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Thoughts on Mysticism and the Voice

Bisan Toron

I often wonder at the range of emotion engendered by our relationship with our voice, from giddy delight to deep shame. Or interestingly, there might be a neutral attitude toward one’s voice, or even a total removal from knowing it at all, so that one never takes the time to consciously feel its nuances, leaving that to the experts and approaching it only as a means to an end: communication, usually of a verbal kind. Perhaps something in us understands the power of our voice to bear witness, to answer the call, and perhaps most shattering of all, to call forth.

To sing “on the breath” means that voice and breath ride as one movement; the voice becomes an amplification of breath, no longer withheld from it (or from one’s truth). The process of “voicing” has the potential for bridging the chasm between our inner movements and what actually comes out of the mouth as expression. The mystical dimension of sound does not lie in the finished bridge, but in the ongoing bridging – the active intent of revealing ourselves in each changing moment: an active, ongoing ‘yes.’ Where voice and mysticism meet is in the churning toward transparency. And toward is enough. Toward is what we are.

Providing there is the will and the listening required to do so, everyone can experience their voice as a portal into the eternal: the bare moment lived through the transparent voice. The question becomes, ‘is the sound as free as it can be?’ ‘Whatever the tone characteristic, is it present to its fullest capacity?’ ‘How do I need to be to fully support physically and imaginatively this moment in sound?’ One’s entire presence is placed at the service of the freedom of this one tone.

And herein lies the possibility of spinning mystery around like a bath of vibration in the mouth and body. Mysticism of sound is play. Perhaps it’s the sort of play that requires years of practice, but mostly it only needs a willingness to open into the quotidian moment and to allow it to live through one’s voice. One tends to the bubble of this moment through the sound gestures that pierce it.

Technique is for the support and “holding” of that moment: freeing tensions that create closure, knowing and feeling the form of a vowel before singing it (another miracle: can it be that the sound impulse begins within?) and quitting it at the height of its openness, where it can continue to thrive and dissolve into the air. It’s a type of poetic dignity, this art of opening to receive an inhalation, spinning the vibration in your body, and releasing it, with a giving intention. And then there’s the potential of losing track of giver and receiver.

I love the thought that “mysticism” of sound (or of anything) is not a polished concept that is outside the realm of myself, with all my wounds and incompleteness. Perhaps the mystical dimension of sound arises in the authentic utterance of a moment that thrives on the understanding of things as unfinished: the shape of the sound morphing as each becoming moment.

What I find astoundingly beautiful is that the potential miracle of sound springs from the decision to abundantly feel in oneself an impulse and the desire to make oneself known. This is what makes a sound resonate in undeniable clarity: one sees the sound. And then the sound somehow sees itself.

Bisan Toron is a voice teacher and performer. She holds a degree in classical voice performance and a Masters in Ethnomusicology, with a focus on the fusion music of various refugee populations and Middle Eastern vocal traditions. Bisan was born in Syria and raised in Paris and New York. Her debut CD is Backstage Reveries, Voice Sketches by Bisan Toron. www.bisantoron.com

Read more about Bisan Toron

Comments (7)
  • This was a very beautifully written interperatation of the divine nature of sound and expression. Thank you!

    Blessings,

    Sikander

    — Sikander on February 5, 2010

  • Thank you for your thoughts on voice..I sing first soprano in a chorus and find singing is a spiritual practice for me, because one is in the present moment and also is connected to the other singers. In addition, while singing I have a sense of gratefulness to
    the Divine for giving me a
    decent voice to “sing praises” grin

    — kafiya on February 5, 2010

  • He created human. He taught (them)speach.Al Quran 55:3,4.
    It is very eloquently explained the mystical dimention of speach in this article. It is amazing that how our emotions are transformed into voices. The mystical love deep inside our hearts, unexplainable so profound and still pours out in words voice to be known, to be shared. As Allah said in the Book, I was a hidden treaure and wanted to be known so I created man. Also said that, Created man and gave him speach.

    — Naeem Iqbal on February 13, 2010

  • Chanting, singing, recitation have been a part of mystical practice in most of the major religions, even those which did not accept them into their orthodox praxix. The sacred syllable Om, in Hinduism, resonates the oneness of all life. The Jesus Prayer of the Eastern Orthodox monasteries is incanted daily and often. The Gregorian chants inspire an awe for the transcendent, Voice becomes a mirror of the divine.

    — Ron Krumpos on February 26, 2010

  • Thank you for this most beautiful expression of the mystically beautiful expression we call voice, and its innate connection with breath… and the Holy Breath. O Allah, O Holy Breath, who breathes through us all, thank you for each inspiration you give to us.

    — Junayad Oriel on February 26, 2010

  • You have reached, in this lovely article, for something most do not sense or articulate. I appreciate this, as my experience as a highly trained musician has steadily been composted into something much closer to a pure essence, in the moment, of sound-making. The way I work now with sound is so utterly simple to be deceptive, yet so connected to the ‘breath’ of the Way, and I am continually stunned by the power of each breath. I also recognize the importance of clear intention. What is it that I am quickening with my sound? What needs voicing, not just within me, but within the natural world as well, that is enlivened by my voice — a lonely tree, a stone, a body of water… The attitude you assume is of such necessary reverence for the essence of the act of singing. Thank you…

    — Andrea Mathieson on March 30, 2010

  • Beautiful Bisan.  Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, your experience, and yourself.

    — Jennifer Hamady on May 27, 2010

4 February 2010

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