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Jenni Roditi
from: Jenni Roditi
Category: Creativity

On Jenni Roditi's Vocal Tai Chi Master Class

Alistair Smith
composer and sound healer,

on Jenni Roditi’s Vocal Tai Chi Master Class


"The improvising voice is a mirror of your whole being

and through it you can speak of yourself in new tongues " - JR 


I have been a participant in three Vocal Tai Chi Intensive Master classes. Thisextended version of Jenni Roditi’s unique style of voice and movement workshopbrings a different dimension to the work. The usual sessions culminate in afocused five to six minute individual vocal expression, which one could term a'solo', although, it must be emphatically stated that these are not'performances' in any conventional way. Rather, they are focal points for eachindividual to further explore and express what has been worked on in thatparticular session. This is done in a very safe, nurturing and supportiveenvironment, created by Jenni and enthusiastically upheld by the complicitmembers of the group.

The Intensive Master Class allows for two twenty minute to half hourindividual one-to-one sessions with Jenni. This brings a spaciousness to thework that allows for  deeper and moreintensive excursions into our sound and selves. This permits what is beingworked with to be brought more fully into the light and for greater movementwithin the field of enquiry.


Every VTC session begins with Jenni inviting every person present to sayhow they are and why they have come. This opening check-in is not a mereintroduction to each other but an explicit invitation to be openly honest aboutwhere they are with their selves and their sound. As a regular participant ofVTC, you find yourself talking about your inner self and sound, that is vocalexpression, as inseparable parts of the whole. The sound reveals this innerworld and its emotional, mental and spiritual components are directly connectedwith the physical, literally through the physiology of voice production. Thisinvolves much more than merely the vocal chords, however, as any singer oractor would agree. In this way, VTC is a powerfully holistic approach topersonal inquiry and development.

Everyone's current state and purpose behind coming is input and integratedinto that particular session; a composite theme is generated and honed byJenni. This is why every time it is different, each occasion infused with theessence of each individual's condition at that particular point. Jenni bringswhere she is at into the mix as well, encouraging a humble and down toearth sense of fellowship amongst all.


"Using the body as a way in - then drawing the

voice from the body." - JR


The next stage of the process is a preparatory grounding and warm up. Herewe fully arrive, usually following a guided way of coming into the body, suchas using the breath to take us in. The breath may become sound and the bodyengaged in movement to expand and amplify what is happening with our voice.From here is where the real work begins.

Evoking an energy, the leading edge of where a person is, finding a fulcrumbetween the apparent surface now and the deeper inner world is the initialstage. This is done with sensitivity, humour and respect, always including thebody to help move and release, gently massaging and encouraging the person'senergetic state into actuation. It is a gradual opening, unwinding andunbinding into fuller expression, inquiring into what is happening and tryingways of engaging with it. As what is being worked with wakes up, all aspects ofbeing, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual are acknowledged and welcomed.Jenni is adeptly able to take these and hold them,  let them speak or rest, allowing them to bein the sphere of activity where they can be seen and heard, experienced,witnessed, engaged with and moved.


Each person steps forward in faith and trust. There is often reluctance,resistance and fear of course, as any work of this kind is bound to provoke. Itis wonderful to witness the person taking that step and going there, to thatplace of vulnerability, way out of their comfort zone. Using the voice tounravel what is there, drawing it out of its conditioning, be it habit,routine, attachment, neglect, a place of solace. These things are not drawninto positions of conflict however, but are honoured and accepted as thearchitecture of the apparent psychological and energetic status quo.


Very quickly an emotive and energetic intensity is reached. This is theforge where the potential for alchemical change exists, where the heat ofemotion, pain, struggle anguish… fuel the fire of change - the chance formovement and expansion, of release and renewal.




"Let the voice come through you as it wants to" – JR  


As a participant you are put in the hot seat. With Jenni's attentiveguidance you are encouraged towards the threshold, biding your time along theshore until you find the perfect spot to dive in. Or you bob up and down on thesurface, waiting and testing until the moment feels right, or that feelingarises - a connection, an opening; a crack where you can let it flow out orwhere you can reach in and enter. The process requires a degree of courage asJenni may probe or provoke gently and respectfully, possibly catching you offguard, eliciting a more honest response. Sometimes, inviting an almosttraumatic experience may be necessary to stir things up and evoke theprofundity of what lies beneath. Jenni can tentatively and persistently prodyou in a place, gently teasing the area, getting you to look at something incertain ways so as to draw it out. She senses and feels the resistance ordiscomfort with you and from her objective experience can steer you around it,teasing it out, turning it this way and that, nudging and pressing. Layers ofprotection may be encountered and pierced towards the ocean beneath.

To talk of the actual sounds that come out during a session is a vastdiscussion. They may be tribal and guttural; sounds within sounds; trembling,rumbling, unconscious rhythms emerging from within the inertial state of theparticipant. They may be a child's whimpering or it's unrestrained joyful play,serene tones quivering with vulnerability, or loud outbursts charged withemotional intensity. One could go on and on describing the vast andmultifarious sound worlds of the inner universes of other beings. One thing iscertain: that they are sounds that long to be heard, that need to come out andbe honoured for our own growth and continued wellbeing.

It is a process of getting to know yourself more fully and completely.During one session Jenni initiated a discussion about this. She talked of"coming home", the opposite to what we are brought up to do - aconstant externalisation of ourselves for validation. This kind of validationdoesn't have a foundation or a core. If you are constantly reaching out to dothings, give and contribute without a strong foundation or grounding, then lifewill pull you all over the place. You can loose where you are and looseyourself, becoming the branches without a trunk, conforming and contorting.Vocal Tai Chi helps you to get to know your inner self more fully, and it meetsand welcomes ALL parts of yourself. It is not a search for some concept ofperfection but an acceptance of what is there. This profound level ofacceptance can be very healing in itself, allowing ourselves to know and be whowe really are.




Part of being at a VTC master class is witnessing the other members gothrough their own unique journeys. As a witness, one cultivates a moresensitive ear, a type of listening that is with ear, mind, body and emotion.You can feel the sound, viscerally, and sense the intensity of emotion infused inits essence. You can feel its strength or its uncertainty, its confidence orits vulnerability. You revel in the sonic universe of another being. Withoutjudgement you can have this privilege, witnessing the mystery, magic andmajesty of another mind; the wandering, seeking, questioning exploration of thehuman condition. Witnessing wordless, unfettered expression is at once primaland liberating in itself. It is reminiscent of childish play, of an emotionaloutburst, of intoxicated babble or speaking in tongues.

As a witness you find yourself becoming invested in each person, theirprocess, their journey and their sound. And you feel it strongly in yourself, akind of sympathetic resonance. You are swept along for the ride and it seemslike you are part of it, feeling the changes with them, the pushing through.Perhaps, in this resonance, we are providing energetic or emotional support.Like a concert where the anticipation of the audience creates an atmospheric'charge' that propels the performer to achieve a greater rendition than inrehearsal, perhaps our emotional investment and resonance encourages theparticipant onward and upward. This has ramifications for ourselves also. As wewatch the others, invested and routing for them, coming into resonance withthem. As they make breakthroughs, learn more and see more of themselves, wesomehow have a sympathetic occurrence within us. We therefore learn somethingof ourselves and have our own, perhaps more subtle changes, shifts orbreakthroughs.

There is a community that is formed through this sonic connection, beyondword and thought. We feel it and experience the struggle, the play, theunravelling of each other. Strong friendships can be formed as we share andwitness these profound things from deep in each other's psyche.




In the continualevolution of this work, Jenni draws from the different threads of her past. Theaccumulated knowledge and experience of both her professional and personal pastinform and enrich every single session. There is a humility and depth of humanexperience working harmoniously alongside her professionalism and artistry thatencourages an intimacy and trust between her and the participant. This, I feel,is at the core of the success of Vocal Tai Chi. There is a synthesis of herparticularly unique skill set, a fusion of her experience, knowledge andabilities. With these facets, all being broadly musical and profoundlyspiritual, she embodies a complementarity of an academic and maverickbackground that testify to the former. And the latter, drawing, as we havesaid, from her own personal journey and encounters along the way, illuminates awisdom and adroitness with that enigmatic part of us. We can always relate muchmore strongly with someone who has been through it and who knows what it is tofeel strongly and search deeply. She has the uncanny ability to invite opennessand honesty of a type which encourages a person to really look inside and seewhat is there. She creates a space of welcome acceptance, a safe house withinwhich she is able to hold a person's current state in suspended illumination,ready to be engaged. This is done with all those present until everyone hasexplored and expressed their particular point in space and time. As I havealready stated, as all these are brought to light, Jenni weaves a collaborationof perspectives that becomes the bedrock of each session. This is primarilywhat makes each workshop different and I feel this ability is due to Jenni'sexperience as composer, conductor and improviser, coupled with that of her asworkshop facilitator. Similar to composing for a musical ensemble,understanding each instrumental voice, she takes their character andidiosyncrasies and puts them on the stage, the musical material comprised ofeach voice's capacities, tone and character. Combine this with Jenni's personaland spiritual experience and you have a potent approach that is her gift andthe architecture of Vocal Tai Chi.



One can also see how a next step with this work would be for her to take it into a performance arena encouraging that unbridled creative energy and group sensitivity in front of public audiences. It is therefore of little surprise that in the last two years Jenni has created TIC – The Improvisers’ Choir (professional) and TOC – The Open Choir (community) in which she conducts singers using a simple method of signals. They have performed sixteen concerts (TIC - 12, TOC - 4) in eighteen months. For more about this new project you can read further articles here.



 Alistair Smith, composer, soundhealer.



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