The Feel of Singing: Aesthetic Body Awareness in the Vocal Experiences of Deaf, Tone-deaf, and People with Vocal Disorders (2018-)
Singing can be considered as an essential extent of human expression (Saha 1999, 9). However, socio-cultural norms in our Western culture determine what kind of singing is acceptable and what is not. People are divided into those who can sing and those who can’t. Singing is advisable only for those who can. In this research, I will examine amateur singers whose singing does not meet the requirements of “good singing” – and whose possibilities to vocal expression are therefore socially diminished.
In singing, the recognition of the interrelatedness of bodily sensations and voice is essential. For example, different pitches and timbres not only sound different but they also feel different in the singing body. It could be said, that the aesthetic potential of singing is connected not only to the vocal sounds as an auditive phenomenon but also to the bodily sensations as a proprioceptive and interoceptive phenomenon.
In this research, the interrelatedness of the body awareness and voice will be examined by bringing forth the situations where this connection is somehow challenged, broken, or almost non-existent. In the previous research it has been brought out that by examining the brokenness and the limits of voice it will be possible to approach the relations of voice to the body, significations of the bodily voice, normality, intersubjectivity and the aesthetic and affective potentials of voice (Neumark et al. 2010, xxiv–xxix).
The aesthetic body awareness is understood here as a field of awareness where the bodily sensations are meaningful for a person due to their distinct intensity and/or certain organization in the context of the aesthetic activity. Aesthetic body awareness can be activated for example by playing an instrument, listening to music, speaking, dancing or walking in nature. The concept will be based theoretically on Richard Shusterman’s somaesthetics (e.g. 1999, 2008, 2012) and John Dewey’s pragmatistic theory on aesthetic experience (2005 ).
In this research, it will be examined how the aesthetic body awareness is invoked and maintained by singing, and what kind of sensations and experiences it includes. The research will produce detailed information on the aesthetic bodily-vocal experiences and meanings of those experiences to the singers themselves.
The main research questions are: What kind of vocal experiences the Deaf, tone-deaf, and people with vocal disorders have? How the aesthetic body awareness becomes apparent in these experiences? And how these perspectives can increase our understanding of singing as a human expression more broadly?
I will argue that by noticing the aesthetic potential of the body awareness we will be able to understand the experiential, social, and human aspects of singing more deeply. This will also give us new insights for the questions like: Why do people have an urge for singing, even if they are not considered as “good singers”? Is singing important because it can somehow provide unique bodily and aesthetic experiences that differ from the experiences invoked by other aesthetic activities?
The aim of this study is also to point out the value of singing as an aesthetic activity, no matter what the aesthetic value of the voice or the performance is when estimated more traditionally (e.g. singing in tune, sense of rhythm, voice quality).
Traditionally, proprioceptive inner-body sensations have not been considered as potentially aesthetic experiences (Montero 2006). Despite that, I will argue that in addition to hearing, proprioception is a significant part of the aesthetic experience in singing. For example, a Deaf singer, who does not hear herself, can still experience her own singing aesthetically – even if her experience is not focused on hearing but on proprioception. Likewise, a singer with vocal disorders or tone-deafness can experience her singing aesthetically – even if her voice may not meet the aesthetic criteria of singing.
The theoretical aim of this study is to develop vocal somaesthetics that will examine human being as bodily-vocal being, and democratize the vocal norms by bringing forth the vocal expressions that have remained marginal in our culture.
From six to nine informants will be selected for this study from different genres of music (pop, rock, jazz, classical music). Ethnographic methods will be used in collecting research material. The material will include recorded deep interviews as well as videos of singing lessons, practices, and performances. Additionally, some video, audio, and text material will be collected from the internet.
The analysis of the material will be executed with the help of Csordas’ cultural phenomenology by examining particularly “the somatic modes of attention” – the ways in which the informants focus their attention to their bodies while speaking (interviews) and singing. The ways they conceptualize and organize their bodily, vocal and aesthetic experiences will also be analyzed. (Csordas 1993, 1999.)