Jenni in conversation with Peter Wiegold, Part 2

Recorded September 24th 2019.

The Initiation of Voice Movement Therapy 

P.W. Voice Movement Therapy – did you enter it for your own sake as well, or did you enter it to develop as a performer? Did you enter it to open up your own emotional world?

J.R. It was another crossroads. I remember having to make a decision about whether to go and teach in Greece, which would go from August to September and miss starting the course, or, go on the VMT course and miss Greece. I went on the course. Paul Newham was good at describing the prospective content and it looked radical and linked with Roy Hart Theatre. It was in London, rather than Paris (where I had been going every month) and I was going to get a qualification. I was thirty and needed to think about having a steadier income. I used it as a way of developing my career in that sense.

P.W. You reference your career, was that more important than something where you would get to know yourself – inside out – as an experience?

J.R. It was the gestalt of that moment. I thought ‘I’m meant to do that. It kills two birds with one stone. I carry on my own explorations and I’m going to get (what I thought was) a proper qualification’.

It wasn’t actually that proper (it was an RSA certificate, which got lost in the mists of time when Newham shifted his allegiances), but it was enough to be able to set myself up (I would have done it without that anyway). In fact, I took over Newham’s private practice (he wanted to concentrate on teaching) when I finished the course. So, I earned as soon as I finished the training. I also taught on his subsequent trainings.

P.W. What were the shocks in going through that process?

J.R. The shocks weren’t really to do with the content of the course, unfortunately they were to do with the leader of the course. I seemed to have a knack of falling out with people (!) Well no, that’s not quite fair on myself, or them. I mean, I think people who are pioneering and who have got brilliant, unique projects are sometimes troubled, driven to create something out a need. I have met quite a few people like that. He was one of them.

P.W. Okay, that was the personal thing within the work.  Can you remember moments when things opened up, when you went ‘wow this is a new body, a new voice’?

J.R. I particularly remember how my upper voice freed up. I had always had a warm, low, alto voice and I thought ‘I don’t have any top at all’. But through this course a lid lifted off the high voice and I found ways of travelling into the head voice. I’d never found it before, and it’s never gone away. That was satisfying. I thought – ‘there’s the other half of me!’.

P.W. So, the two halves are?

J.R. Well the low and high, the male and the female, whatever you want to call it.

P.W. Did you feel more female?

J.R. I’m never very good at going along classic gender-identity lines. There was something in the high voice that was very gypsy-like and opened up into ‘nasality’ which is a big part of the high voice in VMT. It’s not a timbre that is recognised in Western singing. It’s way over in the Far East that you hear these nasal sounds, in China, from Peking Opera and from Indonesian female singers. Maybe also in the Rainforests. That whole resonant chamber became available to me, plus an (almost) coloratura placement opened up as well.

P.W. An opera singer has a specific way of singing as does a Chinese person. It seems like the purpose of this was to open up the whole voice. Would that be right?

J.R. Yes, it was very post-genre, post-category.

P.W. Expressively too?

J.R. Every possible way, from the rawest to the cleanest. It was about an inside-out, full spectrum voice.

P.W. So how did you feel at the end of the year?

J.R. Shredded. Unfortunately, I’d got into a bit of deep water with the guy that was running it. But musically and professionally, as a voice movement therapist, I was set up. I was going to be a voice movement therapist, that was it, alongside continuing my vocation as a composer. I was the first student to qualify on the VMT training. Of the others, nobody else qualified in that first year, partly to do with the problems I alluded to. Newham’s courses got longer and more expensive every year until something cracked and the work was taken over by two of his former students. I carried on with my private practice until 2005. I had found a multi-layered space. It was a liberation in terms of my attitude to vocal sound, physicality and expression. Running sessions was a creative way to spend an hour.

P.W. And it could be raw, free, wild?

J.R. Absolutely, or a tiny frightened baby, or a cross genre singer. There was a lot of permission in it. It was about liberating the voice, no matter what the level of experience.

P.W. Yes. So, within that process you would have permission to be a baby or to be old, to be kind or brutal?

J.R. Yes. It was also about meeting the shadow and our other selves. It was psychological, about the darkness of the psyche through voice, moving through it, coming to a place where, eventually, the sun comes out, hopefully.

P.W. Digging into those dark spaces must have been terrifying at times?

J.R. I think I did the terrifying work before VMT, with the Roy Hart Theatre workshops, led by Boris Moore in Paris. When I started the VMT training my mother had just died, two months before. So, I was feeling grief struck. I had problems with Newham, but his techniques were solid. His form/technique was like a skeleton and the actual work was like putting flesh on those bones.

P.W. So, it was a very solid skeleton. Boris Moore, from the Roy Hart theatre. Tell us about that experience?

Roy Hart Theatre, year long training with Boris Moore

J.R. I remember seeing RHT members performing/improvising in his workshop and being gobsmacked by what they were doing. I was also in a transitional space myself, moving away from the Guildhall and moving away from the work I’d done with you, in the 1980s, in Gemini and then Turning Point (Wiegold’s ensembles) – which, by the way, we haven’t mentioned yet.

I was, for the first time, stepping out artistically, separate from institutions, writing scores or the collaboration I’d had with you. I was saying ‘this is me now’. I’m twenty-eight, so what do I want to do? Who am I? I needed to go through a major let go of all the assumptions, dogmas and restrictions that I’d felt during my twenties. I was a bit like a wild animal vocally. It gave me what I needed at that moment.

P.W. Were you like a wild animal in the sessions?

J.R. I could be, or like a child having a tantrum, or a poet, or a dreamer, or a painter creating an abstract canvas. I was covering all aspects. There was one moment I will never forget. It was like going through the birth canal. I was on the floor, rolling forward slowly on my tummy, sounding and moving through an imaginary dark tunnel. I got into this imaginal world and regressed. The body was leading the voice as much as the voice the body. Body and voice were one. My psyche went naturally into the place it needed to go to free itself. The voice, body and psyche were all directing me towards what I needed to find, in order to resolve the trauma that was activated. The body/voice held the pain and so I could encounter it and creatively undo it, re-programming the situation to a new resolution, acceptance, a sense of relief – with considerable catharsis!

P.W. So, Boris Moore’s skill was to get you into the place, connecting to that? Was he a good coach?

J.R. He was amazing. He was a very humble English man, living in France. He had been inspired by the Roy Hart Theatre. Mentally dexterous and super intelligent (computer whiz) but also working on his own voice journey. A lovely mixture.

P.W. So how would he get you into things? Would you sing along? Would he move your body? Shout at you?

J.R. He wouldn’t shout, no. He set things off. I remember doing a mixture of voice warm-ups with strong sounds and moving around the space with fast walking, running and looking at each other and connecting. It was about relationships with people in the group which could trigger interesting things.

P.W. So, you might find somebody that you had a certain frisson with, in a certain way, and that would put you into something and you’d vocalize that and move?

J.R. Yes.

P.W. Like, ‘let’s use all the stuff in the room’.

J.R. Yes.

P.W. Wonderful. Did you do performances or was it all just only to each other?

J.R. It wasn’t performance, in that sense, it was just what was happening.

P.W. But you enjoyed being watched?

J.R. I don’t remember having to decide about that. I was just in it.

P.W. So that prepared you for the Voice Movement Therapy?

J.R. After Roy Hart Theatre I got to Voice Movement Therapy via Chloe Goodchild’s course (The Naked Voice) and Gilles Petit’s workshops (on Indian Raga) and by that time I was already pretty professional. Paul Newham could see that and primed me to take on his clients towards the end of the training.

P.W. Do you want to say anything about Chloe Goodchild and Gilles Petit?

J.R. They were both lovely bridge points, after RHT before VMT.

Chloe Goodchild and Gilles Petit – two singers who draw on silence

Chloe’s work is The Naked Voice. She’s a naturally mystical person who has got a lot of awakened energy in her body and her being. I went to her workshop having done Roy Hart sessions in Paris, not knowing where her work would take me. She was the antithesis of what I’d been doing. RHT was the dark, she was the light. I literally sat in her workshops and balled my eyes out for the first few sessions. She infused this presence into the practice of meditative music.

P.W. It feels like you’re still carrying her with you.

J.R. Oh yes. That experience never fades.

P.W. And Gilles?

J.R. Gilles Petit is a French musician, who went to India for ten years in the 1970’s. He is a violinist, singer, composer and he mastered the raga. He came back to France and has then taught around Europe since then. I went to see him in Greece in 1996. So, I sat down with Gilles before I’d sat down with the Indian vocal masters Rajan and Sajan Misra, the ‘soul brothers’ from Calcutta. I went on to study with them for several years at the Asian Music Circuit summer schools in London, 2005-2009.

I remember Gilles once talking about the petals of a flower as ‘spiralling’ in their nature. He said as you sang the alap (slow opening of the raga) it was like opening the petals of this spiralling flower in your voice. It felt like moving into deeper and deeper layers of your being. I remember thinking, ‘wow, what am I touching now?’ That was lovely. He also did something he called Cosmic Theatre, which was putting the raga mode, individual notes, onto individual movements, one note per movement.

P.W. Was that the first time you really got deeply inside Indian music?

J.R. No, at the Guildhall Viram Jasani had taken me to a few public and private Indian music concerts and given me a few lessons in my third year. I had already begun to enjoy the spirit of it all, especially with the private concerts. There was food and a lovely social atmosphere, like the intimacy of a salon. Live music in a domestic space was so lovely.

P.W. And the intimacy of the salon has gone on to play a big part in your world more recently.

J.R. Yes. I’ve hosted and performed in many concerts here in my home, the Loft.

P.W. Prior to that you were working with Peter Weigold.

J.R. Right here, with me now.

P.W. Yes, that’s right.

J.R. Yeah. How are we going to talk about that?

Part 2.2, 3 and 4 to follow.

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