School of Movement Medicine - Mindfulness in Motion

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Issue: December 2007
The Voice

by Susannah Darling Khan

Italy 2007. A man hums a simple melody to the circle of people gathered around him. They pick it up and sing it with him, someone adds a harmony and someone else adds a rhythmic riff. The music rises to a crescendo. As the volume quietens, I encourage the man to sing out over the sound texture still held by the group. He leaps into the unknown, and lets go into the song which streams through him, his chest swelling as he gives his heart voice; strong, insistent, steady. Then something inside him breaks open, and he is suddenly singing wildly, passionately, weeping profusely, and we all with him. When he eventually returns to stillness, we have all been touched by mystery and freedom. There is awe, and love, and a new peace.


Belgium 1982. A woman is lying in a lorry cab. It is night. The lorry is somewhere in Belgium, parked by the motorway. A man is on top of her, trying to touch her breasts and to kiss her. She struggles, but he is much heavier and stronger than her. She is thinking, “oh god, this is it, I’m about to be raped.” Then she hears her kung fu teacher’s voice in her head: “what do you feel? SHOUT IT!” Without thought a blood curdling yell erupts from every cell of her body, and then he is off her and shouting “Out! Out!” She climbs quickly out of the cab grabbing her rucksack. He slams the door and drives off. She puts up her tent behind some trees, puts protective white light around her, and the next day hitches her way onwards.

That was me 24 years ago, learning about the primal power of my voice, and SO glad I’d had done some Kung Fu and had experienced the raw power of my fierce voice, and had a great injunction from my teacher in my head.

London 1997. She is singing descending scales against a drone, slowly, slowly, tasting the intervals, over and over, down the staircase of the notes, feeling like she is drawing down the stars. And gently, slowly her heart blossoms open and blessing and tears intermingle. This simple song of the scale becomes an invocation, a prayer, a thanksgiving.

The Lake District England 2000. The men stand in the middle of the circle and the women sing to them, honouring them. We are singing Thuma Mina, a beautiful South African harmony song.

“It was a very powerful moving was as if all the women became pure light and soul; stripped of all worldly baggage and physical form ...we could not see the women as we were in the middle in a circle with our eyes closed but we could certainly feel their when they sang to us it was as if their souls were being beamed directly into our souls on a wave of light and sound and we felt the power and beauty of all the women singing to us...I also felt cradled and held by an energy that was purely female, electric, sensual and warm yet strangely with a hint of feeling slightly afraid of the power. A very beautiful experience...(Keith Mills, one of the men).

Plymouth 2004 (the Harlem Ballet). The dancers wheel across the stage. They are beautiful, powerful, acrobatic, eloquent, dazzling. The colours shout “Africa!” Then suddenly, as if a switch has been flicked, the dancers add voice to their dance and something else ‘turns on.’ The power is electric, a new energy and force blazes.

Totnes 2006. Alma. The flamenco has been brilliant, fiery and intoxicating. The performers are shining, the audience is alight. In one of the many encores the main male singer, an older, slightly rounded man, gets up from his chair, and slowly steps into centre stage. The dancers are at the back, and they start to sing for him, and he starts to dance, a dance maybe not as acrobatic as the main dancers, but totally alive; brilliant, deep, flamenco. It is the dance expression of the passion of his singing, full of feeling, finesse, roots and soul. It touches something deep in me, this interchangabiltiy of dancers and singers, and reminds me of the Baka people who have only one word for dance and song (Ba) and for whom to dance IS to sing, and to sing IS to dance.

Rill Centre, Devon 2007. We are doing video feedback. This is a demanding and often emotional process, as we witness our individual and collective struggle to see ourselves with love and truth. One of the group begins to feel overwhelmed and at sea in all the emotion, everyone’s as well as her own. She feels saturated and porous, and though she wants to stay, she feels that the only way to retrieve her energetic “skin” may be to leave the room. In a break between videos I ask her if she is willing to try an experiment first. She stands up in front of us all and simply tells us what is happening for her. This simple statement of ‘what is’ changes everything. Her sense of her edge comes back, her colour and energetic “tone” shifts, she finds that this was all that was needed to re-assemble herself. And so she is able to stay, a healthily connected and yet individual participant in the whole process.

Copenhagen 2007. Two women are involved in a voice and movement improvisation whilst the group witness. They are having great fun, and we all laugh as they play out strange underworld creatures with great verve and vocal and physical freedom. After a while I bring them to a pause, and ask them to continue, this time trusting themselves to their singing voices, using repetition, as well as variation. Now something very different begins to happen. There is an intense tenderness, and the voices become searingly beautiful as they sing, as melody and harmony naturally unfold, and the song that is singing through them is speaking of love, loss, and redemption. The two women connect with each other and with our common humanity on a whole other level. We are silenced and awed.

When I used to sing with Roz Walker’s wonderful community choir, ‘Global Harmony,’ from which I learnt many of the songs I now teach, I came to realise that however I felt at the beginning of the session, I would feel great, uplifted, and inspired by the end. If I am happy, I sing. And if I sing, I become happy. Its almost as simply as that.

Wicklow, Eire. 1981. I am singing as I work in the huge high ceiling kitchen of the grim old building, formerly a reform school, which is now a peace centre. The resonance in the kitchen is wonderful, my heart is full and no one is around to hear me. I sing freely, beautifully, revelling in the sound. Later, I am serving lunch to the young priests who are there on retreat and their teacher tells me how much he loved my singing, and asks me to sing at their next meditation. I am happy that he heard, but terribly shy, and know that if I knew anyone were listening, my voice would crumple and fold and not be able to take flight. It has taken me 25 years (and still learning) to decipher the puzzle and discover how to connect with this beauty and freedom and be heard by others.

When I was thinking about writing this article about the voice Roland suggested I recounted some stories. At first, I thought “oh dear, I can’t think of any!” and then they started to arrive. Having written some of them down on the wonderful train journey from Glasgow to London earlier this week (what scenery; Britain is so beautiful!), I am struck by the repeating themes in the stories, about how the voice is so fundamental for our boundaries, our sense of resilient self, and how it connects us with our truth, our hearts, with each other, with joy and with the sacred. If you sing, if you really let go and sing, there is no way you can not connect with your heart. When this happens, everyone knows, and everyone is touched.

This is why we have introduced voice work as part of The Fundamentals of Movement Medicine Ongoing Group. Of course not everyone needs to become a vocal soloist though I sense that we all have songs inside us. Singing is a natural part of our humanity and freeing, connecting and aligning our voice with our deep purpose is an important, empowering and joyous aspect of blossoming into our power, our connectedness, and our capacity to offer our gifts.

My own journey with my voice and singing has involved many aspects; inner emotional disentanglement, learning music theory, learning about ways of breathing, and the physical and postural ways which support free voicing and singing. I love sharing with you what I have discovered, and I am grateful to my teachers: Ida Kalerova, Chloe Goodchild, Roz Walker, Sandra Smith and Julian Marshall.

I wish you happy voicing and singing over this time of the festivals of light, may we all be blessed with love, truth and peace,

With warmth,

Susannah Darling Khan

Susannah is teaching DanSing on the Isle of Sylt as residential workshop 24 – 27th Jan. Contact Petra +49 4651 871 276

Her next Resonance workshop will be residential at the Earth Spirit Centre in Somerset 29 Oct – 2 Nov. Contact Susanne: 01803 772999

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the School of Movement Medicine. Roland Wilkinson, Nappers Crossing, Staverton, Devon TQ9 6PD, UK Tel & Fax +44 (0)1803 762255 http://www.