I spent the past two days reading Marina Gilman’s truly wonderful book Body and Voice, Somatic Re-education. I found it an enjoyable text and a fantastic resource for developing my somatic awareness of the singer.
She outlines three types of movement of the body which can accompany the singing act: Parasitic, Diversionary, and Preparatory.
Parasitic: Parasitic movements are those movements that attach to other movements unnecessarily, and result in increased effort or work. An example of a parasitic movement is found in singers that lift their eyebrows to reach higher notes, or to sweeten a phrase.
Diversionary: Diversionary movements are those that REPLACE the desired action. For example, lifting the shoulders when breathing in replaces the proper behavior of the ribs and torso.
Preparatory: These movements are just that, preparations before singing. Some of these movements are akin to ‘setting’ or ‘fixing’ certain parts of the body in anticipation of singing. These include what I call the ‘resonance grimace,’ that facial expression that precedes sound and looks like the singer is about to bite the air.
Somatic re-education for these movements cannot be rushed in most cases. It will take a period of slow movement and awareness for the body to accept different ways of singing without the need for these three movements. I enjoyed Gilman’s approach and her assertion that resting periods between exercises can teach the body more efficient pathways than intellectual approaches alone, or telling a student “Don’t raise your shoulders when you sing!”
The most important question that the teacher can ask when they see these movements (even the smallest of tics) is “What is the CAUSE of this movement?” By working logically, in addition to using slow movement, the teacher can help the student redraw their ‘somatic map’ for more efficient and balanced coordination.
Gilman’s book is a fantastic overview for the voice teacher of how to incorporate more physical awareness into lessons. It has helped me ‘fill in the somatic gaps’ for working with a body in a measured, and gentle way. Her overviews are thorough, and her explanations are clear. She also includes some case studies with students and how she applied many of the exercises.
For the teacher that wants a broader view of a somatic approach, it’s a wonderful handbook. It is a helpful ‘somatic guide’ for every teacher interested in deepening their work with their students.
The singer sings with their Psyche and Soma (to borrow a phrase) and gaining awareness of how to eliminate these three movements is an important facet of any good vocal pedagogy.