Kevin Crawforda & Noah Pikesb
aRoy Hart International Artistic Centre, Capolona, Italy; bRoy Hart International Artistic Centre, Zurich, Switzerland
Vocal Traditions is a series in the Voice and Speech Review that highlights historically important voice teachers and schools of thought in the world of vocal pedagogy. This article explores the history of Roy Hart, the creators, and the training lineage. Key features and a discussion of teaching style are also included.
The Roy Hart tradition traces its origins back over a 100 years to Alfred Wolfsohn—singer, musician, writer, philosopher, and Roy Hart’s teacher. In his autobiographical book, Orpheus, or the Way to a Mask, Alfred Wolfsohn vividly describes his World War I experiences and how they spurred him on to conceive a revolutionary approach to the human voice. His closest student, Roy Hart, carried forward his work, and 50 years ago he directed the newly founded Roy Hart Speakers/Singers at the World Theatre Festival of Nancy , France. Since then Roy Hart Theatre teachers and subsequent generations of teachers have continued to consolidate and apply Wolfsohn and Hart’s discoveries in a host of contexts.
Wolfsohn brought his unconventional approach to the voice to London as World War II accelerated to a close. From a hermetic and intensely close-knit group of students dedicated to Wolfsohn’s re-visioning of how we conceive the voice in relation to both psychic and artistic phenomena, the work further matured under Hart’s direction, attracting an ever-increasing number of students. Over these post-war years, important breakthroughs occurred: a woman could sing very low guttural notes, a man could sound high fluttering tones, both men and women could howl like beasts or cry out with broken sounds, and a single singer could scale all the voices of Mozart’s Magic Flute from the depths of Sarastro to the heights of the Queen of the Night. Vocal specialists documented their work and published their findings. The theatre company founded by Roy Hart amplified and orchestrated his work after his death in 1975, by finding a myriad of connections with contemporary advances in somatic study and dance, in personal development, and in the fertile soil of myth and cultural studies.
Currently, the work is recognized as being of great value in diverse fields, from its application in performance and training to its profound role in personal development.
History and Founders
Alfred Wolfsohn was born into a Russian Jewish family in Berlin in 1886. As a child he loved music, learned piano and violin from the age of six, and later sang in a choir. In 1914, at the beginning of World War I, Wolfsohn was conscripted into the German army, and in 1917 he was injured and seriously traumatized by the high-pitched screams of a dying comrade. That event became the starting point for his life-long questioning of the ideas and conventions greatly limiting the adult human vocal range, incidentally illuminating why he had not developed as a singer although he had a promising voice.
After several years of rehabilitation, Wolfsohn took singing lessons. His teacher sometimes accepted his need to shout out his agony, and Wolfsohn realized that a new approach to singing was needed. The experience of the war, his subsequent illness, and eventual recovery through his particular way of using the voice evolved into a lifetime’s quest and astonishing discoveries.
From the early 1930s, Wolfsohn rejected the classical categories of being a tenor, soprano, bass, or contralto. He followed his guiding idea: the voice is an expression of both a person’s body and soul and has the potential for both male and female registers. He called this the “unified voice,” and over several years he gave innovative singing lessons where he explored vocal range extension. It is important to note that Wolfsohn’s approach was not an early version of Janov’s (1970) Primal Scream popularized in the late 1960s; rather, Wolfsohn’s approach was a return to soul. Wolfsohn (2012) affirms, “I found that the sound of the human voice gained its fullest expression exactly at the point where the singer-–having found the right balance of concentration and tension-–could express it bodily” (45). He reiterates, “I see the voice as a direct form of the manifestation of soul” (59).
Close to the start of WWII, Wolfsohn escaped to England and served in the Pioneer Corps, before being discharged due to ill health. From 1943 onwards, thanks to the support of friends, Wolfsohn began teaching in London, where a group of students formed and committed themselves to regular lessons and meetings. Pupils at this time included Peter Zadek, who went on to become one of Germany’s most renowned post-war theatre directors. Zadek (1998) wrote in his autobiography My Way, “He is training not only my voice, but my whole body, my whole self. His method is remarkable, quite beyond description” (133)1 In 1956 Professor Luchsinger of the Zurich Otolaryngological Clinic examined Jenny Johnson, one of Wolfsohn’s students, and Luchsinger confirmed that her voice could reach a range of five octaves and six notes with no abnormalities in the anatomical structure or physiological functioning of her larynx.2
In the same year, Folkways Records released the influential Vox Humana: Alfred Wolfsohn’s Experiments in Extension of Human Vocal Range (Wolfsohn 1956). From this point, Wolfsohn’s work becomes a focus of interest for both vocal science and media coverage. Radio and television as well as lead articles in magazines introduce his ideas and the exploits of his students to an ever greater public. Referring to Jenny Johnson, an article from Der Spiegel on January 1 1958 affirmed, “The most surprising thing in this is not so much the height but the sheer peerless entire range of the voice which exceeds all normal limits also in terms of depth.”
Unfortunately, by this time Wolfsohn was already suffering from complications from tuberculosis. He died February 5 1962, leaving behind a legacy of unpublished writings in German that eloquently expressed his life’s work and its multifaceted philosophy. His was a vision that drew its inspiration from Jungian psychology, but it also brought together an intense observation of himself and others, combined with a wide knowledge of painting, music, and cinema.
Roy Hart (originally named Reuben Hartstein) was born in South Africa and arrived in London in 1945 at the age of 19, having studied the history of music, philosophy, and psychology at the University of Johannesburg. He had a beautiful voice, an innate talent for theatre, and major roles in theatrical productions on his resume. However, Hart had difficulty making friends, and he felt in conflict about being on stage. In a 1971 interview for the magazine Primo Acto, Hart spoke with Jose Monleon, the foremost theatre critic in Spain. Hart stated, “I knew there was something seriously wrong inside me [. . .] because I appeared to be completely and perfectly sane, not neurotic. There was a conflict between my innate desire to go on stage and my family.”
His religious sense and his desire to succeed in theatre seemed contradictory to him, but meeting Wolfsohn showed him a way. In the same interview, Hart elaborated:
When I arrived in London, I was awarded a scholarship from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. My first meeting with Alfred Wolfsohn was surprising, because I suddenly realized that for the first time, I was dealing with someone who could be called a human being.
From here on, Wolfsohn became his most influential mentor, shaping the course of his development in a most profound manner. Hart continued in the interview, “I thought I had to forget everything I had learned up until that moment; it appeared to me that I must abandon the Word, for what could be called the Sound.”
In 1948 Hart made a fundamental break with professional theatre, and from 1952 he began teaching under Wolfsohn, leading a weekly evening group, combining movement with music and exploring dramatic texts from Shakespeare.
After a six month pause following Wolfsohn’s death in 1962, Hart accepted requests to lead the small circle of students who wished to pursue the work they had initiated with Wolfsohn. While maintaining a busy schedule of private lessons, Hart further developed his small group sessions and devoted time to discussions and meetings with students, raising their personal and social awareness of how this work was affecting their lives. In 1964, Hart directed a 30-minute documentary film of the group called Theatre of Being.3 In this film Hart explained:
We know that everyone has a voice, not simply a speaking voice but a voice which is pure energy and comes from the whole body. In all other expressive fields, what the individual is doing is external to himself, but in this type of voice production, he is going inward. Because of this, it is an intensely personal experience.
He sometimes referred to his training as “a biological re-education of the personality through the voice” (Pikes 2019, 104).
In 1968 The Abraxas Club opened in Hampstead, North London. It included squash courts, movement and gym rooms, a restaurant, and a dedicated space for Roy Hart and (as it was called at that time) “the group.” From this point on, the rigorous and often daily training of members of this group included movement, ballet, and contemporary dance classes. Innovations were regular cabaret-style performances called “Cathédrales” and a regular workshop that was open to the public. Several of the students subsequently became members.
For 20 years, Hart had concentrated on his own vocal and personal development, which had led him in turn to be the undisputed director of a diverse and international group of 30 individuals; some were from performing arts backgrounds while others had little or no experience in this realm. However, from 1967 Hart executed a gradual return to his first passion: theatre. He began work with his group on the The Bacchae, by Euripedes. In April 1969, it performed under the name Roy Hart Speakers/Singers in Nancy, France. l’Est Republicain wrote in April 25 1969 that it was “A magical and fascinating spectacle! [. . .] The event of the festival”! One reviewer for le Monde in April 1969 found it “An astonishing mixture of gesture and sound.” By December it had transmuted into The Bacchae as The Frontae (subtitled Language is Dead, Long Live the Voice) under the group’s new name of Roy Hart Theatre. During this time, Hart, who was no longer giving individual lessons, asked senior members to teach the younger generation. This practice developed substantially over the years and became an essential part of Roy Hart Theatre’s survival after his death.
While Hart opened up the company to a wide international audience, he began exploiting his astonishing talents as a soloist in three different works written explicitly for him. Versuch Uber Schweine by Hans Werner Henze premiered in The Queen Elizabeth Hall in February 1969. The Sunday Times on April 22 1969 wrote, “It was an uninhibited, confident, astonishing performance.” Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies, now recognized as a seminal work of music theatre, also premiered with Hart in The Queen Elizabeth Hall. Hart also performed in Spirale, Aus den Sieben Tagen and Abwärts by and with Karlheinz Stockhausen, which was performed at St. Paul de Vence. Nevertheless, Hart’s solo career was marred by eventual discord with these composers, and he subsequently focused on projects with his company.
Between 1969 and 1975, Roy Hart Theatre created 10 different performances in English, French, and German, which toured the United Kingdom, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, and France. During the Festival Music and Vocal Art of our Time one reviewer for Regional Newspaper, Angers in 1971 wrote:
The Roy Hart Theatre blew into the theatre with such a presence, such a protesting violence, in the cries and songs, the gestures, the attitudes, the movements, that their performance could only be described as total art, never seen or heard before.
Hart and his closest collaborators realized that their work was better received in a European rather than a British context, and a concerted search was made to find a suitable property. Finally, they stumbled on an abandoned hamlet called Malérargues tucked away in the green hills of the Cévennes, and in July 1974 the company began to install itself there, while continuing to work intensively on what was to be Hart’s final performance project, “L’Economiste.” This piece went on an extended tour to Austria, but it was cut short by the tragic death of Roy Hart, his wife Dorothy, and Vivienne Young in May 1975.
Roy Hart Theatre
Roy Hart’s untimely death left a company of almost 50 persons from 15 different countries precariously housed in a complex of rural buildings that required substantial renovation. Many members did not speak French fluently, and the company found itself confronted with enormous challenges: how to survive in a new culture and above all how to re-articulate its artistic heritage and the future of the community. Initially, a collective leadership composed of nine of the more experienced members oversaw an astonishing galvanization of creative energies, allowing the company to sustain a period of great artistic creativity and producing over 20 original performances in the next 15 years. This creative upsurge was made possible by a rigorous training ethic inherited from the years with Roy Hart, coupled with collaborations and periods of study with artists from a variety of fields. The performances during this period reflected this cross-fertilization as the company members absorbed new skills, created smaller groups, and produced works that highlighted the potential of the vocal work, while refining its theatrical and musical expression. It was in those years that the company began to receive official funding for the first time from French national and regional sources. This support included grants for investment, daily operations of a professional theatre company, and funds to tours abroad.
In the summer of 1977, the Roy Hart Theatre offered its first open workshop at Malérargues. Hart and a few select members had already taught internationally in previous years, but this workshop and others that began to take place in France marked an important step forward into the future for the company. Teaching commitments began to play a role in the lives of its members, who were increasingly able to both gain economic independence and (importantly) find their particular pathway to applying the skills garnered through their years with Hart and with the Roy Hart Theatre. Teaching and performing took the company to the Americas, Europe, Israel, north Africa, and east Asia. Students from diverse fields came to study with the company in ever greater numbers, not only in Malérargues but also in a host of other locations. They included performers and individuals curious to discover their own vocal potential or pursue their personal development. Gradually, members of the company asserted their own distinct artistic and teaching identity, and by the middle of 1980s a number of independent groups appeared, ushering in a new era. In 1991, the Roy Hart International Artistic Centre (CAIRH)4 was created in order to sustain the legacy of Hart and the Roy Hart Theatre in Malérargues. Some members had previously created small centers for the Roy Hart tradition in cities in France, but this center now accelerated growth. A number of the foundering members of Roy Hart Theatre were also now based elsewhere in Europe or in North America. They found fertile ground and often institutional recognition to teach their synthesis of the work and apply it in a host of artistic frameworks, as well as pursuing their own performing and directing careers.
During the years of Roy Hart Theatre at Malérargues, a small number of participants in workshops were drawn to continue their studies with the company, in many cases moving to the region. These individuals constituted a third generation of teachers and contribute to the dissemination of the work today.
The pioneering work of Alfred Wolfsohn, Roy Hart, and Roy Hart Theatre has achieved considerable recognition in many fields, particularly for its profound work on the voice. The transmission of this legacy is a fundamental objective of this body of practitioners. This transmission unfolds in two main forms. The first is the Roy Hart International Artistic Centre (CAIRH) in Malérargues, France. It is a permanent residence that enables teachers and practitioners to develop a comprehensive program of workshops, festivals, and performance creations. The second form is an immaterial one; this is the knowledge, experience, and skill of a body of teachers who now disseminate teaching and theatre practices throughout the Americas, Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Asia. These two lines of transmission (one rooted in the stones of a Cévennes hamlet and the other a vascular network of practitioners across the world) offer a wealth of opportunities for meeting the Roy Hart tradition.
The Roy Hart tradition is relatively rare in the sense that it does not refer to a specific opus or manual that lays down a series of exercises or strategies based on practice and theory that serve as a roadmap for its practitioners. Rather, the main pathway of transmission in the Roy Hart tradition has been through personal direct experience in the form of apprenticeship. Roy Hart received his training from Alfred Wolfsohn. While Wolfsohn’s writings discussed an original and revolutionary approach to the voice, he did not go into great pedagogical detail.
Hart, in turn, offered a comprehensive teaching that focused on the voice as the essential medium for expression of the protean range of the human spirit, but Hart was also drawn toward personal and societal development. He extended the training his students received by inviting dancers from the company (and other guest artists) to give regular movement and dance classes, and he embarked on collective training sessions that emphasized intense physical and vocal plasticity—a literal unchaining of the performer’s potential. But he did not undertake a formal teacher training program for his students.
Therefore, it can be confusing for someone who does not have first-hand experience of this work to understand the particular nature of the Roy Hart tradition and how it fits within other approaches to the voice that have been developed in the twentieth century. Nevertheless, despite the obvious differences in teaching style and focus of a varied body of teachers, many students iterate that there is often a common root between these teachers and their diverse approaches or strategies.
Discussion of Teaching Style
As teachers we believe that some of these common roots are as follows:
- We believe in a fundamental engagement with listening to the student; absorbing a host of information that the voice, body, gestures, and facial expressions give and through these observations, intuiting how best to answer the demands of the student. The teaching strategy or didactic is primarily experiential, guiding students to awareness through sensorial, proprioceptive, and emotional experience.
- We use a non-prescriptive approach: using a variety of strategies to discover and develop their voices. It is an approach to the phenomenon of the voice as being one of sound, distinct from the more specific and culturally defined uses that humans make of voice in speech and song.
- We support an eschewal of a conventional approach to what is beautiful or what is ugly in vocal expression, by approaching it simply as sound. This allows the student to open up raw and, in some cases, very surprising vocal areas. Students are encouraged to delve deep into their own sound matter and to put aside easy definitions of what a male or female voice should be. This approach to the voice therefore tends to break up traditional compartmentalization of vocal types.
- Students are offered the possibility of testing their vocal extremes, not only in terms of pitch, but also of volume, intensity, and timbre. Students access vocal areas that require an intense concentration of energies: the scream, lamentation, and chorded or double-stopping sounds, and the students explore a spectrum of sound that stretches from the darkest growl to bird-like “flutey” pitches, well below and above “normal” ranges. Roy Hart referred to this as “The 8 Octave Voice.”
- The Roy Hart tradition favors physical engagement. The full mobilization of the body brings a vital energy to the voice and releases the student’s imagination. Subtle somatic awareness, balancing forces of relaxation and tension, enables the student to gauge and refine their vocal experience.
- Overall, teachers in the Roy Hart tradition have a fundamental commitment to a humanistic and holistic view of the voice. Vocal expression takes place in a multidimensional context where balance is sought between a person’s life journey and their artistic fulfillment.
- Teachers often use the piano as an objective reference for their work and, depending on their musical skills, this can include basic work on pitch, range, and timbre, but also may serve as an accompaniment and stimulus for improvisation with vocal sound or song interpretation.
Over the years, the founder members of Roy Hart Theatre who worked directly with Hart (including Kaya Anderson, their “doyenne,” who also studied under Wolfsohn) have each in their own way furthered and re-invented the work, not only through their own research, but also through symbiosis with other strands and traditions: be they bel canto, polyphonic song from many traditions,” new music,” jazz and improvised music, exposure to approaches to text, somatic studies, or the clarifications of vocal science and anatomy. Many other cultural and artistic currents, such as the field of personal development, the study of myth, Jungian, and archetypal psychology, have all made significant contributions to the evolution of the Roy Hart tradition. Some Roy Hart teachers have had direct contact with leading exponents of other voice-training approaches, in particular Cicely Berry and Kristin Linklater. These experiences and similar exchanges with other practitioners working in this field have broadened their expertise and given them new perspectives on the work. Specific groups, born out of the original Roy Hart Theatre company, have created their own structures in order to further their own research and development.
Broadly speaking the Roy Hart tradition gravitates around two epicenters: (1) oneon- one work (which can take place either within a group setting, or as a private session “À deux”) and (2) ensemble classes. In the individual work, the student receives a lesson, most often with the teacher at the piano in an in-depth exploration of their vocal potential, which at a later stage can include the full reach of interpretation in both singing, text work, and other forms of performance. This “primary” exploration, which probably favors the sound over any literal semantic meaning in a word or text, is also a precursor for a return to the value of the word. As Hart explained in a letter to a television producer on August 31 1973, “It is therefore necessary that your program should take into full account the way in which RHT [Roy Hart Theatre], as related to the late Alfred Wolfsohn, has come out of the cry to reinstate the word.”5
Concomitantly with the one-on-one lesson, Hart created with Roy Hart Theatre an approach to ensemble work that eventually formed the foundation for performances created both in his lifetime and after his death. This approach was partly in response to the growth in group membership, which made it impossible for him to teach each person individually, but also in order to foster the creation of a company that was tuned and sensitive to each member. Hart and his company absorbed a wide field of influences in this ensemble work: from several forms of dance to musical improvisation, from subtle corporeal movement to avant-garde textual expression. Hart’s insistence on empathetic awareness and synchronicity, as well as a spirit of research and self-interrogation in ensemble work, has left a deep imprint on the Roy Hart tradition today.
Ensemble work emerged in different forms by both the generation of teachers who worked with Hart and also by subsequent generations of teachers, who bring their own experience and knowledge. The group work prepares body and voice for the demands of a workshop and may turn to a musical or textual resource as material for interpretation or improvisation in an atelier style setting.
As the Roy Hart tradition has moved into the twenty-first century so has the work expanded amid an on-going spirit of renewal, that encourages both senior teachers and younger exponents to continually review and refresh their teaching and artistic practice. The Wolfsohn/Hart philosophy of what constitutes a holistic approach to the voice, their intuition about its importance both artistically and on a human level, continues to find new avenues of application and relevance.
There are additional books and articles as well:
- Dark Voices: The Genesis of Roy Hart Theatre by Noah Pikes. The third edition of this seminal work traces the history of the Roy Hart tradition from its inception with Wolfsohn through to its embodiment in Roy Hart and his group of students, subsequently developing into Roy Hart Theatre. It is written from several different viewpoints, including the autobiographical one, beginning with Pikes’s struggles as he began to study with Hart (Pikes 2019). For more information, see email@example.com.
- Roy Hart Theatre at Malerargues by Ian Magilton. This book is a colorful and personal recounting of the Roy Hart Theatre story from its early days in London to its establishment in Malerargues, France and the various phases of its evolution as a cultural, artistic, and residential center. It is available in both English and French (Magilton 2018). For more information, see firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Mystery Behind the Voice: A Biography of Alfred Wolfsohn by Sheila Braggins. This is a valuable contribution to our knowledge of Wolfsohn, the man and the visionary (Braggins 2012).
- Singing with Your Own Voice by Orlanda Cook. This is a practical guide to awakening and developing the hidden qualities in your own singing voice (Cook 2004).
- Roy Hart by Kevin Crawford and Bernadette Sweeney. This biography of Hart includes a detailed examination of key theatrical works produced during his lifetime and a selection of exercises proposed by leading teachers in the Roy Hart tradition (Crawford and Sweeney forthcoming).
- “The Roy Hart Theatre: Teaching the Totality of Self” by Laura Kalo, George Whiteside, and David Midderigh. This chapter from The Vocal Vision examines the history of the Roy Hart Theatre (Kalo, Whiteside, and Midderigh 1997).
1. The quotation is translated by Susie Croner.
2. See Luchsinger and Dublois (1956) for more details.
3. The film was directed by Roy Hart with camera by Denis Miller and sound by Leslie Shepard.
4. The French name is the Centre Artistique International Roy Hart.
5. The italics are from the author. See http://www.roy-hart.com/pauls.htm for the full letter.
The authors would like to thank Jay Livernois, editor, for allowing us to quote from Orpheus or The Way to a Mask, and for generously making this book available for electronic download. We also thank Jonathan Hart for patiently assisting us in editing and checking the information in this article.
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
Notes on contributors
Kevin Crawford studied under Roy Hart from 1967 until 1975 and is a founding member of the Roy Hart Theatre company. He toured extensively with the company for over 20 years before moving to Ireland, where he was a member of faculty at the School of Drama, Trinity College. In 2001, he was awarded an MA in voice studies from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. In 2004,, he was engaged by the Accademia dell’Arte in Arezzo, Italy where, until 2018, he directed the MFA in physical theatre in partnership with Mississippi University for Women.
Noah Pikes was born in wartime London. He began study with Roy Hart in 1967, performing in inaugural and subsequent Roy Hart Theatre performances. He started teaching in 1973, moving with the group to France in 1975. He studied movement, contemporary dance, clown, and jazz improvisation, and he collaborated in a multi-octave “voice-music” group. In 1990, he moved to Zurich and had informal studies in Jungian and Post-Jungian psychology, developing the “Whole Voice” approach; he authored Dark Voices: The Genesis of Roy Hart Theatre. In 2001, with David Carey, he colead the London International Conference on “The Contribution of Alfred Wolfsohn, Roy Hart and Roy Hart Theatre to Vocal Expression.”
- Braggins, Sheila. 2012. The Mystery behind the Voice: A Biography of Alfred Wolfsohn. Kibworth Beauchamp, Leicestershire: Matador.
- Cook, Orlanda. 2004. Singing with Your Own Voice. New York: Routledge.
- Crawford, Kevin, and Bernadette Sweeney. forthcoming. Roy Hart. London: Routledge.
- Janov, Arthur. 1970. The Primal Scream. New York: Putnam.
- Kalo, Laura, George Whiteside, and David Midderigh. 1997. “The Roy Hart Theatre: Teaching the Totality of Self.” In The Vocal Vision, edited by Marion Hampton and Barbara Acker, 185–202. New York: Applause.
- Luchsinger, R., and C.L. Dublois. 1956. “Phonetische und stroboskopische Untersuchungen an einem Stimmphänomen.” Folia Phoniatrica 8 (4): 201–210. doi:10.1159/000262743.
- Magilton, Ian. 2018. Roy Hart Theatre at Malerargues. Thoiras: Magilton.
- Pikes, Noah. 2019. Dark Voices: The Genesis of Roy Hart Theatre. 3rd ed. Zurich, Switzerland: Pikes.
- Wolfsohn, Alfred. 1956. Vox Humana: Alfred Wolfsohn’s Experiments in Extension of Human Vocal Range. New York: Smithsonian Folkways Records. https://folkways.si.edu/vox-humana-alfred-wolfsohns-experiments-in-extension-of-human-vocal-range/contemporary-electronic-science-nature-sounds/album/smithsonian
- Wolfsohn, Alfred. 2012. Orpheus or the Way to a Mask Translated by Marita Gunther. Woodstock, CT: Abraxas Publishing.
- Zadek, Peter. 1998. My Way: Eine Autobiographie. Köln, German: Kiepenheuer & Witsch.
Voice; speech; pedagogy; vocal production; Roy Hart; actor training; singing