The Tennis Player’s grunt

Lisicki

More by lucky accident than design, I was present at the quarter final of the Women’s Doubles at Wimbledon with Lisicki and Stosur against Petrova and Rodionova. It was full on play from the start with both sides playing well together.

With one set all there was a distinct sound change from Lisicki, who was the most vocal of the players. Lisicki’s sighs when exhaling and hitting the ball (rather like the sound of wind in leafless trees), became stronger and more forceful, like the sound of the last of a sink full of water being emptied into the drain.

Petrova on the other hand started emitting little glottal bursts of uh-huhs when serving.

It was a close match until the second game of the third set when Lisicki was heard to be a clear winner on sound.

The Brunel University’s Centre for sports’ medicines and human performance, has researched into the connection between voice and physical strength. This research makes interesting reading for anyone involved in voice production. When we are breathing to live – as we do – breath flows freely through the voicebox.

Professor Alison McConnell of Brunel University says: “We all instinctively inhale before we make a physical effort such as lifting furniture or swinging a racquet at a ball. We do this because holding air in the lungs helps to provide the stability required for injury-free forceful movements of the trunk. Maximising the power of a tennis shot is created by transferring muscular force to the racquet head efficiently. A strong core and trunk is vital for this process because the force transmission starts below the players’ waist.”

Tennis coaches are teaching their players to breathe out through a “controlled, forceful exhalation using the larynx or voicebox. This produces a braking action in the breath which is stored in the upper torso. In using this technique the braking action doesn’t require an audible grunt but it’s easier to coach if you can hear it. The audible grunt is more common among women because women’s upper bodies are generally weaker than men’s and require stronger control and stability through breathing techniques”.

Good tennis strokes are achieved therefore by getting the breath and the action of the stroke, in tune. The sound produced is not a pleasant one. Monica Seles lost against Steffi Graf after she was ordered to keep the volume down. Serena Williams produces a grunt that clocks 90 decibels. Are the directors at Wimbledon Tennis Club considering handing out earplugs this year?

Professor Alison McConnell’s book is out now:

http://www.breathestrong.com/book

Are Good Manners Back in Fashion?

Good manners are back in fashion

I have heard that staff at 10 Downing Street were in (pleasant) shock after Gordon Brown closed the door behind him. They were retained and wait for it…treated with courtesy and respect by the new incumbent. Gordon Brown was known for his rudeness and door slamming tantrums. Of course this was all part of his charm according to indulgent mummy Sarah, but not so charming when you have to work for him.

We seem as a country to be in a state of political apathy. It’s not as bad as Belgium where they have no government at all. When I asked a Belgian visitor on a stay over here, what it was like living in a country with no government, she shrugged her shoulders and said “alright, no difference”. So perhaps after all we may be able to govern ourselves? This would seem to be sending out a message to our politicians to tread carefully. Are we being treated to a show of tolerance and good manners from our politicians? Has the coalition introduced a form of communication where good manners are intrinsic?

Great Britain has long been known for its accomplished diplomats with their use of exquisite good manners: “What is the definition of an English diplomat? – “someone who can admonish you, decide for you and leave you feeling elated and grateful for the recognition.”

The distance that good manners supply in communication is just enough to let each person retain “face”. During the eighteenth century actors were addressed with a title: Mrs Sarah Siddons, Mr . Charles Kemble. Surrounded by scandal that makes the life of a celebrity today seem like afternoon tea party, they were still able to work and go out in public unmolested.

Could it be that good character is connected to good manners? Certainly it’s true of international treasure and political survivor Nelson Mandela. Perhaps a spell of uncertainty is what is needed to bring some character forming traits back into politics. We need leaders who we can aspire to and not despise.

Mind, Body, Spirit

Mind, Body, Spirit

Found myself at the Mind Body Spirit Festival. I was there because the nutritionist Gudrun Jonsson, thinks that Dr Roy Martina is the best thing since sliced bread or in her case: sliced pumpkin. Gudrun helps many performers who’ve worked on through injuries and extreme tiredness only to inadvertently cause the breakdown of their digestive system. This in turn affects their voice.

I admired Roy Martina straightaway as a charismatic speaker. He has a warm, honey voice with a touch of a Dutch accent crossed with a Caribbean accent. Winning his audience over in the first sentence he said, “women tend to like me, I don’t know why but please be kind to the few men in the audience.”

Roy Martina
Roy Martina

He spoke for over 2 hours and his enthusiasm for his subject and tireless answering of questions were commendable. After we’d all completed a deep relaxation and severed a few links from the past, we went downstairs to see what was happening in the rest of the festival. I saw an extraordinary demonstration by a company called Innersound. They give Qi energy courses.

The practitioner massages the client and transmits energy into their body by emitting a sound that resembles air being blown down a drinking straw. Using large amounts of breath propelled by the abdominal muscles, the practitioner exhales out while the tongue tip is against the bottom teeth and the tongue blade is raised towards the alveolar ridge. The breath surges into the mouth and bounces against the back of the front teeth before escaping through the tiny space between the top and bottom teeth. Each outburst of sound lasts about a second. Occasionally a practitioner will emit a groan like a blocked drain which is when they come across some really nasty energy that they get rid of through the gurgle sound.

There were some excellent yoga teachers there. In many ways voice and yoga teachings are linked at the hip… Voice exercises are all about releasing your natural voice and yoga is all about releasing your natural energy balance. There are some areas of difference.

There’s a yoga exercise that I practise first thing in the morning where I take short breaths in through my nostrils that fill up my chest like a Michelin tyre. This is great for waking up if you’re a slow burn in the morning but not good for gentle voice release.

One yoga exercise that I’ve used in my voice classes since the year dot, is the ancient Lion’s face and tongue exercise. Stand in alignment in front of a mirror with your arms relaxed by your sides, palms facing forwards. Your feet should be comfortably apart and knees relaxed but not bent. Breathe out completely and in through the nose for 5 so that your middle back and ribcage expand. Breathe out on a loud “hahhhh” sound taking care to keep your throat open and relaxed and simultaneously raise your hands, fingers outstretched and placed either side of your face. At the same time open your eyes and mouth wide with your tongue curled towards the chin as far as it will go…… Relax into your first position while breathing in through the nose. Repeat three times.

You’ll see why it’s called the lion. It reminds me of the start of a New Zealand’s rugby match.

Tracey Emin’s Exhibition

Tracey Emin's Exhibition

Saw Tracey Emin’s exhibition at the Hayward – mainly out of curiosity. I wasn’t really expecting much but I did want to see the famed bed. My spirits weren’t lifted by the words of the ticket collector as we went in: “it’s not my cup of tea…” and on entering the first room my expectations seemed to have been met.

The corrugated hut built on stilts, later explained to me as being built in memory of her father who loved to hear the rain against the roof, dominates the room. On the walls, stitch edged blankets hold written or sewn messages from Tracey as a schoolgirl. Shades of Pink Floyd and the Wall. Neon signs blaze out messages of love and sex. I’m starting to get the picture of an adolescent’s yearning for love through sex.

Through to the next room filled with memorabilia. A huge black and white picture of her family at a jolly outdoor celebration covers one wall, glass cabinets filled with notes and pictures of a museum of art somewhere in Camden. This for me is where it starts to get really interesting.

There is a picture called “goodbye mummy” with embroidered flowers emanating from the womb of the outline of a woman. There are used tampons, with an explanation of her type of bleeding and her acceptance of when it will be over. There is a wordless, looped film of her riding a pony on Margate beach (her hometown) and a graphic shot of her face as she looks into the camera and steers the pony away. It should be funny – like someone pretending to be a wild west heroine, but it leaves you feeling uneasy. There is a film of her being interviewed about her abortion. I don’t know whether or not it was filmed for this exhibition or was filmed some time ago. It is very moving.

Her voice is like a sincere child’s voice and thinking about, it that’s what this exhibition is all about for me. The ebullience, wonder and curiosity of a child, taken beyond into adulthood. The fantastic acceptance of it all. It mentioned in the notes that Tracey Chapman first received recognition when she was interviewed for an arts programme on TV. The impact of a voice can never be underestimated.

Cheryl Cole’s Accent

Cheryl Cole

So Cheryl Cole’s been axed from the American X Factor on the grounds that her accent is unintelligible to an American audience. American audiences are notorious for not understanding regional English accents, that much is true. I’ve been instructed by producers of films for the American market, to soften regional accents and make sure that the actors’ regional accents aren’t too strong. Trainspotting had subtitles when it was screened in the USA.

I can accept that a judge on a TV show needs to be easily heard and understood both by the contestants and audiences. However, it doesn’t ring true that Cheryl would be sacked because of not being understood. What was stopping Fox from hiring a discreet voice coach with integrity for Cheryl? Just to make sure that she’s clearly understood?

If it’s alright for Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge to have a voice coach, it’s surely alright for our Cheryl. The Geordie accent is particularly attractive and very much part of her personality and branding. This is show business after all. No, there is more to this than is apparent. Anyone who’s seen recent photos of Cheryl with Simon Callow will have seen the body language of estrangement.

Cheryl should take a leaf out of J-Lo’s book. Can you imagine anyone treating J-Lo badly and getting away with it? I think not.