What Every Singer Needs to Know About the Body






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Publication: Journal of Singing
Author: Greschner, Debra
Date published: September 1, 2010

Melissa Malde, MaryJean Allen, and Kurt-Alexander Zeller, What Every Singer Needs to Know About the Body. San Diego: Plural Publishing, Inc., 2009. Paper, xiv, 218 pp., $49.95. ISBN 978-1-59756-324-6 www.pluralpublishing.com

Body Mapping grew out of the work of William Conable, a professor of cello, who observed that his students moved in the way they thought they were structured, even if that concept was different than the anatomic reality. Barbara Conable, who incorporated Body Mapping into her work as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, developed courses on the subject, including a teacher training course. Her books, How to Learn the Alexander Technique and What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body, are widely read; the latter volume has been the inspiration for other manuals for specific instruments. What Every Singer Needs to Know About the Body is a Body Mapping resource for singers by certified Body Mapping instructors Melissa Malde, MaryJean Allen, and Kurt-Alexander Zeller.

The introduction, written by Barbara Conable, underlines that Body Mapping is not a technique, but a basis for technique. An accurate body map enables efficient movement, which in turn promotes healthy and effective use. The relevance of Body Mapping for singers-whose bodies are their instruments-is obvious. An accurate body map depends upon a clear understanding of the body's structure, and to that end What Every Singer Needs to Know about the Body provides thorough, detailed explanations and more than one hundred illustrations. Throughout the book, exercises appear in gray shaded boxes to encourage readers to explore and develop their own body maps.

The first two chapters, penned by MaryJean Allen, clarify the principles of Body Mapping. Three terms are fundamental: body map, the mental representation each individual has about his/her body size, structure, and function; kinesthesia, the perception of your body in motion; and inclusive awareness, the consciousness of internal and external experience. Another basic tenet is the core, which is the central location of support. There are six places of balance within the body, and Allen defines and explains the significance of each.

Melissa Malde contributes three chapters devoted to breath, sound, and resonance respectively. Her explanations of the anatomic reasons for different registers, and how pitch is created, are particularly lucid. She addresses frequently asked questions for each subject, and tackles common resonance images and their pitfalls. Singers are reminded that the chamber of air-and not the surface of the vocal tract-is the resonator.

Kurt-Alexander Zeller elucidates the role of body mapping in communication. He underlines that although articulation and resonance are often discussed separately-as in this book-they are inextricably linked in singing. In regard to communication, singers will have faulty pronunciation if they are not using the articulators correctly. Correction is not merely a matter of hearing the difference, he states, but a matter of changing the movement. Common misconceptions about the articulators include an incorrect body map of the size of the tongue (it is considerably larger than most singers realize) and the erroneous belief that there is an upper jaw. The latter results in neck tension and an imbalance in skull balance as singers move their heads in an attempt to move this imagined upper jaw.

The final chapter maps the structures and movement of gesture and expression, including arms, hands, legs, and facial expressions. Gestures must be appropriate for a character's body map, but must also work within the singer's body map. Zeller references David F. Ostwald, Acting for Singers. Creating Believable Singing Characters (New York: Oxford, 2005), who states "You are always you."

Two appendixes supplement the text. The first, written by Barbara Conable, is advice for dealing with performance anxiety, while the second is an essay by T. Richard Nichols explaining the scientific basis of body mapping. As mentioned earlier, the book contains more than one hundred illustrations. A useful attribute of the book is the duplication of figures rather than cross-referencing, which saves the reader from having to flip back in the book. And, on the subject of flipping: the binding allows the book to lie flat, which is a commendable characteristic that allows the reader to engage in suggested exercises without having to swat at wavering pages.

What Every Singer Needs to Know About the Body is an excellent introduction to Body Mapping. It is an exceptional resource for the singer and teachers of singing to understand the anatomy and physiology of the voice. Singers and teachers unfamiliar with Body Mapping will find the text both a useful introduction to the process, and an all-purpose reference text for the anatomy and physiology of the body. The book is highly recommended.

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