The Resonant Singer

May 26, 2023 | By Brian Dehn


I think we can all agree that music, and choral singing in particular, means a great deal to us. A large part is certainly because of the human connections that form when we meet.


For me, it’s also the poetry, the thought-provoking texts, the gorgeous harmonies, the melodies, and the beautiful piano parts. It’s even the beauty of another language and its insight into the human condition.


But, for me, it’s also feeling, not emotion, but the feeling of the sonority of voices. You can feel it, too, I believe. Sure we can experience emotions when we sing, but I am speaking of something different, more cellular. The resonance of the human voice is a beautiful thing, you can feel it in your bones if singing is done right.


Hearing a perfectly tuned chord is wonderful. Producing it is also relatively easy. Every choir can do that! You’d have to admit – I work more on resonance, diction and vowel formation than I do on tuning. This is not always for the best (we don’t always tune as well as we should), but this is what makes me different, I think, than other directors. There are many fine directors out there but only the minority that work on these things. This is what’s missing in choirs today, and in society, frankly. We affect people more deeply than we realize.


I have always believed that music affects people on the tiniest of scales. I remember when I found out about cymatics:


This was the coming together of all the philosophies to which I have been attracted. Essentially it proves that pitch, tone, and frequency move and shape matter. Music literally moves our body. Plato’s Harmony of the Spheres is no longer the laughed-at theory that it was 2400 years ago! God spoke and matter formed is not just a neat story, but could be just a poetic phrasing of a literal thing!


What I need to hear in our rehearsals, what I desire to hear, is your voice resonating. If it isn’t, you’re not going to move anyone.


I can feel the ring in your voice, I can tell if you are singing properly – if not, I am bored, I am uninterested, I am not moved. Isn’t that the point – to experience together, to feel together? This is how we know we are alive!


You are so important and each voice resonates in me differently. You’ve heard me say you have the worst seat in the house (having to look at my critical faces and judging glares) but I have the best seat! I get to hear you and feel you first! Sure it is microseconds but I get that sensation just a little sooner than everyone else!


The link I gave you above, Cymatics explained, states that pitch, resonance, and music “creates a collaboration that would yield a unique form of those variables interacting together.” That is a concise way of saying that we are made up of unique variables; what we are wearing, where we are standing, our tongue placement and posture, how much breath flows, our mood, our comfort level, our focus, and how it matches with those next to us – it all counts.


Every person, every soul, every voice must know that there is none other like it. If the characteristics of your voice are less than what you have to offer, then you are not giving of yourself, you are keeping part of your soul hidden away. There is nothing of you if there is not everything of you – it may seem dramatic, but all is for nothing. If you do not resonate, why be here?


Hazrat Kahn, one of my favorite Sufi mystics stated it best, I think: “Every person is an instrument in this orchestra which is the whole universe. Each is made distinct and particular and peculiar so that no other voice can take the place of that particular voice. If then – with an instrument that God has intended to be played in the world – one does not allow that music to be played, naturally, that is a great cruelty to oneself and to others.” Our voice is not just what comes from us, it IS us.


And that is what we don’t share when we do not bring all we have. It is our character, it is an expression of our spirit. Why hide that? We all understand that what is audible used to be invisible. This is what sheet music was to the medievalists – making the invisible visible. What is unseen (thought) becomes seen (sheet music) and then becomes unseen (voice) again only to then affect what is seen (our bodies). It’s a beautiful circle and that’s where feelings come in. What is feeling but chemical and electrical impulses influenced or acted upon by outside forces? The voice is more living than we realize, deeper, more touching, more healing than we may ever realize. Sure, some things may be louder or more powerful than a voice, but nothing can be more living than the voice.


Sometimes my frustration (evident last Tuesday) spills over because I feel we are doing less than what we are capable of doing. We are taking beauty away from the music, from each other and ourselves. Three years ago we were not in a position to even try. Each day is a blessing. If we squander it (not knowing notes, using poor vowels or wrong words, etc.) we disrespect the music, we weaken the power of song, and we make the world a less beautiful place.


I truly feel we are here to experience a multitude of journeys with each other. I am honored to be able to experience the power of song with you. I give everything I am to every phrase. When you do that, I am paid back 58-fold. When you don’t, I turn into a little spoiled brat that didn’t get their dessert. Or, maybe I am just a 45-year-old man that has experienced who you are as people and I will never settle for anything less than your perfect, natural, beautiful selves.