While it’s not yet been unequivocally proven, there’s plenty of evidence that humans sang before speech developed. Anthropologists have been assessing the evidence for some time, and there are lots of reasons why this might be so. When we consider the anatomy and function of the vocal mechanism (both the vocal folds themselves and the resonating spaces), they’re definitely designed to make a broad variety of pitched sounds and to allow sound to carry. Thus, it makes sense that they evolved first in order for humans to communicate through sound over distances and with a wide range of pitches. It’s also believed that music and singing were used to create community and elicit bonding from the earliest groups of humans.

I mentioned the book The Master and His Emissary in last week’s post, and it continues to fascinate. It’s certainly made me ponder the origins of voice, the power of emotional urgency to spontaneously create an anchored, embodied singing sound, and the interference to this spontaneity that our analytical left brain can create with its incessant, judgey “inner dialogue”. McGilchrist, in his book, ponders much bigger issues than just voice or music–indeed, he delves into broad questions of society, thought and all manner of human endeavour. But communication, voice and music figure prominently in his writing, and in particular, the immediacy and power of both to reinforce human connection.

What has intrigued me the most is his commentary on the intrusive power of the analytical, “thinking” side of the brain (left hemisphere), and how it always thinks it knows better than the more intuitive, primal, creative, emotional, instinctive right hemisphere. I witness this day in and day out with my students, and see how destructive it can be. Naturally, I have experienced its evil doings in my own singing journey; I have often been waylaid by overthinking and negative self-talk myself. What appears to be true is that the spontaneous NEED to communicate originates before cognitive thought. So before our analytical mind is even aware of the impulse, our intuitive side wishes to break into song! (basically…) If we can follow this impulse without interference, my hypothesis (amateur, I know! I’m not a neuroscientist!) is that we could access the most deeply embodied, authentic kind of singing. Too often, we balk at the impulse. With one foot still hesitantly planted on shore, we decline to be “all in” in simply get into the boat and sail. So here’s an idea: what if we try simply feeling the impulse, the emotional urging, and then sing? More on this to come. But it strikes me that this is the closest way to connect singing to self.