Discovering the Embodied Voice

My favorite story above all used to be Ronja Rövardotter (Ronia the Robber's Daughter) written by Astrid Lindgren. As a kid I was deeply impressed by the brave little girl who was torn between two families, loved forests and had the most amazing spring scream. 

Ronja became my secret idol, I looked for adventures in the nearby forests and of course was screaming in the woods like she did - and I was not the only one in my generation. Like a customer of mine describes:

You felt her voice. When she was screaming across the waters you, too, got power from the river.

Early on screaming turned into loudness and noise and was not fun anymore, it became angry and violent instead. And since I loved tranquility and balance I stopped screaming altogether and even the anger shrinked into crying. The only place where I felt loudness was allowed was on stage and it is no wonder that I turned into singing heavy metal and was crowned the Rock Queen of Helsinki in 1994 - I had Ronja Rövardotter in my soul.

Moving on to jazz studies I went back to studying voice and music from the scratch. I met a teacher I adored who told me she prefers quiet voices and "hate when singers yell". I carried these words with me and it wasn't until few years later, when another teacher put me against the wall and had me singing using my "full" sound again, that I at least partly let go of my soft voice ideal. However the body connection was still missing and I experienced my voice more through listening than feeling.

Whether we speak of body-mind or body and mind, we are dealing with what is fundamentally shaped by culture. For culture gives us the languages, values, social institutions, and artistic media through which we think and act and also express ourselves aesthetically, just as it gives us the forms of diet, exercise, and somatic styling that shape not only our bodily appearance and behavior but also the ways we experience our body.
— Shusterman, 2006, Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 40, No. 1.

It wasn't until much later in NYC when I was asked to join a project where my role was to improvise with recorded animal sounds that I truly discovered my embodied voice. I had to dig deep into my body and mind to be able to respond and reflect to the sounds.

Then the whole body will become an ear, and all sounds will come to you, the known and the unknown, the sweet, the sad, and the urgent.
— Shafer, 2003, p. 71

Hats off to my family who had to listen to these rehearsals and not once told me to tune down :)

We often perceive our voice and body as something that we have rather than are. In improving our thinking through the body, rather than perceiving our bodies as if from outside, we can get back to contact with our inner perceptions and not only enhance the material means of human culture but also our capacities as subjects to enjoy it (Shusterman). 

Next step: Nature

I have experienced that in embodied voice work, nature can play a significant role in providing an environment that appears as the safe and familiar platform for experiential learning experience. When we calm down it becomes possible for us to perceive the outer environment (in music it could be the ensemble, in presentation the audience) and our inner emotional states. When we perceive our inner emotional state, we become present.

Which leads me back to Ronja Rövardotter. I did find my way back to my own nature home at a river bank in Lapland where I will belt out my spring scream again this year. The circle closes and the sound keeps lingering over the backwoods.

Happy trails!

-Sanni