Judith Shahn (faculty): A Week on the Orkney Islands

Judith Shahn (right) with Kristin Lanklater at the new Kristin Linklater Voice Centre on Orkney Island.
Judith Shahn (right) with Kristin Lanklater at the new Kristin Linklater Voice Centre on Orkney Island.

by Judith Shahn

I had the good fortune to spend a week with Kristin Linklater at KLVC (the new Kristin Linklater Voice Centre) on the main Orkney Island for about 10 days. Kristin has built a beautiful studio with attached kitchen and living room area for residential retreats in the area of Voice & Text. The attached dormitories will be completed by the end of the month. Meanwhile, we lived in modern, comfortable cottages five minutes away.

Releasing your voice is always a worthy pursuit wherever you are and Kristin’s method is known worldwide as “Freeing the Natural Voice” (also the name of her much used book in drama programs around the world). It is inspirational, however, to free one’s voice while looking at the rolling Scottish farmland and the sea just beyond. One beautiful day, we went down to the beach and practiced our Shakespeare text out to the waves!

Kristin arranged for me to do a singing workshop for about thirty local Orcadians, many of whom sang in choirs on Orkney. Those of you who know me know that this was a heavenly event for me. I love leading songs from around the world and it was great to have such a robust and willing group to participate!

I was challenged by my own tensions and blocks and to have the opportunity to truly let go of those blocks was a gift indeed. I remember having the sensation of head to toe, feeling fully open and connected and ready to have words move through me. 

Although I have been a designated Linklater voice teacher since 1991, I went for my own renewal and I found it and then some. The workshop I signed up for was “Sound & Movement.” This is a series of investigations that allow the imagination to galvanize the voice to move through the body and ultimately the connection with language. I teach this series every year, but to have the opportunity to do it was altogether different. I was challenged by my own tensions and blocks and to have the opportunity to truly let go of those blocks was a gift indeed. I remember having the sensation of head to toe, feeling fully open and connected and ready to have words move through me. This idea that the words act upon you instead of you acting upon the words is central to the way in which Kristin works.

Our group was made up of people from Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, and England, and I was glad to be the only American. Americans can get very comfortable when they are the majority. I felt it was great to be surrounded by other cultural rhythms, pitches, and understandings of the world. The workshop begins on a Sunday evening with a welcome dinner. Now, we all know how important food is and at KLVC, the cook’s name is Rena and how heavenly it is to come out from three hours of intensive studio time into a meal prepared by this Scottish mother earth. The workshop is Monday through Saturday afternoon, essentially working seven hours a day. There is a nice two hour break for lunch, where people nap, walk, or bike around the area. The fourth day is a day off and the KLVC staff arrange for a tour around Neolithic sights in the area. Orkney is a UNESCO Heritage sight and I found this to be a thrilling day. To see a village with the original stone structures still standing from 5,000 years ago (Skara Brae), or a tomb (Maeshow) where on December 21st, the light lines up through the tomb to lift the souls to heaven, or the Ring of Brodgar (older than Stonehenge) was thrilling. There are some very old vibrations on Orkney!

Kristin’s eyes and ears are so sharp and in tune. She goes right to what is stopping you from fully coming through and works with you to remove whatever it is, so you, the person, can be heard through your voice. 

Lastly, there is Kristin Linklater herself, who after all these years is as sharp and vibrant as ever. As a teacher, it was wonderful to see how the Sound & Movement work had developed and evolved after decades. Kristin’s eyes and ears are so sharp and in tune. She goes right to what is stopping you from fully coming through and works with you to remove whatever it is, so you, the person, can be heard through your voice. Kristin turns 80 years old this month (sharing a birthday with Shakespeare), so if you have a yen to feel the Orkney wind on your face and to release yourself through the vibrations of sound, I encourage you to book a week (or two) at the Kristin Linklater Voice Centre.

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