics) we don’t want at any given moment. 

This led to one of the funniest moments of the week, when I suggested that this concept suggests a political metaphor, where in a country of nearly infinite diversity, our civic vocal tract has filtered out everything except “uh and a dirty er”.  Sounds like the name for a fantastic new podcast, where all vowels are replaced with one of those two.  Imagine Abraham Lincoln channeling the Swedish chef:  “Fur scur und survern yers ergur.”  :-)