I underwent Tomatis ear training to improve my intonation. The effect has been astounding. It has put me into a whole new zone and I can confidently recommend it to anyone who wants to sharpen their listening.
I had my first singing lesson at the age of 14, was hooked from the start, and dreamt of one day becoming an opera singer. Eight years on, I embarked on a full-time vocal performance course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London – a major step towards turning the dream into reality.
From the start of my training at the Guildhall, it became clear that my tuning difficulties needed urgently to be addressed. Yet, despite patient drilling from my keen-eared voice teacher and repertoire coaches, my tuning resisted all improvement. What’s more the harder I tried to sing in tune, the more I would ignore considerations of phrasing and interpretation. Far from being able to work on and improve my technique, it was in fact suffering.
I had always had difficulty singing in tune, but found that audiences were often happy to overlook this if the quality of the sound was good and the singing meaningful. During three years at Cambridge, I gave frequent recitals to great acclaim. I always sought out pianists who would be supportive and happy to rein me in when I departed from the pitch or key and I only ever sung solo - harmonising with other voices was completely beyond me. I knew that if I ever wanted to sing in opera I would have to overcome these difficulties but I had no idea how I would go about this.
After several months of struggling at the Guildhall, I met Ella for a consultation. I was fascinated by this mysterious listening therapy and the effects it purported to bring about. But I was also highly sceptical. How would a course of merely listening to Mozart and Gregorian chant, possibly help me sing in tune? Since my teens I had been listening to so much classical music; if that hadn’t done the trick, why should I suppose this could? What’s more, the therapy seemed to be so passive, requiring nothing more from me than to sit back and listen. After months of rigorous and disciplined drillings, I had come to think that my tuning difficulties could only be solved with tremendous effort.
I had some lengthy conversations with Ella, in which she patiently discussed my various concerns. Ella, being herself a singer, fully understood my difficulties and her confidence that Tomatis would help me to overcome them was very encouraging. With my reservations allayed I was optimistic and eager to get started.
During the initial two weeks of daily listening sessions, I was under strict orders not to sing. I was so eager to test the treatment and was held back only by the thought that I might compromise its effectiveness. This time of abstinence made space for me to focus on my listening and any changes that were occurring. What I noticed was intriguing. Already after a few days of the two hour daily sessions, the effects were noticeable. They might be compared to what happens when you put on glasses (…if you need them). Quiet sounds and distant sounds would make themselves heard to me, competing for my attention, the screeching of a bus’s breaks would grate on my ears in ways that it hadn’t previously and noises occurring simultaneously would each have an independent definition. In short, my ears were becoming sharper, and more dominant. When I listened to music, I was becoming much more aware of the instruments’ timbres and the various melodic and harmonic lines of a piece.
The sceptic in me was of course eager to dismiss these changes as psychosomatic: this was a treatment I was investing time and money in, I was eager for it to work, so I imagined that it had worked. Perhaps some of the changes were imagined, but the fact is that I was becoming more and more aware of the sound world around me, something which I badly needed... What’s more, in time it became clear that the effects the Tomatis was having, not only on my listening but also my posture, co- ordination, concentration and sleeping were simply too defined to be dismissed as merely imagined.
The big test though, came after the initial two weeks of therapy, when I met with my voice teacher for my first post-Tomatis singing lesson. He could not deny that there had been a substantial improvement, one which would increase over the months that followed as I completed the course of therapy.
This has changed everything. At last I am able to move beyond considerations of tuning, to focus on the technique, rhythm, language and interpretation. There is a lot to do and I am still in the foothills of what is a very steep mountain, but at least I have now entered the game.
My coaches and many of my fellow singing students have remarked on the changes to my singing. I am more confident, more relaxed and my performance is more accurate, enjoyable and meaningful.
I have entered a new phase in my singing and am extremely grateful to Tomatis and the Listening Centre for facilitating this.