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Singing4Health—Maria's Journey

Primal Singing is about connecting with our emotions through voice, about liberating and giving voice to our inner being, about breaking through the barriers of self-consciousness and fear that alienate us from who we truly are. Let me tell you about my own journey. In the beginning … Primal Singing as therapy My first encounter with Primal Singing was in 2003, as accidental as it was serendipitously life-changing. Still emotionally fragile from the upheaval and pain of a divorce, I recognised that I might benefit from therapy through this difficult moment in my life. And so it was that, on the recommendation of a friend of mine, I began therapy sessions with gestalt psychologist Dr Carlos Velasco in Madrid. It was through Carlos that I discovered Primal Singing, a therapeutic technique that he had been developing over many years and practising with patients since 1995, and which he summarised for me quite simply as “whatever comes to you ...”. Yet behind that deceptively simple statement lay years of theory and practice: When in 1995 I dared to use with some of my patients this technique that I had begun to call Primal Singing and Dialogue I realised that it was a powerful tool by which we could reach deep into the emotions, to the unconscious, and could expand consciousness. The energies generated by the physical movement (movimientos energéticos) of vocalisation facilitated the discharge of tension, breaking through the barriers of the defences, better enabling the patient to talk about himself. 1 The potentialities and emotional impact of it, for a conservatory trained singer such as myself who had until that moment been singing only Opera and Lied in concert, were truly revelatory. Primal Singing was suggestive, meaningful, and promising … but I still needed to know how far could I take Carlos Velasco's insightful method into new directions. I decided to give myself the opportunity to explore it more deeply, freed from the interferences of my classical training; and therefore didn't take any bookings for public performances for one year. I was to spend that year doing only Primal Singing in my home. That was my first year of training in Primal Singing! And far from being dull, it was to be a very intense and productive experience. I had the chance to experiment with my voice with a completely different approach from that which, as a classically educated singer and music professional, I had been doing for many years before. This required an open mind and attitude, it required (and this was challenging for a trained musician) uncritically accepting the vocalisations that I was producing, observation of the mind and body as it happens, and the discovery of the immense potential it had. It taught me that it can be simultaneously a method for developing vocal technique with conventional voice students, a way to do healing body/mind work through sounds, as well as 1

'Funciones del Canto Primal', http://www.psicoterapia-transpersonal.es/Taller%20Canto%20Primal.htm 2


Singing4Health—Maria's Journey

aesthetic experience in and of itself. It proved to have the potential to help raise awareness of our own emotions and feelings towards people and situations. It was helpful in developing a deeper sense of non-judgement towards others, and I could even feel how it helped the body and the voice connect harmoniously together through the power of emotions. Primal Singing … from participation to performance It seemed natural that the next step was to do this in public. After the personal experience and its achievements, I started to do performances in Primal Singing, in the first instance in small venues such as yoga centres, where I offered a theoretical introduction to what Primal Singing was about, followed by a demonstration of it. I also travelled to Lalita, a retreat in the depths of Extremadura's countryside, to deliver demonstrations, and my demonstrations started to become more participative, such that by the end of them the audience would have the chance to choose what emotions I was going to work on. This second stage, going public, was risky as one could not have predicted beforehand how the audience would respond to it; but at the same time these were very exciting times. I got a great deal of feedback from a variety of audiences who had not necessarily been exposed to contemporary music before then. In most of the cases something very interesting came out of it: if you authentically feel the feeling, it resonates with the audience irrespective of the form, structure, or modality that the music takes. Is that perhaps what some contemporary music was sometimes lacking, and why it was hard to engage audiences with it? Over recent decades a lot of very complex music has been written that demands a great deal of intellectual and physical effort to produce with exactitude, and yet perhaps at the cost of feeling being lost … But I couldn’t find other people who were following this path I had chosen, so I went on performing and asking for feedback from my audiences. I graduated from smaller to more major venues. I performed Primal Singing for University Felipe II (Aranjuez-Madrid) in front of a large audience who for the most part did not have any background in listening to atonal music. The result was very much the same: people engaged with it when there was emotion, and improvisation was a huge enhancer of those emotions and the engagement with the audiences. Contemporary musician and composer Francis Garcia had the opportunity to listen to one of my experimental performances of Primal Singing, and proposed that he collaborate with me and integrate virtual synthesisers in my performances. Voice and synthesisers became a stable duo, performing under the name Punto Zero. It was clear to us that Primal Singing had a cathartic effect and the potential to release people and emotions. We reflected this idea in short videos entitled Primal Elements2 and Primal Catharsis,3 under the direction of Gui Campos. 2 3

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giVIBQGT_3M http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhaQTA-pzlY 3


Singing4Health—Maria's Journey

More experiments took place, and modes of interaction explored, some reacting to touch, as at minute 2.30 of the video 'Hace falta ser...',4 for example, in which I am blindfolded and take my cue for vocalisation solely from and in response to my arm being manipulated by a workshop participant. Francis and I started to meet regularly to explore sound, emotion and improvisation together, and ended up producing several shows that were taken into the theatre. A recommended illustrative video of such a performance (see image, right) is published online as 'Punto Cero: Primal Elements'.5 That was, I would say, the culmination of this second stage of the development of Primal Singing, in which I felt confident to perform in front of an audience, and sufficiently well trained to have the necessary awareness for engaging with the audience and at the same time to 'let flow' with no fear, emotions and aesthetic fleeting impressions provoked in and by the very moment itself. Primal Singing became very much 'singing the moment'. By this time I felt confident in delivering Primal Singing in front of an audience, but much more was yet to come. Primal Singing as ‌ workshops for well-being It was then when I was offered the opportunity to do my first workshops in Primal Singing. As before, I started in Yoga centres, offering this technique as 'mindful singing', and getting a wonderful group of people willing to sing and express themselves. I taught at the Yavanna Centre and at the Allegro Spacio, both in Madrid. We would do mainly Primal Singing, but also often followed by short songs of students' own choosing. And it was clearly the intense Primal Singing sessions that provided the essential groundwork for students to then be able to meaningfully sing their own songs. Thus I remember how workshop attendees, once attuned to a state of mind that will lead to it, would choose a meaningful song for them and work their emotions over it. The woman who had been forbidden to sing from the age of 12, for example, who now came for a singing lesson in her 60s, and chose a children's song she always loved, through which she got in touch with so many feelings almost forgotten consciously. Or the stiff dancer who chose a song of the loss of youthful innocence, whose muscles relaxed in resonance with her singing that connected her with those primary emotions. Such were the incredibly powerful experiences that gave me the assurance and confidence to know that I wanted to develop 4 5

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5AgAKLoTL4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwYQHYtLKt0 4


Singing4Health—Maria's Journey

the Primal Singing method further. Later on, it was time to move out of my 'comfort zone', and I started to offer it as 'emotional improvisation as a tool in modern singing didactics' for students of voice, particularly at Escuela de Musica Creativa, the largest private music school in Madrid. You can see, published at the URLs below, a typical example of a workshop in Primal Singing that took place in Madrid in 2007. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eq66BrCtrGM http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7WJsVS0njI For a vivid short summary of what Primal Singing can do for people, I would recommend you watch the following video: 'Before and after Emotional Work session' http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mrAtQQCssM

Workshop at Musica Creativa, 2007

During these years, I persevered with my experimental work, observing body expression and body changes as Primal discourse takes place, observing how audiences and participants react to it and would find in it a channel for self expression they didn't have before, or they didn't realize they had. I recognised that the health-related aspect of my Primal Singing practice had been growing more salient and more obvious in light both of my own lived experiences, reactions, and personal transformation and of those of participants in my workshops. I first encountered autism in 2008, for example, while teaching at Musica Creativa, and found my way to enable a child to interact with and through material objects in his singing while improvising. I sang while climbing half a tree, while rolling on the floor; and I played a strange music therapy instrument called monocordium designed by a German therapist. ASMA Madrid,6 the association for people with asthma and breathing problems commissioned me to create a project for teaching asthmatic children and running regular workshops for them, for which I wrote the theoretical framework. Students of many different kinds passed through my Primal Singing workshops, and intense experiences of transformation, exploration and creation took place as the method was incorporated more fully into my teaching. In 2007 I was commissioned to take on a fresh challenge: to direct a new choir of air traffic controllers. The aims of the choir were to help them release and reduce stress in the critical environment of the control tower. We were singing together for five amazing years. Most of the time, we did songs from different countries of the world; but also a lot of body/mind work, and some of this was improvisation and Primal Singing. I had the chance to see how a group can get into it and get 6

http://www.asmamadrid.org 5


Singing4Health—Maria's Journey

their levels of stress reduced by not feeling the pressures of being 'right' or 'wrong' when singing. In 2010, with the crisis of the air traffic controllers in Spain, so much pressure was put on this group at work that some of them developed breathing problems and/or depression. That led us to work with the voice in a way that could help people overcome critical situations and improve their breathing and their own well being. It proved demonstrably successful. Musica Libre It had been in 2007 that, following an introduction by Francis Garcia, I was invited to join Musica Libre, the Spanish association of Improvisers. I found that Free Improvisation was close in some ways to what I had been doing with Primal Singing, but differed principally in that instead of focusing on the emotions it was a derivation from the free jazz played in the 1960s, still trying to innovate, to create novel structures and to link to both contemporary classical composers and to a long heritage of free jazz musicians that had proliferated since then, such as Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, and Louis Moholo, and of free jazz vocalists such as Francine Luce and Julie Tippetts. Orquesta Foco,7 the orchestra of the Spanish association of Improvisers, welcomed me among them and I was invited to perform publicly with them on several occasions. I also had the opportunity to meet different instrumentalists who where willing to collaborate and with whom I also created new experiences in improvisation, Primal Singing, and performance.8 In 2010 and 2011 I was invited to participate in the International Malaga Improvisers Festival,9 where I sang with renowned trumpet player Markus Breuss,10 an emblematic figure of creative freedom, an eclectic and innovative composer, trumpeter and creator of electronic music, and one of the most singular composers and multi-instrumentalists within the European musical scene. Orquesta Foco also invited me to sing with them at the International Festival Hurta Cordel, in which I participated in 2010, 2011 and 2012. It was an exciting learning experience and I had the chance to collaborate with world class musicians such as Ilan Volkov (director of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Iceland Symphony Orchestra), with Terry Day (founder member of the 'Continuous Music Ensemble' in 1965 and member of 'The People Band'), with Keith Tippett, another emblematic figure of this kind of music, and with Maggie Nichols, one of the foremost European vocalists in the field of contemporary jazz and 7 8 9 10

http://www.auditionrecords.com/ar074.php http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8If9K8uoA8k http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPYvzhCB4Ds http://www.markus-breuss.com 6


Singing4Health—Maria's Journey

improvised music. It was wonderful to have been offered the opportunity to perform with these and many more musicians, and rewarding to see how they were happy to integrate and embrace the special quality that Primal Singing could give to Free Improvisation. I still collaborate with Orquesta Foco and will participate in the next International Festival in Madrid, taking place in February 2014. I also participated in a small group of musicians from the Orquesta FOCO to create an act with improvisation that included a lot of audience involvement. We would perform for them so that they could learn the basic gestures of conducting improvisation, and then invited the audience to become the directors.11 This took place at Studio Banana,12 a contemporary architecture, design and interdisciplinary space in Madrid. In the meantime, I had been invited to teach at the Lisbon Jazz Summer School in July of 2009 and 2010, for youth orchestra, another great experience.13

Studio Banana, 2008

This period in my life was an exciting time of creativity and exploration. I recorded through the night in a country house; we travelled to Valladolid to meet a man from India, and improvised with instruments we wanted to explore with and know more about. We (composer Francis Garcia and myself) travelled to sing with an orchestra of instruments made of stone, who where trying to reproduce 'prehistoric' music, and then record it and modify it electronically in their electro-acoustics laboratory. Singing4Health When I moved to the UK in 2012 I still did not have a name for what it could be the compilation of all this work, even though I had been running workshops for years. Singing4health sounded an appropriately descriptive name, and its constitution as a Community Interest Company was completed at the end of 2012. I also joined the Natural Voice Practitioners Network, 14 as I found that their aims and objectives coincided theoretically very much with my approach, even if formally the way my workshops sound leans more towards the 'contemporary' music practice. Singing4Health is a result of my ten years of experience since that day in 2003 when chance 11 12 13 14

Captured on video at http://vimeo.com/2938357 http://www.studiobanana.org http://www.ccb.pt/sites/ccb/en-EN/Programacao/Projectos/Pages/LISBONJAZZSUMMERSCHOOL2009.aspx http://www.naturalvoice.net 7


Singing4Health—Maria's Journey

brought me to the clinic of Dr Carlos Velasco. Primal Singing as technique and as practice will always evolve, but the essential core of what it is about has been intensely worked through, lived through, written about, and experienced in innumerable workshops, lessons, concerts, and unclassifiable mixed experiences for over a decade. The method is now proving to be effective in engagement with mental health patients; and as a mental health patient myself, I can empathise with many of the issues that we discuss and work through: self expression, self censorship, release of blocked emotions, release of stress, and self confidence. It has also proved to be effective for people with learning difficulties, as the multi-level approach and the wide range of activities that it can encompass makes these groups able to perform most of the activities that it comprises with success and a sense of achievement for the participants. Since Singing4Health was founded as a social enterprise, I have done voluntary work for Heritage2Health, and it has been a wonderful experience, in beautiful settings and with very engaged participants. I have also done workshops for The Garden Rooms, in Islington, and for the Maudsley Hospital LGBT service users association Four in Ten. I am currently also the director of Positive Voices, a choir for people living with HIV, at the Bloomsbury Clinic, and supported by the Terence Higgins Trust. In this choir we use part of the Singing4Health method and philosophy, even if we will also perform and prepare choral repertoire.

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Profile for Maria Mx

Primal Singing.  

About Primal Singing. My personal journey.

Primal Singing.  

About Primal Singing. My personal journey.

Profile for mariamx8
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