Proprioception is the awareness of one’s body in space. It’s the sense that we all use continuously (otherwise we would wander into walls and tip over sideways all the time). The problem is that we don’t use it consciously. Using this “Sixth Sense” consciously in preparing to sing can give you both support and freedom of movement that will improve your sound and your stamina. If you’re also a director, effectively communicating this to your singers will take the ensemble up a notch.
(Perfect singers and ensembles need read no further.)
We’re told endlessly to “stand up straight” or “put your shoulders back.” At that command, many snap into a parody of military attention for a few seconds. Others just shuffle about. Melanie Malinka gave her ensemble at this summer’s CMAA Colloquium the best directions I’ve ever heard and which are now engraved in my heart. Ms. Malinka is the Director of Music at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City. She works with bright and able children. You can’t give them vague directions; they want specifics. And here they are:
1. Stand with your feet under your shoulders, hip width apart.
2. Put your weight over the arch in your feet. This is critical! You may feel as though you’re falling forward because most of us lean back on our heels. Don’t worry – you won’t fall down.
3. Tuck your tailbone under. Check this by putting your hands behind you and making an inverted triangle with your thumbs and index fingers at the base of your spine. A nicely tucked tailbone will engage your core muscles. It will also help raise your sternum, getting rid of the curled-up slump that most of us have from driving, working at the computer, etc.
4. Bring your chin down and lengthen the back of your neck. Again, we tend to crank our necks heads back (counterbalancing the slump). Balance your head by putting your hands on the two “bumps” on the back of your head and feeling them rise to their natural position as you lower your chin. You can look down at your music without bending over it. Lower your eyes.
5. When singing without music, e.g., warm-ups, put your hands even with the side seams on your pants. That will also help move your shoulders gently back and raise your breastbone (aka sternum). (This is a suggestion of my own.)
You and your singers will have a supported frame for your singing, the space for your lungs to do their job, and an open passageway for the sound. Your body will be working with you, not against you.
“Wait, wait,” you cry. “I can’t remember all of that and it will take me forever to get lined up. Choir rehearsal will be over before we ever get ready.” Okay. Start with steps 1 and 2. Take your time. Add an additional step each week. And keep up the reminders. Be a bit of a “body nag.” If you can, write these steps in abbreviated form on a white board or poster in the front of the room.
Remember to practice what you preach. And may Melanie Malinka and her singers live long and prosper!