I was introduced to the concept of the third eye when I became interested many years ago in meditation and in particular when I came across a system of meditation called Clairvision devised by a French neurologist called Samuel Sagan. Coming from a large medical clan I am always intrigued by doctors who take an interest in the esoteric and I always take a level of comfort from the fact that with their scientific background they will not tend (one hopes) to take on board any old mumbo jumbo without a healthy level of inquiry. I find Sagan’s system eclectic and practical for modern life but steeped in the ancient teachings and it has also taught me how to awaken the third eye.
So what is this third eye and how does it relate to singing? The third eye, which in reality is the pineal gland, has been regarded since ancient times as the gateway to consciousness and to the inner worlds, the seat of the soul. Development of psychic talents have closely been associated with this organ of higher vision. At this point I am going to leave you high and dry and say to you that if you wish to find out more about the third eye just google for the information because I want to move straight into discussing the use of this mysterious organ in the art of singing. First of all, have a look at a few clips on video or YouTube of some of the great singers in action and you will notice that there is an ‘awareness’ between the eyebrows that seems to be guiding them, a focus. Whether they are aware of it consciously or unconsciously we cannot tell unless we were to ask them but they seem to intuitively know that the voice has to be steered through this point. In the performing situation they are tapping into an altered state of consciousness and the portal is the third eye.
There is not a great deal of overt mention of the third eye in the usual textbooks on singing technique – perhaps too mystical, too unscientific, too illogical, too “Woo-woo” ? But if you search there are little snippets that without a doubt link up to the concept and because I have my foot in both camps and am on the look-out I have come across quite a number. Here are a few examples:
Here are some which are linked to something called “the imposto” which I think relates directly to the third eye and which is a term I first came across in Lucie Manen’s little book “Bel Canto” and which is also mentioned in the books of two singers who studied with her, Thomas Hemsley and Esther Salaman. Hemsley makes a direct link to the esoteric with his mention of Chakras.
“The intention has its centre in the point of concentration between and slightly above the eyes, in what Lucie Manen calls the imposto; what in the Viennese school was called the Hochgriff, the high grip. It provides the singer’s ‘steering wheel’. The imposto has anatomical and neurological aspects, but primarily it is the energy centre associated with intense concentration. …….Anyone familiar with the oriental concept of the ‘Chakras’ will easily recognize that I am referring to the ‘Brow Chakra’ ”. (p51 “Singing & Imagination” – Thomas Hemsley)
“An area of resonance that we clearly need all the time and which we can cultivate is the highest available level that we can find; the one which is felt across our cheeks, eyes and forehead. I have heard it described as a ‘saddle’ across the bridge of the nose……widen the nostrils as though smelling something. The Italians worked at this ‘smelling up’ notion until awareness reached high into the forehead – the imposto.” (p46 “Unlocking The Voice” Esther Salaman)
Lilli Lehmann also likened the sensation of the imposto mechanism to having a saddle over the bridge of the nose and Anna Schoen-Rene also used the concept in her teaching as we can see from this quote from one of her pupils Margaret Harshaw: Schoen-rené told me, ‘Every note you sing should come from the bridge of your nose.’ I had three weeks to master it, or I was threatened with loss of my scholarship. It was rough, but you did it – or else. She was called the Prussian General. Believe it! – from Miss Margaret’s Way by James A. Van Sant, Opera News, March 2, 1996
Caesari, in my opinion offers the same sort of idea in his ideas of mental lift up – a sensation of lifting the vowel and the vowel laying movement. I found this well-documented and in a more accessible form in Vernon Mackie’s Bel canto: The Essence Of Vocal Art – Mackie having been a student of Caesari’s. (I have to confess to getting bogged down somewhat with Caesari’s at times confusing and long-winded books! Mackie distills Caesari’s ideas in a very accessible way in his book.) Mackie states that “the easiest way to acquire this technique is for the student to ‘sigh’ deeply and slowly, the entire body being completely relaxed. After several attempts the student will feel the sigh is starting high in the back of the throat in the pharynx behind the soft palate area and always on the outbreath it descends from there to glide out of the mouth. The student is asked to think of a note with pitch in mind on the (a) vowel….then the student takes all the air out of the sigh and thinks only of the (a) vowel descending from the ‘sigh’ position without any weight, down and out over the now felt resistant surface, which is the top of the sound column.” I would like to add to this that I feel that the top of the sigh is behind the third eye.
Which brings me to the controversy raised by the teachings of Ernest White and sinus tone production which may well need to be dealt with in another post as this post is now getting longer by the second! However, I find it interesting that Sister Mary Leo who was Dame Kiri Te Kanawa’s teacher in New Zealand, although admitting that she is not sure where tone is generated, states that she taught using the sinus method.
“I don’t know whether it’s produced by the vocal chords or in the sinuses, but I take the sinus method because I think I’ve had more success that way.”
She talks of ‘thought notes’ ie tones that were sung with the thought of the frontal sinuses of the head. She would also tell her pupils to place a hand on the bridge of the nose and draw the sound in, letting it ‘ring’ in front of the eyes. (p. 158-159 “The Enigma of Sister Mary Leo” – Margaret Lovell- Smith)
One could go on to discuss whether the ‘ng’ function used by many teachers is yet another way of locating the third eye as an ng hum when executed correctly is felt across the bridge of the nose. This then begs the question “Is all this not just mask placement, about singing in the mask?”
My own take on all this is that, yes the tones originate in the cords which vibrate as the air travels through them but to acquire beauty they must resonate higher up in the cavities of the head. This is what is meant by the term head tones. If we imagine producing the tones higher up we are less likely to put pressure on the cords with the intricate muscles within the larynx. We then are less likely to grip the tones with throat support but allow them to sit on the breath support from the diaphragm directly. This is appoggio – when we produce a tone we can lean it on the cushion of compressed air rather like we can lean on a beach ball in a swimming pool. The effect is that the voice is supported and the compressed air acts like a shock absorber taking the strain off the very delicate mechanism of the throat ie singing “on the voice” rather than “with the voice.” Imagining that you are singing through the third eye does seems to marry up with this type of voice placement and for me it also links up with the idea that the voice emerges from the thought, from the intention of singing, from the inner world of the imagination.