On Jenni Roditi's Vocal Tai Chi Intensive Masterclass
“The improvising voice is a mirror of your whole being
and through it you can speak of yourself in new tongues ” – JR
I have been a participant in three Vocal Tai Chi Intensive Master classes. This extended version of Jenni Roditi’s unique style of voice and movement workshop brings a different dimension to the work. The usual sessions culminate in a focused five to six minute individual vocal expression, which one could term a ‘solo’, although, it must be emphatically stated that these are not ‘performances’ in any conventional way. Rather, they are focal points for each individual to further explore and express what has been worked on in that particular session. This is done in a very safe, nurturing and supportive environment, created by Jenni and enthusiastically upheld by the complicit members of the group.
The Intensive Master Class allows for two twenty minute to half hour individual one-to-one sessions with Jenni. This brings a spaciousness to the work that allows for deeper and more intensive excursions into our sound and selves. This permits what is being worked with to be brought more fully into the light and for greater movement within the field of enquiry.
Every VTC session begins with Jenni inviting every person present to say how they are and why they have come. This opening check-in is not a mere introduction to each other but an explicit invitation to be openly honest about where they are with their selves and their sound. As a regular participant of VTC, you find yourself talking about your inner self and sound, that is vocal expression, as inseparable parts of the whole. The sound reveals this inner world and its emotional, mental and spiritual components are directly connected with the physical, literally through the physiology of voice production. This involves much more than merely the vocal chords, however, as any singer or actor would agree. In this way, VTC is a powerfully holistic approach to personal inquiry and development.
Everyone’s current state and purpose behind coming is input and integrated into that particular session; a composite theme is generated and honed by Jenni. This is why every time it is different, each occasion infused with the essence of each individual’s condition at that particular point. Jenni brings where she is at into the mix as well, encouraging a humble and down to earth sense of fellowship amongst all.
“Using the body as a way in – then drawing the voice from the body.” – JR
The next stage of the process is a preparatory grounding and warm up. Here we fully arrive, usually following a guided way of coming into the body, such as using the breath to take us in. The breath may become sound and the body engaged in movement to expand and amplify what is happening with our voice. From here is where the real work begins.
Evoking an energy, the leading edge of where a person is, finding a fulcrum between the apparent surface now and the deeper inner world is the initial stage. This is done with sensitivity, humour and respect, always including the body to help move and release, gently massaging and encouraging the person’s energetic state into actuation. It is a gradual opening, unwinding and unbinding into fuller expression, inquiring into what is happening and trying ways of engaging with it. As what is being worked with wakes up, all aspects of being, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual are acknowledged and welcomed. Jenni is adeptly able to take these and hold them, let them speak or rest, allowing them to be in the sphere of activity where they can be seen and heard, experienced, witnessed, engaged with and moved.
Each person steps forward in faith and trust. There is often reluctance, resistance and fear of course, as any work of this kind is bound to provoke. It is wonderful to witness the person taking that step and going there, to that place of vulnerability, way out of their comfort zone. Using the voice to unravel what is there, drawing it out of its conditioning, be it habit, routine, attachment, neglect, a place of solace. These things are not drawn into positions of conflict however, but are honoured and accepted as the architecture of the apparent psychological and energetic status quo.
Very quickly an emotive and energetic intensity is reached. This is the forge where the potential for alchemical change exists, where the heat of emotion, pain, struggle anguish… fuel the fire of change – the chance for movement and expansion, of release and renewal.
“Let the voice come through you as it wants to” – JR
As a participant you are put in the hot seat. With Jenni’s attentive guidance you are encouraged towards the threshold, biding your time along the shore until you find the perfect spot to dive in. Or you bob up and down on the surface, waiting and testing until the moment feels right, or that feeling arises – a connection, an opening; a crack where you can let it flow out or where you can reach in and enter. The process requires a degree of courage as Jenni may probe or provoke gently and respectfully, possibly catching you off guard, eliciting a more honest response. Sometimes, inviting an almost traumatic experience may be necessary to stir things up and evoke the profundity of what lies beneath. Jenni can tentatively and persistently prod you in a place, gently teasing the area, getting you to look at something in certain ways so as to draw it out. She senses and feels the resistance or discomfort with you and from her objective experience can steer you around it, teasing it out, turning it this way and that, nudging and pressing. Layers of protection may be encountered and pierced towards the ocean beneath.
To talk of the actual sounds that come out during a session is a vast discussion. They may be tribal and guttural; sounds within sounds; trembling, rumbling, unconscious rhythms emerging from within the inertial state of the participant. They may be a child’s whimpering or it’s unrestrained joyful play, serene tones quivering with vulnerability, or loud outbursts charged with emotional intensity. One could go on and on describing the vast and multifarious sound worlds of the inner universes of other beings. One thing is certain: that they are sounds that long to be heard, that need to come out and be honoured for our own growth and continued wellbeing.
It is a process of getting to know yourself more fully and completely. During one session Jenni initiated a discussion about this. She talked of “coming home”, the opposite to what we are brought up to do – a constant externalisation of ourselves for validation. This kind of validation doesn’t have a foundation or a core. If you are constantly reaching out to do things, give and contribute without a strong foundation or grounding, then life will pull you all over the place. You can loose where you are and loose yourself, becoming the branches without a trunk, conforming and contorting. Vocal Tai Chi helps you to get to know your inner self more fully, and it meets and welcomes ALL parts of yourself. It is not a search for some concept of perfection but an acceptance of what is there. This profound level of acceptance can be very healing in itself, allowing ourselves to know and be who we really are.
Part of being at a VTC master class is witnessing the other members go through their own unique journeys. As a witness, one cultivates a more sensitive ear, a type of listening that is with ear, mind, body and emotion. You can feel the sound, viscerally, and sense the intensity of emotion infused in its essence. You can feel its strength or its uncertainty, its confidence or its vulnerability. You revel in the sonic universe of another being. Without judgement you can have this privilege, witnessing the mystery, magic and majesty of another mind; the wandering, seeking, questioning exploration of the human condition. Witnessing wordless, unfettered expression is at once primal and liberating in itself. It is reminiscent of childish play, of an emotional outburst, of intoxicated babble or speaking in tongues.
As a witness you find yourself becoming invested in each person, their process, their journey and their sound. And you feel it strongly in yourself, a kind of sympathetic resonance. You are swept along for the ride and it seems like you are part of it, feeling the changes with them, the pushing through. Perhaps, in this resonance, we are providing energetic or emotional support. Like a concert where the anticipation of the audience creates an atmospheric ‘charge’ that propels the performer to achieve a greater rendition than in rehearsal, perhaps our emotional investment and resonance encourages the participant onward and upward. This has ramifications for ourselves also. As we watch the others, invested and routing for them, coming into resonance with them. As they make breakthroughs, learn more and see more of themselves, we somehow have a sympathetic occurrence within us. We therefore learn something of ourselves and have our own, perhaps more subtle changes, shifts or breakthroughs.
There is a community that is formed through this sonic connection, beyond word and thought. We feel it and experience the struggle, the play, the unravelling of each other. Strong friendships can be formed as we share and witness these profound things from deep in each other’s psyche.
In the continual evolution of this work, Jenni draws from the different threads of her past. The accumulated knowledge and experience of both her professional and personal past inform and enrich every single session. There is a humility and depth of human experience working harmoniously alongside her professionalism and artistry that encourages an intimacy and trust between her and the participant. This, I feel, is at the core of the success of Vocal Tai Chi. There is a synthesis of her particularly unique skill set, a fusion of her experience, knowledge and abilities. With these facets, all being broadly musical and profoundly spiritual, she embodies a complementarity of an academic and maverick background that testify to the former. And the latter, drawing, as we have said, from her own personal journey and encounters along the way, illuminates a wisdom and adroitness with that enigmatic part of us. We can always relate much more strongly with someone who has been through it and who knows what it is to feel strongly and search deeply. She has the uncanny ability to invite openness and honesty of a type which encourages a person to really look inside and see what is there. She creates a space of welcome acceptance, a safe house within which she is able to hold a person’s current state in suspended illumination, ready to be engaged. This is done with all those present until everyone has explored and expressed their particular point in space and time. As I have already stated, as all these are brought to light, Jenni weaves a collaboration of perspectives that becomes the bedrock of each session. This is primarily what makes each workshop different and I feel this ability is due to Jenni’s experience as composer, conductor and improviser, coupled with that of her as workshop facilitator. Similar to composing for a musical ensemble, understanding each instrumental voice, she takes their character and idiosyncrasies and puts them on the stage, the musical material comprised of each voice’s capacities, tone and character. Combine this with Jenni’s personal and spiritual experience and you have a potent approach that is her gift and the architecture of Vocal Tai Chi.