The voice the muscle of the soul: „Healed himself from PTSD with sounds“ Interview
Interview by Salome Friðgeirsdóttir published in Icelandic by Mannlíf magazine.
“The voice is the muscle of the soul”. With these words I quote Alfred Wolfsohn, singing teacher, guru and philosopher.
These words, in my opinion, say everything there is to say about the nature of the human speaking voice and how we can approach it. Which is why I decided to use them for the courses I offer in voice work. I coach actors, or other people who use their voice as their professional tool, give presentations, or anyone who wants to become a better communicator,” says Thorey Sigthorsdottir, actor, director and voice coach.
Mannlíf contacted Thorey to learn more about the workshop “The Voice – The Muscle of the Soul,” a course for people that use their voice as their professional tool. People that want to strengthen their voice and build confidence in giving presentations, have courage to speak up in meetings and in personal communications.
The sounds from the dying soldiers hunted him
Thorey is an accredited teacher of The Nadine George Voice Work, which was partly inspired by the German Alfred Wolfsohn.
Wolfsohn was a singer and as a young man he was forced to participate in WW1. He never became the same. After that experience, the sounds from the dying soldiers hunted him. They made him wonder, if the sounds from the dying bodies could be so powerful, what kind of power do the voices of healthy bodies hold? He started exploring the possibilities of the voice, creating an approach to the voice work where he, by doing the work, healed himself of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
At a conference for the teachers of Nadine’s work The Voice Studio International in Glasgow July 2019
From left: Thorey, Ros Steen, professor emerita at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, one of the leading vocal specialists of Scotland, and Nadine George.
Photo: Thorey Sigthorsdottir
Many waiting for the opportunity to work with her
„I am a solo entrepreneur, but I have been working with Nadine George’s Work since I met her in 1996 where she was teaching at a workshop for young Nordic actors in Denmark. Nadine George is British but she has been teaching for over a decade in Nordic Theatre Schools. In 1999 I participated in her first International Workshop for Actors in London.
After that I started to organise workshops with Nadine, annually here in Reykjavik, for actors in collaboration with The City Theatre, The National Theatre and The Actors Union, until the year 2008 when the financial crisis happened. It wasn’t until 2019 she was able to come back and teach again in Iceland, but then the Pandemic hit the world. Now I am hopeful that I can bring her back to Iceland this year, 2022, to teach a long awaited workshop. I know there are many waiting for the opportunity to work with her.
During the time I began teaching her work, I had been teaching voice to actors full time for 4 years at The Icelandic University of The Arts. From there I went on to teach as well at The Icelandic Film School, where I am now The Head of Voice and Acting. I am the only accredited teacher of The Nadine George Voice Work in Iceland. I teach my workshop The Voice – The Muscle of the Soul and give custom made workshops for companies and individuals on request.
The feeling is very empowering
“The Voice as Your Professional Tool.”
Photo: Ásgeir Helgi Thrastarson
Personal success stories
Thorey shares many success stories from her clients and says it is really rewarding to get their feedback. Becoming aware of the ripple effect the work has on people’s life, on a deep level, and for the better, is a great feeling. “Everyone goes through the process of discovering that their voice is so much more powerful than they have ever experienced. That amazing feeling alone is very empowering.”
A woman, working in a male dominated working space where she experienced she wasn’t being heard or listened to, went through a great transformation when she started showing up to work stronger and from a new place in herself. She had a different energy and a more powerful presence, which resulted in the employer beginning to see her and listen to her in a new way.
“It is so important in life to feel that you have a voice, and that it is being listened to. In your workplace and in all departments of your life. It really affects the overall quality of your life. It is not just about the muscular voice itself and how you use it. It’s about how you as a whole being show up differently in every situation. With a stronger voice and therefore stronger presence. ”
A woman going through a divorce felt that she could now, after doing the workshop, express herself with her husband without her voice breaking in her throat.
“I was especially happy to hear this. It is a big step in everyone’s life to be able to stand up for oneself in personal communication. Especially in difficult emotional situations like a divorce is.“
A CEO going online
A man, who felt quite confident giving presentations in his work, but due to Covid-19 having to take all his work online, became anxious seeing himself in recordings of himself talking. By doing the work he became successful in mastering his skills, and learned different techniques needed for different situations, since one as a virtual speaker doesn’t have a physical audience to inspire one with their immediate responses.
„One thing is to have the confidence to speak, the other is to keep mastering your skills to an advanced level. We can always go deeper and do better with new awareness, polishing our presentation, voice and the style in how we deliver our presentation. By doing that we are able to adapt, and speak through a different medium, and in the most powerful way.
An experienced scholar, who had given many presentations through the years, achieved a new awareness of herself and deepened her presentation skills. She realised, when connecting to her real voice, how her personal communications and relationships were affecting her performance at work, and vice versa, which was a new breakthrough for her. She got a new sense of how she could become more authentic as a lecturer, and how “not having a voice in her personal life” had interfered with her intimate relationships in life. As well as held her back as a lecturer. She could see how the two were related, and was able to work on it and change it for the better.
Defending your phd
A PHD student, who felt she had spent so much time, money and energy on her studies, decided to give herself time to train her technical skills in giving lectures, to be fully able to enjoy her PHD defense, without experiencing stress. That work paid well off and she peaked at the perfect time, delivering it to her fullest compatibility.
Influence your job opportunities and income
„I am convinced that it influenced the job opportunities she got immediately after her defense. I am always a bit surprised by the fact that scholars take so little time in general to practise the delivering of their presentations, compared to the time they spend writing it.
I myself hold a MA degree in Applied Culture and Communication from The University of Iceland, and did my final project under the guidance of Eggert Bernharðsson, the historian and pioneer that established that department. Blessed is the memory of that great teacher and culture mediator. The ideology of that study is to bring all those theories down from the book shelves and into an accessible form, so people can really use them and enjoy them.
It was also a pleasant surprise to know that a graphic designer, who came and did my workshop The Voice – The Muscle of the Soul, said that “after each class she would go to a café and draw up all these sketches and ideas, since she felt so inspired after the work”. The exercises helped her open up into flow and creative energy. We have used these exercises often in courses for creative writing.
The voice work transformed my life
“It was life changing for me to be introduced to Nadine George’s Voice Work. I felt the impact immediately as an actress, my voice opened into new dimensions and the depth of the work and where it takes you is a never ending story.
I will never forget the moment when I heard the story of Alfred Wolfsohn in my first workshop with Nadine. I got goosebumps and it ignited in me a totally new way of seeing the voice. His quotation and approach are still very powerful for me.
Gradually I started to use the voice work to heal traumas in my own life. The transformation I experienced for myself, both as an actress and a human being, inspired me to teach the work so I could pass it on to others in the hope they could experience the same transformation I did through the work.
“The transformation I experienced inspired me to teach the work”
Photo: Ásgeir Helgi Thrastarson
The voice and our self-identity
Thorey says the main emphasis is to embody the voice, help it expand and strengthen the resonance of it in one’s whole body.
Training the voice you learn to recognise and sense the possibilities of it, so it will respond to you in the way you need it to in specific situations. You want to be able to consciously use the voice, so it doesn’t take control over you and for example start to tremble when you are under stress. When the voice is well connected to your body and soul all articulation becomes more organic and authentic. You are less likely to sound pretentious and people will be drawn in to listen. It will create a shortcut too powerful and effective articulation and storytelling.
“The magical thing is that when you start to train your voice on a deep level, there are so many benefits that come alongside the work for you on a personal level. When you think about it, the voice is such a personal thing and connected to our emotions and how we perceive ourselves and others. Such a big part of our self identity. We are in fact connecting to our core essence, because the base for a good vocal projection is your breath connection. There have been many scientific articles written on the positive benefits of deep breathing, for example when experiencing anxiety. Therefore training your voice is also a holistic way to train our wellbeing, as well as sharpening your tools for storytelling and powerful presentation. The amazing thing is that when you start to train your voice, you experience so many positive benefits on all levels as a human being.
The chakras and the voice
” Empower your balance and presence” at Yogavin in Reykjavik
Photo: Hera Hilmarsdóttir
Thorey says the exercises are simple, which she says is great, but with a steady practice you can always go deeper.
“The core of my method is Nadine George’s Voice Work. Of course I did also learn a lot from my good voice teacher at The Icelandic Drama School (now LHÍ) Hilde Helgason, as well as my Shamanic teacher Patricia Whitebuffalo and from my experience as an actress in the theatre.
I have started to weave more energy work into the voice work, cleansing and opening the Chakras and I use meditation. Some of Nadine’s exercises are like a meditation in movement too. Studying the voice, as well as the shamanic healing methods, has helped me go deeper and strengthen my intuition as a teacher and as an artist. It is all very practical, each method supports the other.
Who are mostly your clients?
„They have been actors, tour-guides, teachers of all kinds, entrepreneurs, leaders and people who want to be able to speak up and give presentations in their work.
Just recently I had a few days workshop for the teachers at The Education and Career Development Centre of The Icelandic Police.
That was really interesting, since they are already aware of the fact that the voice is the most powerful tool of the police force. On top of that is very important to stay connected to your core essence in a critical situation. It is a known fact that at a certain stress level your judgment goes out of the window, and then reactions to a challenging situation you are met with are not always acceptable. The voice training helps you control stress. You have to learn where to support your body and where to let go in the right way. This technique, which we can call body mind connection, comes in very handy when you are faced with a lot of stimulation and helps you react with calm focus and heightened awareness.
The corporate world
I have also given workshops for people working in institutions; museums, tv channels and employees of The Icelandic Parliament, to name a few. I find it incredibly interesting to get to know people in these different fields and realise that the core elements in our challenges in life are usually the same. The voice is a magnificent professional tool, and last but not least, a powerful healing tool for oneself. When approached in the way I have been so lucky to dive into and develop through the years alongside my amazing teachers.”
Powerful absence of presence! Women’s Day Off!
On the 24th of October 1975 women in Iceland decided to go on a strike. The aim was to draw attention to the economic importance of women’s work contribution. So women stopped working, for a whole day, and instead of going to work they rallied downtown Reykjavik, fighting for equal rights.
25.000 women filled the streets of the capital, which at that time was only populated by nearly 85.000 people. Comparable rallies took place all around Iceland.
This day has since been known in Iceland as the “Women’s Day Off”. An act that paralysed the country and opened the eyes of many, especially men, who as a consequence had to feed their children themselves and take them along to work.
Can a man be a president?
This had a huge influence on society, according to former president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who five years later in 1980 became the first democratically elected head of state in the world. Not only a woman, but a divorced, single mother. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was the president of Iceland for 16 years, or long enough to lastingly change the role models of the sexes for the children growing up. When Mr. Ólafur Ragnar Grimsson became our next president, children were heard saying; “Can a man be a president?”
The effect of women’s absence in their traditional roles, demonstrated clearly the importance of those roles in society. But it also highlighted all the parts women do and can play in society. It reminded us of their worth, since their roles tend to be regarded as less worthy than the roles and jobs of their male counterparts and husbands.
This day was a game-changer in our fight for equal rights for both men and women, and Iceland has since stood alongside other countries in the world ranking the highest when it comes to gender equality. In 2020 the Icelandic Parliament agreed on the “Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights Irrespective of Gender” to enforce that even further.
Our leading ladies
Our society boasts of very powerful women, and women in Iceland do have the same opportunities for education and life quality as men. At least on the paper. It is good to remember it wasn’t always like that, so let’s not take that for granted.
Female Mayors of Reykjavík we can still count on one hand, Auður Auðuns, Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, Steinunn Valdís Óskarsdóttir and Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir.
We’ve had only two female Prime Ministers, the first one was Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, 2009-2012, who also was the worlds first openly gay Prime Minister. Today Katrín Jakobsdóttir is the Prime Minister of Iceland. The sitting government has five female Ministers.
Female Mayors of Reykjavík we can still count on one hand, but they are Auður Auðuns, Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, Steinunn Valdís Óskarsdóttir and Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir.
But after the last parliament elections we had almost exact equality of women and men in our parliament. We were actually very close to getting a female majority but in the last minutes the outcome changed.
The Government of Iceland. Our female Ministers; Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir Minister of Tourism-, Industry and Innovation, Svandís Svavarsdóttir Minister of Health, Katrín Jakobsdóttir Prime Minister, Lilja Alfreðsdóttir Minister of Culture and Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir Minister of Justice.
The world needs to hear the voices of women!
We can see many successful women taking place in powerful positions and that is great. But I still see a lot of women in my courses that are fighting, as so many do, with the fear of public speaking.
Is it because women have a tendency to feel they need to be perfect in everything they do? They don’t want to open their mouth unless they are really sure that they will not be judged? Which would make sense given how much harder women have had to work for the positions they have gained throughout time. And how they have been judged for having a voice. Or do they simply want to be professional and one way of being professional is to train your skills to speak to the public?
Asking all these questions, it is hard to ignore the lack of women’s voices throughout the ages. In society, in our history books; the heritage of the generations they are carrying. Of course it affects us.
Why do we still judge women for their voices and appearance?
Don’t we? It is interesting to think about the way we talk about men’s voices and then on the other hand how we describe the voices of women. We often connect them to our stereotypical ideas of women. Being surprised if a woman has a strong voice, or if it has something to say we might not be comfortable with.
The most famous example of a woman, who achieved a further political career by training her voice, was Mrs.Thatcher. She had been criticised for the way she dressed, her teeth and her “shrill” voice. So Mrs Thatcher, being a professional and quite self critical, took matters into her own hands. She decided to have her teeth straightened, got a stylist that built her unique power dressing style and hired a vocal coach from the National Theatre to work on her voice and speech.
Not to say that we all need to get our teeth fixed and our own personal stylist, but she did what she had to do to find her own strength. And how we do that is different for all of us. But it makes me wonder if her make or break came especially from her voice training, since with a stronger voice she managed to get her ideas across more clearly and with power behind them. She was heard in a way she hadn’t been before. Mrs Thatcher realised the voice is a magical powerful tool if you put it into practice. You really can hear a huge difference in her voice before and after. You can listen to a voice analysis of her in the video below.
What is an Authentic Voice?
The voice is a very interesting tool indeed and such a big part of our identity. We really judge people by their voices and that is probably why we are so often afraid to raise it. We think people with powerful voices are strong characters and people with tiny little voices are not, therefore rather judged by other things, like their appearance. Can you think of an example in your life?
Constant fight and flight mode?
I have been wondering about our female politicians, and the effect of working in what we call a “male orientated working place”. In this case The Parliament.
I often hear people talking about those women, criticising their public speaking, and using them as an example of how awful female voices can sound. My theory is, (and this is not based on any science, just my feeling) that they still are in such an “unsafe” place, that they mostly act out of the fight/flight/freeze mode, or fall into that pit, unconsciously. In doing so they lose their body connection with their voice and that is why sometimes their voices can be described as “shrill”. Like they did with Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, until she started to train her voice and her skills to embody her voice fully.
An embodied voice is an authentic voice and an authentic voice surely is a powerful tool, in life and in politics.
How to build trust with your audience
Ásdís Emilsdóttir Petersen, an Icelandic anthropologist working on her Master Degree Project on Human Resources Management at The University of Iceland, did an interesting research on the voices of leading politicians.
What she did was look at all the political speeches from the leaders of all the political parties in Iceland at the time. Sadly there was no woman among them at that moment in time. The aim was to research what kind of voices would build the most trust with their audience.
Two different groups listened and answered questions about the impact the politicians had on them with their speeches. The result was a bit surprising, since the myth is that the deepest voices are the most trustworthy. It turned out that the voices that had the most relaxation in them, or the least amount of tension, were the most effective. As well as those that spoke the fewest words per minute.
So, if you want to build trust with your audience, speak slowly without tension. My guess is, given how stressful the political world tends to be, you might need a lot of training to do that on a daily basis being a politician.
For the rest of us, the world tends to be quite stressful too, so maybe we could all use a little help and practise.
The world still needs to hear our voices. We still need to bridge the payment gap and establish equal gender rights.
So let’s get our voices out there!
When to plant the seed for your vision?
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Yesterday we had Autumnal Equinox (Jafndægur að hausti). “For ancient societies, the autumnal equinox marked the end of summer and the vernal (or spring) equinox marked the end of winter, which helped people track time-sensitive activity, such as when to plant crops. According to the Farmers’ Almanac, the changing colors of the leaves on deciduous trees is actually triggered by the shorter days with reduced amounts of daylight.”
I am always fascinated by moments in time carved out by nature. It must be the influence from an ancient DNA in me, leading back to the time when we were in connection with nature and had to listen to it, to find our balance and make our living possible. Harvesting food at the right time, planting seeds at the right time. The same applies to me in so many ways even if I am not planting actual seeds into the earth, it is about the seed planted in my mind. The seeds of vision of where I want to grow. What is my vision with this performance? What is my vision about my life, what are my dreams?
“During the autumnal equinox, the sun shines directly on the equator, and the northern and southern hemispheres get the same amount of rays.” Today it is all about balance, looking at the right time to plant the seed. Where would I want to have more balance in my life? In my work and life situation? In my financial situation? In my body?
GROWING A SENSE OF AWARENESS
Training the voice, the first thing we look at, is awareness. What am I doing now? What good habits would I like to grow to expand my voice, to expand my awareness, to expand in creative communication? We, human beings are a part of nature. Getting in touch with our voice is like discovering our inner landscape. The seed planted through breath, to build your voice, will make you grow, like a plant or a flower. Beautiful in its own right.
A plant opening it’s flower buds is what I see in action when I work with people, building their skills in public speaking, to o become better communicators. It is as if I have been watering a flower that comes alive with new force. People have the tendency to withdraw into their body. A natural mechanic defence of the brain, to protect us from danger in all the stimuli of our surroundings. The brain often interprets innocent circumstances as a life threatening danger and turns on the fight and flight response as if we were in immediate danger, facing a lion.
The fight and flight response is exactly what happens when we are facing our audience, going on stage, giving a presentation, going live online or if we need to speak up and we don’t believe anyone will listen. Our heart starts to beat faster, the breath gets shallow and we feel the voice starting trembling. We all know this feeling. This is where our breath comes to our rescue. With our awareness and physical connection, we can tell the brain that we are safe. By breathing deep down into our body, slowly we tell our body and mind that all is good. We are not facing a lion. The lion is a figment of our mind. This is why training our skills at public speaking is an inside job on a deep level. Not only physical. We have to go into our subconscious mind and take control of our thoughts. Plant new seeds. New thoughts that don’t limit us. When we do that, we can grow from inside, like a beautiful flower, strong and resilient. When we get into connection with our inner landscape we can feel the balance. We can sense how much tension to use where and when, to support our breath and voice. Where to open the “flower bud” for our communication and we can present what we want to say, as a wonderful bouquet of flowers that we have chosen from our ever growing, blossoming garden. All in the right balance of the light and dark.
WHAT DO YOU WANT?
Where do you want to grow? Where do you want to have balance? Where do you want to be “in equinox” knowing when it is the right time to plant the seeds of your visions. If you take a stand and become pro-active in pursuing your dreams you will see that things start to change for the better. You are the one person who knows best what it is that gives you balance in life. Make sure you provide yourself with these things and plant the seeds to grow into the person that you want to be in the world. If now now, when?
Thank you for reading
Have a wonderful day, full of light and love and balance!
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How the birthday celebration of a friend changed my life!
Being a free-lancer in the “gig-business” as we call it, I rarely took time off to have a proper holiday. Most of my travels abroad were linked to my work or participation in workshops and performances. For holidays I just would find a couple of days here and there to enjoy a little break but always ready to say yes to the next “gig”.
In 2018 there was a change. A good friend of mine had a big birthday coming up in 2019. She was planning to make her dream come true and book a hiking trip, doing the Inca Trail in Peru, for two weeks, visiting Machu Picchu, which already was on my bucket list. She told me there were still tickets available and I decided in a blink of an eye to go with her. I booked the ticket and felt amazing and weird at the same time. I had never planned a trip with such a long advance. It was more than a year until we would go. This was a completely new experience for me and started to open new possibilities.
On top of the world in Machu Picchu with my friends.
Soon after this happened I saw an ad about a biking trip, cycling the Way of St.James or El Camino de Santiago. Cycling the pilgrimage from Seville to Santiago De Compostela. Wow! I always wanted to hike the Way! Now I could bike it in only two weeks. What an opportunity! But oh… no! This was planned in September. I would not be able to leave because at this time I was always busy teaching courses in different schools. The disappointment washed over me. Then when I was just about to give into that feeling I realised, but I am free-lance. I will just say I am not available for these two weeks! And plan around that. If that wouldn’t work,so be it. This is my time and it suddenly came back to me why I prefer the choice of being a free-lancer, working independently, or being my own boss. It was so I can choose the way I live my life. Wow the feeling that now washed over me was pure freedom. So I booked the trip and when the time came to schedule my teachings I had blocked out time for my trip. Guess what? This didn’t become a problem at all, I just planned around my trip and I felt so empowered by taking this decision. A decision that should be so obviously in my hands but being a free-lancer it is so easy to fall into the scarcity mode. You often don’t dare to say no to any work or projects since it might be the last one you will be offered.
Cycling the pilgrimage from Seville to Santiago De Compostela.
So I have become brave about planning my vacations, being proactive and taking action. Having in mind these good words of Mehmet Murat İldan; “Neglecting vacation is neglecting success because every success needs an accumulated positive energy!” –
This year I had planned this wonderful trip to Italy. Hiking in Cinque Terre, enjoying a few days in Florence and of course at the end of the trip participating in a theatre festival, Cosmonauti, in Tuscania. Finally seeing the possibility after all traveling away from Iceland had been out of the picture because of the pandemic. But then the CoronaVirus struck again and it became a risk leaving the country, rules and regulations changing all the time. I had to surrender and cancel all my plans about Italy. But of course there is always a silver lining in every situation. I could still visit many beautiful places in Iceland.
Me and my partner decided to follow the sun to the north of Iceland and for the first time we took the bikes with us. I can’t understand why I hadn’t tried that before. Camping, yes I still love camping, and then taking long good cycling tours exploring the area was this great fun. Mixture of hiking and biking, slow traveling, physical action, revisiting places and discovering the landscape in a completely new way.
Biking towards Asbyrgi in Iceland in the midnight sun.
I have to say that I will never go back to the times I would neglect my vacations to be able to take whatever job that came along. The soul and body need to be allowed to go places, be inspired and breathe fresh oxygen to be able to fly and experience the real success of wellbeing. That will eventually feed into your projects when you are back in the room working on your professional success!
Ok well I have to admit, I actually started blogging from the first camping site. Inspired I guess from the fresh air in the north to finally start writing. But after that I put all my work aside for a bit.
What I want to leave with you from this story is this. It is you that you have the power in your life. Whatever choices you are making; deciding on your vacation, what to have for dinner, deciding to speak up. Putting out your boundaries. Modeling life as you want it to be. It is all in your own power and remember not to give it a way. Claim your time, claim your voice, claim your power!
Thank you for reading, have a wonderful day
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