I love the earth. I love to plant things and watch them grow, and to figure out, over years of trial and error, just what wants to grow where, when, and how. I am an accomplished gardener, and I think it’s okay to brag about that. I’d say that the idée fixe of my life has been my love for primitive things, for all things that are pure, original, and authentic. I love primitive movement and primitive sounds, and my discovery is that by uncovering primitive sounds and movements, we can renew the vitality of our lives, of our singing, our speaking, our walking, and our breathing.
Though I’m a longtime city boy, a patron of the Metropolitan Opera, and a frequent concertgoer and art-appreciator, my roots are in the country. I’ve dug potatoes, hoed cotton (though not for very long), and lived in houses where the only running water was in the kitchen. My forebears were all from deeply rural Tennessee, and for as back as I can remember, and further still, the men of my family made at least part of their living from singing -- primitive singing, the songs of the church and of the honky-tonk. I, too, made my living from singing, first as an opera singer and later as a voice teacher, but I can’t help but wonder if I might have been a better singer had I remained rooted in the musical commitment of my ancestors. Their connection to music was grounded in community. It was a connection that was not just spiritual, but also flesh-and-blood.
I love authentic sounds, and the sounds that ring true for me are those sounds that have not lost touch with the earthy organic material, the humus of the human condition. Paleontologists are telling us that early men and women, we’re talking pre-history here, sang before they spoke. I believe that to be true. But if this is so, if early men and women sang before they spoke, just how did singing arise? We can’t imagine old prehistoric Zog celebrating his discovery of fire with a rendition of “It Had to Be You” -- not unless we’re Mel Brooks. Singing must have evolved from first sounds, primordial sounds, the sounds of pleasure and pain, of procreation and parturition, from that family of sounds that phoneticians call schwa, the neutral sound, the sound of the throat when it is uniformly open. Singing, then, had to evolve from the most basic building blocks of sound itself, from primitive utterance. How could it be otherwise?
Schwa, the neutral phoneme, our primal sound, is the mother of all sounds. It is the sound of “I” unencumbered by the overly refined and cerebral, and unfettered by our desire for control. Our access to the primitive, or our lack thereof, tells the story of what we hold in our minds and bodies, what we hold to be true about our selves. Access to the primitive, the visceral, and the neutral revises our history and our sense of self. Sound mind in a sound body may have a more literal meaning: sound mind and sound body can be reclaimed with a sound, with a word.
I think there is matrix hidden in each of us that stores our early history as men and women. I believe that we all love primitive sounds, primitive sights, and primitive shapes. We love the triangular form of the acacia tree that sheltered us on the African savannah. We love the shapes outside us that are repeated in our lungs and other organs. I think that our development as artists, as workers, and as technicians ought to follow the pattern of our development in human pre-history insomuch as that is possible. As a teacher of the Alexander technique, my gift is that I can help you retrace these steps to arrive at a version of yourself that you will immediately recognize as pure, primitive, and authentic.