Doug Alt

Swimming For Singing

Swimming the Total Immersion way, has had a significant beneficial affect on my singing, which is what I do to earn my living these days.

It seems to me that the primary factor involved is the application of RELAXATION in order to improve one’s performance. The constant attention to RELAXATION while swimming carries over very effectively to singing. In particular, the TI emphasis on swimming with a relaxed, neutral head and neck is just exactly what is needed for quality vocal output.

The style of singing that I had used for most of my life, particularly on high notes, was pretty much “bust-your-gut-and-watch-your-blood-pressure-hit-300” technique. This approach was very similar to that of swimmers who try to improve their performance by churning the water harder and faster.

Since starting to use Total Immersion to revamp my swimming, I have found that I could carry the “relaxed” mental attitude from swimming over to my singing efforts. There also seems to be a distinct residual physical effect that continues to permeate the body for several hours after a good swimming session, wherein my movements and posture continue to have a relaxed feel during whatever my ensuing activities might be.

Specifically, I have found that swimming shortly before a singing event leaves me, and especially my vocal apparatus, in a very smooth, relaxed mode for the singing performance. I have been able to “lighten up” my physical effort (i.e.: “straining”) quite a bit and sing the higher notes via a more relaxed, open throat.

Then, just recently, Terry Laughlin posted, on his Total Immersion blog, a video interview entitled: “How TI Changed Paolo Carignani's Life -- and Work”.  The passionate description by this highly-acclaimed orchestra leader about how TI swimming effects his physical and mental posture while conducting at major opera performances hit me right between the eyes! A key point that he emphasized was that HIS relaxed, fluid style of conducting (as a direct result of TI swimming) has an immediate, marked, beneficial effect on the way the musicians in the orchestra perform! HIS body language transmits more effective messages while in the relaxed, zen-like mode.

With Paolo’s powerful video validation of the carry-over effects of swimming on musical performance still fresh in my mind, I made sure to plan a swim session for about 2 hours prior to a small vocal show that I was scheduled to do the day after watching his interview.

The swim that day was quite productive in itself. I took some time to relax and work slowly on my weak (left) breathing side, and was able to identify that one big problem I am having is due to an idiosyncrasy in the kick with my left foot. By applying concentration to that area, I was pleased to make some significant progress in changing what is going on there. Then, I did 8 lengths continuously in which I was able to hold 16 Strokes Per Length (“SPL”) comfortably in a 25 yard pool. Prior to this, I had only been able to get down to 16 SPL on occasional single lengths, with major re-grouping pauses required between lengths. I came out of the pool quite happy.

About an hour later I sang at my “gig”, which was before an audience which has heard me 2 or 3 times a year for the last few years. I felt very good about how I was able to sing, due to the swim prior, with a relaxed throat and body, and my voice was working quite nicely on both the high and low ends. I had a good time, and, from the audience’s reaction, so did they.

The amazing part occurred as I was packing up my equipment after I finished the show.

 A number of folks were lingering in their seats, and one lady down at the far end of the front row called out to me, “Doug, what is it that you are doing that made your singing so much better today?” I stopped dead in my tracks. After a few seconds pause, I had the presence of mind not to give a quick reply, rather, I asked her just what she meant by that. (The few seconds gave me enough time to recognize that this 90 year old lady had “talked shop” with me  a bit on prior occasions, since she had been a piano player and music teacher earlier in life.) She said that my voice sounded much better than before, and that my physical performance just seemed somehow...better.

As she paused to try to bring up some more words to describe her thoughts, a young gal in the 2nd row  (20-ish, and faithfully visiting her grandparents) piped up and said, “Yeah, Doug, I noticed the same thing – your voice was much better today than the last time I heard you here! And, you seemed much smoother, or something...”

Well, I then had to take some time to fill them in on the whole Total Immersion swimming journey that I have been on. As I mentioned the concentration and zen-like aspects of the process, the 2nd row gal lit up like a light bulb, saying, “Oh, I get that concept exactly; I am involved in Tai-Chi, and now I understand just what was happening in your singing and body language today.” By this point, I was just flabbergasted that spectators had noticed such changes, and, that they were able to specify so clearly what they had observed!

My amazement deepened a few minutes later.

The room had cleared, and I was just loading my gear onto the hand-truck, when one of the staff members came back into the room. We talked a few moments, and I mentioned that I was taking longer to get packed up than usual due to talking with audience members about how swimming has helped improve my singing. Her face lit up, and she poured out glowing accolades, saying, “Oh yes, I was really remarking to others in the back, during your performance, about how your high notes were just rolling out effortlessly today! In the past, you were able to sing the same notes, but they just sounded kind of...tight. And, it was very obvious today how you seemed to be completely involved and moved by the music!”

Knock me over with a feather.....  

This whole sequence of events had me on such a “high”, that I was actually giggling a few minutes later as I wheeled my music gear out of the building and across the parking lot.

Then, as I sat down in my car, I broke into tears, overwhelmed by the immensity of the gift I have received in being able to have two major endeavors, music and swimming, providing such uplifting, rewarding, centering and HEALTHY IMPROVEMENT in my life!


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