How to compare Roy Hart with Estill


Some considerations after reading an article by Susan Bamford. 

(Many Doors: The Histories and Philosophies of Roy Hart Voice Work and Estill Voice Training, in: Voice and Speech Review, 2019, vol 13, No. 2 p. 188-200. Susan Bamford is an artist and very experienced voice teacher with a strong „Roy Hart“ background based in Australia. You can ask her for a copy of her article here: 328617576_Many_Doors_The_Histories_and_Philosophies_of_Roy_Hart_Voice_Work_and_Estill_Voice_Training)

Roy Hart Voice Centre, Malérargues in August 2023

Voice teacher and artist Susan Bamford has written a thought-provoking article about the differences and similarities between the approach of Roy Hart/ Alfred Wolfsohn and the Estill Voice Training . I would like to share some of the thoughts that reading this article provoked in me. I appreciate her research into our tradition of unfolding the human voice very much. My disagreements with her view are mainly meant as a step on the journey of discussion and exchange. 

(Most of the aspects that appeared to me as something to disagree show themselves in another light after I read another text from Susan that is not published yet. In the end it seems there is much more agreement between her view and mine but my thoughts still go in a slightly different direction.)

The idea to compare the Roy Hart approach with other approaches seems to be popular during these times – for good reasons. During the last decades there was very little exchange between the teachers and artists coming from this tradition with other concepts of the human voice and its development(?). This is changing now. 

To start and continue this exchange it seems important to me to raise the questions: On which level is it helpful to compare our approach with others? In what perspectives is the work after Wolfsohn/Hart just one approach to the human voice among others? Are there other perspectives that show a radical difference between our work and the other approaches? 

Obviously I answer the last question with YES. Although the practice of our work is pretty much the same as the one other approaches do (we give workshops, we teach, we train, we give individual lessons etc.), I want to keep in mind that there is another dimension of our work, a dimension that has been in the centre of the philosophy of Alfred Wolfsohn and Roy Hart (in slightly different forms for both of them). 

At least in my understanding the singing process was not primarily a way to train voices, but a way of life. Singing in this sense is not only happening in rehearsals and on stage but in all aspects of our lives. The “eight-octave-voice” makes only sense if it leads to an eight-octave-life. Wolfsohn said more or less the same in his famous words: Learning to sing is learning to love. 

In other words: The radical difference between Estill, Fitzmaurice, Lichtenberger etc. and Wolfsohn/Hart lies in the fact that we teach voice not only because we look for liberated, unfolded or “better” voices but first of all in order to learn to live an adequate life. 

When I read this last sentence I must admit that it is not entirely true. (I don´t refer to the life changing moments and experiences that happen so often in lessons/workshops, but of something deeper. Maybe you could call it commitment to the vocal path?)

I do think the singing process in this sense was the idea in the beginning but since decades the circumstances in which our approach is transmitted does not allow to follow this very strong concept. So how do we deal with it today? Forget it? Finding new paths to make it happen again? Or at least to acknowledge that once there was something more?

Having this dimension in mind can help to compare our work with others in an appropriate way. Susan mentions a lot of very interesting differences and similarities between “Roy Hart” and “Estill” and I learned quite something from the article. I would add only one difference about the character of both approaches. I don´t think only Estill training has a scientific fundament. The difference is rather that Estill is based on knowledge from natural science. Our scientific approach is that of phenomenology. We don´t look at voices or singers in a way a natural scientist does, who will always try to leave him/herself out of the object of exploration. For us the teacher, explorer, researcher is a necessary part of the process. For us it is our ears with the individual history that listens to the voice in a unique but experienced way. 

This leads me to the next and last thought that I want to share.

The one thing that I miss in the article is mentioned by Susan, yet she doesn´t follow that path really (maybe only because of the format and limitations of an article). She gives a quotation from my teacher Paul Silber talking about listening – the key word of our work (p.192):

“I have no formulas, there is no technique. The only “technique” is [to] listen to what you are hearing, and hear what you are listening to, stand where you are standing, see what you are looking at. That’s the technique. But then, that’s a very demanding technique. It means that somebody, Roy Hart [. . .] has enabled you to see a little bit better than you did before, hear a bit better, think, feel [. . .] there’s no structure which can be guaranteed from one person to another.”

Here we/I find the fundamental difference between the approach of Estill and our approach: Estill has collected an impressive amount of knowledge about the human voice, has given this knowledge a structure that makes it possible to work with it. What we do or have done is very different. We listen to the voices because we believe that the voice has the knowledge that is needed in the situation. It is not the teacher who knows nor the student but the voice. We try to take this believe as serious as possible and then support the voice and the singer to unfold into a free space of vocal movement. An Estill voice practitioner knows how to open or unfold a voice. We don´t know but we are convinced that the voice itself knows the best and we need to listen. 

Keeping this in mind we are ready to compare what we do with other approaches for the human voice. 

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