Music saved my spirit as a child. Held in waves of flowing energy, music caressed my heart and grounded me in harmony. So it’s no surprise that I’ve come back to sounding over and again through my life. Today, as brain scientists study the powerful connection between music, feelings and memory, I’m returning to my own sounding journey with a hope 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. The Storefront community was an eclectic mix of artists founded in 1970 in response to the cultural transformation of the time. During my years in the Storefront I worked (and trained) with professional actors, directors, designers, musicians and playwrights, and collaborated within 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.
Whenever the company was developing new work, members were invited to explore and develop their talents. In the early 1970’s (during a rehearsal), 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 had never done anything like that, but I was excited when Ric asked me to try, so I did. To my surprise the realm of improvisational singing opened up inside me. I was adept without knowing how I knew how to do what I was doing and I didn’t really think about it – I just sang. Thus began my journey into the mysterious and compelling world of sounding.
In 1971 I met Izetta Smith, a founding member of Storefront, and a wonderfully gifted actress, director and collaborator. Izetta and I performed original music, theater pieces and plays together for a decade. It was through her fearless example that I learned to honor and follow feelings like a tracker – with tenacity and pluck. During these years we playfully experimented in casual warm-ups; this sound play led to the discovery of Voiceweaving.
Being a witness to feelings, a compassionate friend, a deep listener 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. 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. It is a shared, loving consciousness that flows through us when we are ready to surrender, to soften our hearts and be nurtured by spirit. Many things can be learned in this deep river; I continue to dive in and follow the current with a self-sounding practice called Voicemuse. Voicemuse posts focus 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 had an opportunity to study 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 contemporary improvisational theater. During one of our sessions I remember being immobilized by panic; I didn’t know what to do. We were improvising a scene and, not wanting to look foolish, I was trying to figure out, in advance, what to do next. She laughed, gave me a knowing wink and directive nod to “relax.” Her side-coaching followed: “Just listen and respond, stay in the moment, play with your partners.”
This experience confirmed my hunch that play is a universal pathway to learning, interconnection and invention. I was empowered by what I learned and amazed to find that Viola Spolin created a set of cards that clearly explained 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, working as a theater performer and designer, visual artist and teacher. Through the years I’ve shared Voiceweaving with many artists, friends, community groups and students in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. 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 discover our way into harmonies that nurture all of life, invigorate our peacemaking and sustain us through this time of transformational change. We are, at the heart of things, one earth family.