CSU teaching the links between music, body

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Curt Yeomans


The ties between music and the human body do not stop at "The leg bone connected to the knee bone ...," according to Clayton State University Director of Opera and Vocal Studies Kurt-Alexander Zeller.

Zeller, who co-authored the book, "What Every Singer Needs to Know About the Body," said incorrect posture, or body movement, can alter the sounds a person makes when he or she plays an instrument. Just straightening and lengthening a person's neck at the point where the back of the head meets the spine, can produce a better singing voice, he said.

"It makes the voice sound more lively," Zeller said. "The resonator for the voice is the vocal area in your neck, just above your larynx, and it affects the pitch of your voice. If it's contracted, your voice is not going to sound as powerful. It's not going to sound as full."

Zeller is teaching a class on "Body Mapping" to a small group of musicians, mainly from the Atlanta area, this week. It is part of a workshop series Clayton State's Spivey Hall is hosting for music educators this summer.

"All humans have in their brains a representation of their body, and an understanding of how it works," Zeller said. "This information acts as a road map of the body. This map governs movement of the body, and everybody has one of these maps. We will move in accordance with our brain's body map.

"If the map is accurate, we will move perfectly. If the map is inaccurate, we will still try to move in accordance with that map, and we will move badly," the opera and vocal studies director said.

On Wednesday, Zeller went over balance and arm movement, and structure, with his students. He will review breathing movements, the vocal tract and leg movements today. On Friday, he will review how a person should move, to avoid injury, such as hurting your diaphragm, dislocating a shoulder or injuring a wrist.

Zeller said the music community is somewhat of a "Johnny Come Lately" to identifying a need to understand body movement to improve performance. "A music teacher is a movement teacher, just like a dance teacher, or a football coach," he said.

One of Zeller's students, Jeff Ethridge, a music teacher at Morehouse College, said it is still too early in the workshop to notice a difference in his piano-playing skills. But, he added that he is starting to get an understanding of how the movements of his body, from his head, to his shoulders, to his fingers, affect the way he plays the piano.

"I'm starting to see some things that I'm going to look at and consider," Ethridge said. "The whole upper body is involved in piano playing ... It's not just for the fingers. It's all interconnected. All the different parts have to move in correlation with each other."