My Tomatis Experience

I first heard of Alfred Tomatis through my voice teacher. We were trying to figure out how, with seemingly so much innate and learned musicality I could still manage to have some intonation problems without detecting the fluctuations as it happened. In addition I had also very recently released a number of tensions in my instrument to the end that my most resonant voice was in my baritone range not tenor range so I was in the process of changing Fach (voice category). ( I had always perceived myself as being tenor, with some public reinforcement I might add!)

After a very long introductory chat with Ella I decided that a course in Tomatis could be of value. The thought that something was going to be done to me, rather than me having to do the doing, was an exciting concept. The fact that I would be unable to exert conscious control over what would happen was even better (as my internal" demons" could not therefore sabotage my endeavours).

Being also of a scientific background I desperately wanted to know a bit about the physiological basis of Tomatis' theories and I was very pleased to read how he had received Professional Awards and recognition from peer groups for his work, that his training and methods were scientifically accepted and that his findings were internationally recognised and practised.

Thus I began the course with a sense of wonder, some apprehension, but also a sense of trust. After all, if what I perceived to be missing in my voice was due to a physical problem, that is hearing/listening, and could be rectified, then who am I to stand in the practitioner's way? My journey so far had been long, costly and not without trauma, but with some growth in self-awareness. This was not the time to waver. We began with the Listening Test which showed negligible separation between my perception of bone conducted sound and air conducted sound. I also made a number of aural errors. The resultant patterns suggested a traumatic event around the age of eight years. The only thing I could recall of any significance was the axe murder of our next door neighbour by his wife. Ella said that that would do it!

And so my treatment began, first the alternating tapes of Mozart's symphonies and Gregorian chant, then over progressive days reading then chanting then finally singing again, all with the aid of Tomatis' listening feedback device. Whilst the filtering was occurring I immersed myself in jigsaws which apparently keeps the visual cortex occupied.

Almost immediately I felt more enervated and energised of a morning. My sessions were of an early morning following which I would do a full shift at work, so normally I would have good reason to feel tied. I actually felt less tired!

Upon leaving each session I found I walked slower, was more aware of people's passing conversations drifting in and out of range. For example a toddler to his mother:" Mummy, my talking muscles are tired, I think I'll have a rest now" to which the mother replied "OK darling, you have a rest" smiling proudly.

The difficult thing was being forbidden to sing during the treatment period in which the muscles of the middle ear are being retrained. I have ALWAYS sung. Attending church and not being able to sing was a first for me. It forced me to listen to others for a change. I heard some good singing, some totally problematic voices, and many whom I thought I could help achieve a lot more were I ever to enter the teaching arena. The nicest revelation was how good it was to hear others expressing themselves in song, regardless of their vocal abilities.

The results were very positive

The chanting phase allowed my use of air to be more even. This had a roll on effect in that I was able to experience greater laryngeal stability. This meant that the embodied resonance present in the lower voice was able to be maintained through the middle range and into the upper voice. Previously my timbre would change even before reaching the second passagio point as I thought I thought I had to " prepare". This thought of preparation led to imposing a tension which essentially disconnected the sound( actually air flow) from the body, which then allowed the larynx to rise and the tone to lose its resonance.

A more connected sound more evenly maintained meant I could do LESS with my lips/cheeks/jaw. This further improved the sound which seemed projected out in front of me, rather than me pushing my sound out to the audience. My diction was also improved by doing less. At this point SO MANY things came rushing back to me that many teachers had said to me over the years finally I could physically recognise what they had been trying to tell me.

Then Ella got me to sing an aria which previously I'd had difficulty with E lucevan le stelle- from Tosca and I could sing it! A comment from a fellow participant in the adjacent room said it sounded as though someone had taken the lid off my voice!

What I also notice was an increase in the number of overtones I could hear in my own voice. This was new and very exciting.

The big test was to then return to my singing teacher and see if he could hear a difference. He could. In returning to the exercise regime of his studio we could both see and hear a more relaxed but resonant production with greater flexibility and stability and much less effort for greater results.

The challenge for me now is to incorporate these new feelings into all my practise, rehearsing, and on stage work such that they become ingrained second nature.

One scary moment came during the final week of the course. Following the session involving listening to filtered sound such that I was hearing frequencies around 9000 Hz, I experienced some sharp twinges in my skull, strong enough to want to flinch from them. On querying this with an Osteopath he suggested that it was consistent with temporal bone movement. This was one of the recognised effects of the high frequency exposure apparently. He mentioned I may experience a response from the temperomandibular joint. Sure enough, the following day my jaw felt slightly numb as though I had been to the dentist! Although this was a little disconcerting at first, the benefit was soon noticeable as my jaw was able to fall more freely without the feeling that I had to dislocate to do so.

The progressive tests during the course and on completion did show a greater degree of separation between the bone conducted and air conducted sounds. There were fewer errors. I felt happy that I could see positive results as well hear and feel them.

In writing of my experience I can only emphasise that it was my experience and should not be extrapolated. I am sure all who experience the Listening Centre come with their own patterns of hearing/listening which may respond differently to the course. It is designed to be individually tailored to one's needs as dictated by the results of the testing procedures.

May 2002


The methods used by the Listeneing Centre (London), known as Listening Therapy, are based on the published works of Alfred A.Tomatis and use only the original analogue form of sound.