THE TRANSMISSION OF ALFRED WOLFSOHN’S LEGACY TO ROY HART
The transmission of Alfred Wolfsohn’s legacy to Roy Hart
by Kaya Anderson, 2015
This is how I came to Alfred Wolfsohn and Roy Hart. I was living in Italy in the fifties. My mother lived in London and she asked me to come over and visit her. So I took my first airplane flight from Milan to London. Flying over the shining snowy Alps in a clear blue sky, my heart was full of excitement.
When my mother saw me, she found me looking pale and unwell. What she saw in my appearance was a reflection of my desperation. I knew there was nothing pathologically wrong. My desperation came from searching for a place and a way of studying theater with very special people who connected art, theater, the sacred and divine with everyday life. Much as I loved Italy and friends there, and had spoken with theater directors, priests, and friends about my quest, nowhere had I found such a context. To please my mother I went to the doctor. This doctor talked about art and acting. His conversation fascinated me. We became friends.
Some days later, I read the Sunday Observer newspaper. Amazed, I saw on the front page a big and intense photo of a man called Alfred Wolfsohn. He was giving a singing lesson to a great childhood friend of mine Jenny Johnson. I was filled with the intense excitement of an explorer who at last knew she was on the right path leading to the treasure.
A few days later, the first treasure manifested. Roy Hart gave me singing lessons which reached into the depths of my body, voice, and soul. Giving me energy, inspiration, delight in my strong voice, immense hope and insight into the meaning of life and art.
The next treasure was discovering that I could sing and become not only an actress but a singing actress. Then followed more treasures. This way of singing opened my ears and eyes, stimulating thinking and feeling: emotion that had been squashed behind a rather monotonous well-behaved voice.
Another treasure was in learning to listen for qualities of sound in our voices that made me discover hidden facets of the personality and begin to perceive the dynamic existence of the masculine as well as the feminine in us and to leam that achieving their union could lead to greater strength and capacity to understand and to love. To love first myself, then others.
The list of treasures is long indeed. Here’s another one: Through the process of singing and giving expression to the dark as well as the light aspects of my personality I could gradually redeem and transform the negative experiences of my life, and get to know and appreciate myself. Gradually is the key word! Despite my youth, I was not looking for “Instant Divinity”… my search had been for a context in which people of a high artistic and human caliber would be my guides and friends. Having found this context with Alfred Wolfsohn and Roy Hart the real work began, side by side with the discovery of the treasures. In my good moments in this life process of incredible vocal exploration that invokes deeper perception and richer emotional sensitivity, I knew there was a chance of continuing to tap my inner strength and confidence and with that, the possibility of closing the gap between my imagination and physical action.
In my bad moments, my doubts about myself swirled around in muddy confusion. When the mud was so deep I didn’t even know I was in it, my teachers informed me in no uncertain terms. So at least this education in self-awareness could cast some light on the confusion.
The slow realization that we are each composed of multiple aspects of the divine and diabolical, and that our Karma has to be recognized and accepted makes sense of out struggles. But joined with the struggles was the inspiration given me in each lesson with Alfred Wolfsohn and Roy Hart, wherein voice is unified with mind and body. Thus giving birth not only to new and vivifying sounds, but to renewed energy, imaginative resources, listening, comparison and better capacity to love and to understand.
During my first extraordinary two years singing with Roy, which included not only lessons in the studio at the piano, but also acting work on plays and special talk meetings with Roy, my dreams were powerful. I had many, many dreams of Alfred Wolfsohn whose photo I had seen on the front page of the Sunday Observer.
Roy visited Awe very often at the apartment on Pond Street in Belsize Park.This was a period when Awe was not fit enough to work in the studio in Golders Green, A couple of times I went in the car with Roy and waited while Roy went to see Awe. Awe’s acute observations concerning pupils and Roy’s own development were instrumental in making Roy emerge from these conversations absolutely radiant.
One particular dream of mine reached Awe’s ears through Roy. This dream bore a relationship to huge step in scientific space exploration; the launching into space of the Astronaut Yuri Gagarin. My dream was this:
“I was standing onstage before an audience of thousands—I began to sing a deep sound, then glissandoing up and up, I felt I had the power of a spaceship, as it rises up into the stratosphere. My sound reached very high, but my feet and body remained firmly on the ground. It was my voice that gave me power. There, facing that huge audience, I felt confident.”
After this dream, I became Alfred Wolfsohn’s pupil. The dream was a portent of my future. I was choosing the way of inner development through voice and relationship to our earth. The vertical aspirations of modem science were not for me. I had discovered this wonderful way of singing and living that Awe and Roy were showing me.
The artistic genius of Leonardo da Vinci had already devised his flying machine many hundreds of years before the first airplanes were made. Alfred Wolfsohn conceived his immense vision of the connection between art and science, not in drawing like Leonardo’s but in the discovery of voices that could lead the singer not only to wider vocal expression but also deeper self-knowledge, the quest of ancient and modem psychology. Alfred Wolfsohn knew he was 100 years ahead of his time….
Awe wrote that he was attempting in his field, to find “a sort of BRIDGE between art and science.” “Surely,” he said, “I am not an idiot in imagining that a woman scientist would be fascinated to examine the possibilities of the EQUALITY of the two sexes in a field in which nobody thought that could be possible.” He was speaking of his voice research.
It is clear that Roy in finding his way through his experiences and perceptions of Alfred Wolfsohn’s work used all his gifts and actor’s training to give them VOICE and ACTION. He had, of course, to allow his imagination to help find ways of expressing Awe’s ideas. Roy’s understanding of Awe’s vital approach to voice through expressing not only the beautiful and good, but also the ugly and the SHADOW, led him to create a social structure within his group of pupils that could contain conflicts, likes and dislikes, anger, jealousy, and extremes of tension generated by archetypal domination.
By the way, C.G. Jung’s definition of an ARCHETYPE is, “The residue of ever recurring experience of HUMANITY.”
Roy Hart’s singing students numbered about 15 people at the time of Alfred Wolfsohn’s death in 1962. Already some years before Awe’s death, Roy was giving singing lessons, private talks, and acting classes to those students. Gradually over years, some of the individual singing lessons became groups of 3 or more people. Roy was also meeting with all his students regularly. In these meetings he transmitted Awe’s idea and experiences, linking up to his students’ own experience of their work. Some of the students were professional dancers, singers, actors, architects, teachers, secretaries, a doctor of medicine, university graduates, builders, and business men.
The dynamism in these meetings sprang from the singing lessons in which each student would feel and hear the power and subtlety of his voice and would feel the good changes in his imaginative and physical life, in his attitudes, and his relationships. A growing feeling, listening, and observation of each other’s qualities during the group singing lessons engendered broader understanding and appreciation amongst us.
Here in this work, in this aura, the roots of a new society were being formed. The singing lessons were and are acts of love, wherein all the Teacher’s experience, intuition, and feeling are focused on the pupil who is, first and foremost, a human being of many facets, whatever his profession, race, or creed.
Roy continued Awe’s discovery that, through the fullest vocal and artistic expression of all facets of the personality, ranging from good to evil, happy to sad, and all the polarities inherent in our human condition, his students could develop not only their voice but also their personality. We all witnessed this development manifest in the singing lessons, in the regular meetings, in the rehearsals and in contact with each other outside of these events.
One way of enhancing the awareness of each other was in the practice of invitations. An invitation to a meal, to a talk about dreams, or to hearing how you had fallen in love with that person, and even if the love was not reciprocated, you could mostly expect at least an understanding response. Sometimes the tenor of these private talks would reach Roy’s ears and if he sensed the possibility of a valuable development in the people concerned he would include their dream, or their desires in a big meeting.
In these BIG MEETINGS, rich material always emerged. We began to call these meetings “RIVERS,” which described their flowing nature. Roy led these Rivers for many years and he made it clear that each person was responsible for ensuring their creative quality. So your tone of voice, your gestures, and the content of what you said, however emotional you might be feeling, had to be tempered by respect for the creative flow of the River. This training led in later years to other of us leading Rivers. For some seven years after Alfred Wolfsohn’s death we called ourselves the “Alfred Wotfsohn Roy Hart Speakers Singers.” Then we elected to call ourselves the Roy Hart Theater.
Neither Awe nor Roy was interested in being a “Guru.” Of course this role was often thrust upon them, but they were not after gaining power to dominate others. Their interests lay in the possibility of further human development through this singing process. Development as artists learning to balance the power of opposites in themselves and joining the quest to create a warmer society.
There is a relationship between the beautiful classical singing voice and what Roy described as “a one and a half octave approach to life.” Our work on enacting vocally and physically
the voice of BEAUTY and the BEAST increased our understanding of their connectedness. Of course, we all desire to sing beautifully. Yes! But work on the so-called “ugly sounds;” finding a focus for them in the singing lessons, brought us to deeper, embodied satisfaction in singing, and far beyond the aesthetic demands of the Ego. The voice that can express the music of nature, of animals and of Man’s creations keeps the singer to face his physical being in harmony with the world.
During Roy’s study with Awe he gave public performances of T.S. Elliot’s “The Rock” “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” of Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” and other pieces, exploring the 8-octave range and multiple nuances. His performances received enthusiastic press reviews. But following Awe’s death, Roy devoted himself to further developing and teaching with his group of students his experience of Awe’ lifework.
Years later, Roy began to perform again whilst continuing his leadership of the Roy Hart Theater. He sang works composed for him by composers Peter Maxwell Davies, Hans Wemer Henze, Karlheinz Stockhausen and other composers. Roy was Awe’s ambassador during his life and after his death. He continued to visit, write letters, invite people to the studio to hear this amazing singing work. Marita Gunther, myself, and others pursued the task of making the work known.
Sometimes I had been in the room with Awe, when Roy would return from these ambassadorial visits with feelings ranging from hope to astonishment and anger at the often obtuse or evasive attitudes at these interviews. Sometimes Roy had thrilling news about deeply interested responses from people of different professions. These pioneer years were punctuated by the world press’ recognition in 1955/56 of Alfred Wolfsohn’s work.Laryngologists made studies of Alfred Wolfsohn’s pupils and found no abnormalities in work. their vocal anatomy, contrary to the fear and criticism expressed by experts in classical singing. Roy had to continue the pioneering work right up to his death in 1975. The Roy Hart Theater continued it. In more recent years, the pioneering has given birth to a lot of recognition and appreciation around the world.
THE ROY HART THEATRE IN FRANCE
As a result of a great deal of discussion, excitement, planning and organizing our transfer from London to the South of France, we started the move in 1974. We were writing a musical play, based on the text by a French doctor and dramatist. When we had all arrived at the half-ruined Chateau de Malerargues we started rehearsing the play L’Economiste (The Economist).
February 1975: a very cold winter and no heating except for 4 gas cylinder radiators that we moved back and forth from our dining room to our theater studio.
Roy had had to make a very difficult choice of those actors in L ‘Economiste and those who would be making meals for over 40 of us. The cast numbered 26 people. Roy said he’d like to have everyone in this cast, but it was not possible on a practical level. Some of the meal makers contributed ideas for the music and additional scenes in L ‘Economiste. All of us met with Roy every evening. Our “Rivers” of London had become our “Rivers” in Malerargues.
Here we are in France, these 33 years. We had not imagined that we would lose Roy, Dorothy, and Vivenne or that Paul would be seriously injured in the car accident that occurred during a tour of L’Economiste in May 1975. We had to face it. The ideas and lifework of Alfred Wolfsohn and Roy Hart gave us strength and courage to continue this work.
I’d like to end this conference with one of Roy’s writings that he wrote in 1947, upon meeting and working with Alfred Wolfsohn——… “I have just spent the most wonderful evening of my life with Mr. Wolfsohn. He made me do and see Othello as he really was. God, never have I risen to such heights. When I got to the death scene with Desdemona I experienced the most authentic and terrifying passion and emotion to-kill! It has made me ‘see’ scenes which I just wouldn’t conceive practically. God! God! I say that man is wonderful…”