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Barclay McMillan and LifeSong

From Tone Magazine, March 1997

by Andrew MacDonald

It’s not just that music is Barclay McMillan’s passion; it’s turning people on to music and to the transformative power and beauty of their own vocal sound that moves him. Barclay is like a man striking a great gong: out go the ripples of sound and the world reverberates in response. Barclay understands the importance of vibration. A lot of people have vibrated with him already. Besides the many who tuned in during his days as host of CBC’s national Mostly Music, or locally on Regional Contact, many hundreds of folks in Ottawa, Toronto and other centres have taken Barclay’s one-day workshop Dance on Winds of Sound, a joyous romp through sound to the very satisfying discovery that yes, each of us does indeed have a natural voice and that it is ever so possible to raise that voice in song.

Now Barclay has a new workshop to offer students, one that’s moved his work up a whole new octave. Thrilling as it is to learn first hand that the power of voice belongs to each of us and not just to the Three Tenors, glorious as it is to sing like a spring bird, as one does in Winds of Sound, LifeSong is something else. You get to discover and sing your own song, your own life. LifeSong is based on the discoveries of Paul Newham, a young British therapist, performer and teacher who has earned a world-wide reputation for developing a method of voicework that attends to the whole person, to his or her physical, emotional and social life. The work is intensely challenging and brings rewards commensurate with the student’s acceptance of its challenge. As a recent graduate (sound trumpets), I’m in a position to know.

Since studying with Newham in Boston last summer (1996), Barclay has taught one ten-week series of evening classes in LifeSong and is in the midst of a second. Each has helped him sculpt Newham’s methods to augment his own style of meeting the needs of his students. Students, especially Winds of Sound grads tuned to its restful rhythms will want to know that LifeSong requires, and offers, a whole new level of engagement. There is homework. There is challenge. There is vigorous movement, through space, lots of rolling around on the floor-not only to exercise the musculature, though you will do that too-but to coax the self from its inner recesses into expressive contact with others.

There is exploration of a unique method for increasing the malleability and agility of the vocal instrument. This will enable the voice to access an entirely new range of sound. You may be pleased to discover your range can be as extensive as, say, Saskatchewan and nowhere near as flat. We need our voice. For most of us, it’s our primary medium of expression and communication. Its rhythms carry the subtle nuances of meaning and its tonal hues the subtexts that reveal the depths of our lives to others. Our voice is our signature, broadcasting to the world who we are. And LifeSong is, of course, music. A person’s deepest memories and experiences are awakened through music and this is all the more true when we are singing our own song, the music of our own deepest memories and experiences. Participants stretch their ability through graded exercises that snowball into fuller expression. Although technical accomplishment won’t be central to most students, that will increase, dramatically, with this regimen.

LifeSong is also personal expression. Can you imagine yourself singing your personal history, not just the catalogue of relatives and the minutiae of childhood diseases, but the joys and terrors, the entire repertoire of the human actor that you are? Whether you can imagine such a performance or you can’t LifeSong is a theatre to broaden your imagination, and start the process of actualization.

Ottawa is fortunate to have in Barclay a unique teacher with the dedication and skill to teach voicework professionally, to make the vocal instrument come alive for those interested in personal expression. Barclay is being called to share his talents elsewhere, but as long as he’s here, you have a wonderful opportunity to sing your big heart out.

Copyright 1997 Tone Magazine.

Reprinted with permission.

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