Linklater Language: Images and Meanings from English to German
By Andrea Haring
Last summer I traveled to Frauenchiemsee – a very lovely part of Germany. It is an island set in the middle of a pristine lake right next to the Austrian Alps.
My colleagues Michael, Heidi and Barbara and I were there to complete the training of the newest group of German Linklater Teacher Trainees and designate them as teachers. An important part of the teacher
training process is that the trainees must teach the voice work to a new group of practice students while the senior teachers watch to make sure they are embodying the work as they lead the exercises, and that they
give the instructions using language that is very specific. In teaching the work or leading a warm-up, we use language meant to evoke the sensory, experiential world through the use of images in order to bring our
voice away from our ears listening and into a whole body experience of feeling.
Kristin Linklater writes in her book Freeing the Natural Voice:
“A word or a phrase or a sentence is like a pebble that, when thrown into the pool of the body-mind, sets up ripples that disturb the waters. The waters? Physical, sensory, sensual, and emotional energies.”
In his book The Feeling of What Happens, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio writes: “Language – that is, words and sentences – is a translation of something else, a conversion from nonlinguistic images, which stand for entities, events, relationships and inferences.”
So as voice teachers we are invested in seeing how certain images, created by the language used, can evoke very specific connections and responses between our bodies, voices, and inner psychological and emotional worlds. Also of interest is to see whether or not certain words or images translate over to different cultures. This has come up quite a bit here in Fraueninsel – the trainees all speak German of course, and their cultural heritage and the language they use naturally form an essential part of how they relate to themselves, their world, and this voice work. Kristin Linklater’s use of imagery is based on her use of the English language as a Scotswoman who lived in the UK and the USA. But in speaking with Michael Petermann – a German Linklater teacher who is in the process of updating a new German translation of Freeing the Natural Voice, it is clear that many of the phrases that originated in English just don’t reach deeply enough or give a clear context into the German experience. Because of this the German teachers and trainees are in the process of finding the phrases and words that can allow them to free their essentially German voice.
One example that is at the heart of our work is the phrase “the touch of sound” which is how the initial contact with sound vibrations is described. The touch of sound has several meanings – it is the physical experience of sound vibrating in the body as if it were a physical touch, a tactile experience; and it means as well to be touched or emotionally affected by something (as in: “you really touched me when you said that”). It also conveys the sense that we are not sighing deeply or vocalizing in an active way – we are just touching sound vibrations in the easiest, clearest, and most directly personal way. I really enjoy the idea that I am being touched (connected to my experience) and touching (feeling a physical connection to) sound vibration at the same time.
Michael Petermann says that in the original German translation of Freeing the Natural Voice (done by Thea Mertz in 1994), this phrase was translated exactly into German, which for her was “Die Berührung des Tons” which means “the touch of tones”. Michael said: “I felt as if this phrase sent me into my head without knowing why. “Ton” has many connotations in German such as: “Nicht in diesem Ton!” or “not in this tone” and “der gute Ton” meaning a rather old-fashioned, socially acceptable attitude or good behavior – both phrases suggesting to him a kind of judgmental quality. “These do not seem like phrases that would be an invitation to open one’s self “ Michael explained rather wryly. Also, the word itself – “Ton” – has a sound that is more closed, with the lips rounded. Then Michael, who is also a musician, realized that “Ton” in physics refers to 440 Hertz or a sound without any harmonics – an artificial sound with but one single oscillation, like a sine wave, that does not exist in nature. He explained that when you pluck a string on a violin you would hear overtones, octaves, and the resonance of sound in the instrument. This sound in German is called “Klang”. Michael remarked “In the Linklater work the touch of sound is when vibrations get already amplified and resonated through the body – I realized the resulting sound is a “Klang”. If I say touch of sound without any reflection of what it means, it has no relevance – you take it for granted. I had to figure out the connotations in German so the work can affect us on a deeper level.”
I find it fascinating that for Michael, it is essential for him to shift his verbiage to feel organically connected to his work – not only in getting a more precise meaning, but to empower his German identity to come through as he teaches, and to elicit a more fundamental response in his students. It has made me take a closer look at my own language and why I feel deeply satisfied by certain images or phrases when I lead a voice warm-up. There are moments when the words that guide my students through an exercise just feel organically right.