Let the workshop workshop: How to get the most out of any VLS learning experience

Vocal Learning Systems’ workshops are not your ordinary voice workshops.

Even though each workshop is designed to explore a particular set of content in a specially-designed way, the timing, details, and feel of each workshop is totally unique. A VLS workshop in Paris will be different from one with the same title held in Bilbao, for instance. Why? The people are different, the culture is different and the group of participants will create such an original “personality.” In order to be truly connected with that distinctive group, Robert will adapt and mold the content and format to that situation, moment by moment. Often this results in new and better expressions of the ideas being explored and can even inspire augmented content that can truly satisfy the vocal and learning needs of that group of individuals.

Each VLS workshop is a Somatic and Experiential Learning event. Somatic learning – learning by exploring sensory awareness – brings new information to one’s nervous system through the use of small and gentle movements that often seem, to those new to Somatic Education, to be unrelated to the topic, but are foundational to the specific actions and abilities being explored. These movement sequences enhance awareness while improving physical and vocal function. Experiential learning – learning by doing – blends experience (somatic and otherwise) with observations, theory and experimentation to curate a developmental journey of improvement as well as greater intellectual understanding. Therefore, the content is not “taught” in the traditional, academic sense. It is not a hierarchical learning environment in which a teacher pontificates and/or demonstrates and then gets frustrated (or even accusatory) when the students can’t “just do it” as they do. In VLS workshops, learning is facilitated through guided experience in such a way that the intention or idea of a lesson emerges uniquely for each person. Because this is a somatic process designed to update the nervous system directly, the integration is often effortless and automatic. The system will instinctively adopt patterns that are more efficient, successful and pleasurable. (Thanks, Nervous System!) The learning can then be further enhanced by group discussion, the sharing of essential information, personal reflection and individual coaching and attention from the facilitator (when appropriate). In contrast to the traditional model, the VLS learning environment is one of support, equality and openness, and really gets results.

In both Experiential and Somatic Learning environments, the most important rule is that each person seeks to remain “most comfortable” at all times. This means that each participant must self-regulate based on what feels good and easy for them in each moment (adjusting position, reducing or increasing repetitions, or slightly varying the instructions, etc.). They must also take into account their own level of interest and attention at any given time. Sometimes, something feels so good or is so fascinating that you will want to keep exploring it while the rest of the group is taking a break. This is wonderful and totally acceptable. On the other hand, perhaps something is just not interesting to you and you might choose to rest until the next thing comes along that does interest you. That’s also wonderful and totally acceptable. (But, beware! There are many ways to resist this kind of open learning process or more to the point, there are many ways to resist yourself. This could actually be “resistance to growth” showing up as “disinterest” or “aversion.” Or it could be that you believe that you “already know this” – which is often another form of resistance.)

Simply giving information is not facilitating learning. Telling someone about New York City is not the same as taking someone there and giving them a subway map and a $100 bill. Real learning occurs through experience and, ideally, the information is discovered by each person in their own way through their own actions and awareness. This can happen beautifully in groups once one understands that their individual experience within the group is what is most important. When this is happening nicely, what each person finds in their own way, through their own process, can be refined and refined, endlessly, by further experience, reflection and discovery. This is the very process by which one develops personal mastery and happens during each workshop and will hopefully keep happening long afterward.

One way that this process can be enhanced is by the use of “controlled randomness” – harnessing the power of chaos in an organized way – within the process itself. Because this is a key to learning and somatic integration, VLS workshops are structured to increase randomness while simultaneously maintaining a clear and tight form. This means that there is often a sense of confusion generated, but in a somatic and experiential learning situation this is a good sign. It means something new has entered your system – you’ve been perturbed – and you will have a fresh opportunity to integrate whatever it is into whatever else you already know and have developed. Balancing randomness and predictability is the key to learning in this way, and at VLS we’ve got it down. It can be strange at first, but once you get used to it, it is an exhilarating and beautiful way to learn. In Learning Science there is a distinction made between Exploration and Exploitation in learning. Exploration requires experimentation and randomness (even seemingly useless explorations and play) while Exploitation is applying what one already knows (or thinks they know) to a new situation whether or not it is optimally effective or even appropriate. The VLS approach is a deep and layered utilization of the Exploration-style of learning applied to voice, movement, science and performance. Exploitation is also utilized more more as an experiment than a prescription.

As you can see, the emphasis in each workshop is on the process rather than the product. The product is not unimportant – we still want to be able to do what we want to be able to do – but because each person will interact with and integrate the content and experiences facilitated in the workshops in such a personal way, there is no telling when the process will yield the desired product (or if it will at all. Maybe you’ll get something even better!) – for some it will be an instant shift, for others it may be a week after the workshop that it all comes together. For many, it seems to “happen out of nowhere.” This is actually quite normal, and must be respected at all times. The brain is capable of amazing feats of learning and adaptation. So, there is no push for a product in this style of learning, nor is there any judgement regarding how long the process takes for each person or where it goes. This is also why there can be so many different attendees with such varied backgrounds in the same workshop. Beginners and professionals, alike, will benefit greatly from the experience, but in different ways and from different starting places. After all, improvement is improvement and improvement is endless!

What ultimately results from this kind of learning is what is often referred to as personal growth – not only vocally, or physically, and not only related to the topics at hand, but in profound and surprising ways because your whole self is engaged throughout. It’s unpredictable, but very rewarding. For some, a breathing lesson may improve their eyesight; A walking lesson may improve their physical energy levels or mood; A voice lesson may improve digestion; A tongue lesson may release childhood trauma. Who knows? The possibilities are endless. All we know is that something interesting will happen – if we allow it! In addition to all of that, the level and quality of control and confidence that results from this approach is astounding. Traditional-style workshops could never bring about such awareness, non-linear change, increased intelligence, nor facilitate such mastery.

So yes, there will be concrete things learned, discussed and explored (concepts, definitions, theories, distinctions and abilities…) but there will also be countless unknown benefits that will arise during and after the workshops. All of this must be kept in mind and held with utter spaciousness and respect within the world of each workshop, so that the maximum learning can occur for everyone.

When in doubt: relax, rest and be patient with yourself and the process. It will all come in due time. And actually the less you push, the faster it comes. As we like to say: “Let the workshop workshop.”