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Music saved my spirit as a child.
Held in waves of flowing energy, music caressed my heart as a young instrumental musician and grounded me in ever-changing harmonies. It's no surprise that I’ve come back to making music over and over again throughout my life.
Today, as brain scientists study the powerful connection between music, feelings and memory, I return to my own sounding path with plans to share what I’ve learned so far.
As an adult, music has been a wonderful gift in my life – but often in unexpected ways. At the age of 20, I was invited to join the (now legendary) Storefront Theater in Portland, Oregon. Storefront Community was an eclectic mix of artists founded in 1970 in response to the cultural and political transformation of the time.
During my Storefront years I worked and trained with professional actors, directors, designers, musicians and playwrights while collaborating with an expansive, creative community of people from many walks of life. The Vietnam war, sexual politics and identity, women’s history, human rights and environmental issues were a few of the topics explored in performance during that time.
When the company was developing new work, members were invited to explore and develop their talents. During a rehearsal in the 1970’s, Director Ric Young pointed to me and said:
“Why don’t you accompany this scene with some sound, Robin? You know, something kind of evocative, but sparse.”
I'd never done anything like it before, but I was excited to try.
To my surprise a world of improvisational sound opened up inside me. I was adept without consciously knowing how to do what I was doing. I didn’t really think about it – I just sang. So began my journey into the mysterious and compelling world of sounding.
In 1971 I met Izetta Smith, a founding member of Storefront, and a wonderful friend and collaborator. Izetta and I performed original music, theater pieces and plays together for a decade. During those years we playfully experimented in casual warm-ups. That sound play led to the discovery of Voiceweaving.
It was through Izetta's fearless example that I learned to honor and follow feelings like a tracker – with tenacity and pluck. Being a witness to my feelings, as a deep listener and compassionate friend, has been a continuing challenge throughout my life.
In my late 20’s I was overwhelmed by tempestuous storms that raged inside me. I had no choice, and I mean that literally, but to follow those feelings.
...I became acquainted with an old wisdom
When they rose up, I closed my door, lay on the floor and listened, sounding out the storm. As I followed the feelings deeper and deeper in, I became acquainted with an old wisdom that is not mine, nor does it actually belong to anyone.
This wisdom is a shared, loving consciousness that flows through us when we are ready to surrender, to soften our hearts and be nurtured by spirit. I've learned many things in this supportive current and return to it during periods of challenge, doubt and questioning. The evolving Voicemuze practice focuses on inner work grounded in personal sounding and deep listening.
In 1980 I trained to work as a teaching artist with special needs children. As part of this training, I studied with the internationally renowned theater artist, Viola Spolin.
Crackling with humor, down-to-earth, direct and compassionate, Viola Spolin was a brilliant teacher whose work is, by the way, the foundation for current improvisational theater in America.
During one of our sessions, I panicked. I didn’t know what to do. We were improvising a scene and I didn't want to look foolish, so I tried to figure out (in advance) what to do next. Viola laughed, gave me a knowing wink and nodded, “relax.” Her side-coaching followed: “Just listen and respond, stay in the moment, play with your partners.”
This experience taught me that play is a universal pathway to learning, interconnection, invention and belonging.
I was empowered by what I learned and amazed to find that Viola Spolin had created a set of cards which clearly explain the games she pioneered and developed, so that others would be able to use them.
Spolin’s Game Cards inspired me those many years ago to keep track of what I was learning about voice work. Today I continue to add to my own set of Voiceweaving Cards.
I’ve had a long and varied career as a multi-disciplinary artist. Through the years I’ve shared Voiceweaving with other artists, friends, community groups and students in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
In the early 1990's I recorded an experiment in mythic story-telling through sound. As these raw, in-the-moment improvisations emerged over a period of 3 years, I began to connect with a people somewhere in time who were forced from their homeland by warring invaders. As their story emerged, I realized that it has been repeated throughout human history. I believe that, through sounding, we can commune with our ancestors in a profound way and that they are still with us, holding the hope of a better life for all. Here are two songs from Timeweaving:
Today, it's a joy to return to this beautiful form. As we spin ’round and ’round on our planet home, I call out to my tribe to come and play.
Let's engage in discovering harmonies that nurture all of life, invigorate our peacemaking, and sustain us through this time of great change. We are, at the heart of things,