The other day when I was having to wait for an hour or so in a room where there was no chair for me to sit on, I spent some wall time. I stood with my feet slightly out from the wall, and my hips, shoulders and the back of my head touching the wall. What I felt was the slightly achy release of some of the tension that I carry in my neck, shoulders and upper arms. And I began to think that a little daily posture time would do us all a world of good.
When we slouch even a little, the chest falls, and when it does, the chin juts out ever so slightly. The jutting chin actually causes some pressure on the larynx, which reduces the amount and quality of sound when we sing in that position.
You may notice only a very slight difference in the richness of the sound when it’s just the one singer – but when an entire group has pressure on the larynx, the difference is huge.
Here are some stance tricks that I use.
1. Raise the arms above the head and stretch up. Now lower the shoulders and then the arms – but leave the chest in that high position. Focus on the relaxation of the arms and shoulders while leaving the chest where it is. It’s impossible for the jaw to jut out while the chest is high.
2. Stand with the arms out to the side – airplane style, with palms of the hands down. Now turn over the palms of both hands so that they are facing upwards. Feel the upward shift in the placement of the chest. (This one is courtesy of Fiona Blackburn, who directs the BC Girls’ Choir)
3. For any of you who have ever played basketball – imagine that you are guarding a very tall player, but keep your arms down at your sides. Notice the high chest and your weight on the balls of your feet. Notice also the slightly excited feeling of being ready for whatever your next move needs to be. If this is the way a singer is actually feeling, the audience will pick up on the excitement.
It’s interesting how we often take mood cues from our bodies. A really obvious example of this is when we have too much caffeine. We actually start to believe that there’s something to be very anxious about – when really it’s just that we’ve poisoned ourselves a little bit. This can also work in the reverse. We can trick ourselves into exhilaration by choosing to have our bodies behave the way they would in that state. And if we can initially fool ourselves, it will become real. (In the same way that a group of people faking laughter will eventually actually start laughing hysterically.)Then we’ll exude that joy and excitement to the audience.
4. Stand in a ‘normal’ position. Imagine that there’s a large helium balloon attached to your upper chest, and that it’s gradually raising you up, almost lifting you off the ground. I find that when I do this there is once again an achy release of tension in my neck, shoulders and upper arms – like when I hold a stretch. (Well, I guess I am actually stretching, but it doesn’t feel self generated)
5. The last stance trick that I use regularly with my competitive Barbershop choruses is the ‘pretend you’re a last place chorus’ – then a third place, a second place and finally a championship chorus. Slightly corny I know – but fun and really effective at transforming the sound and the visual presentation.