Theses Doctoral

My Body, My Instrument: How body image influences vocal performance in collegiate women singers

Brown, Kirsten Shippert

This dissertation is about the influence of body image on classical vocal performance in collegiate women singers. Those trained in classical singing are familiar with the phrase, “your body is your instrument.” A focus on the physical body is apparent in the vocal pedagogical literature, as is attention to singers’ mental and emotional states. But the intersection of emotions and the body—how one thinks and feels about their body, or body image—is largely absent from the vocal pedagogical literature. As voice teachers continue to necessarily address their students’ instruments (bodies), the field has not adequately considered how each singer’s relationship with their instrument (their body) might affect them, as singers and as people.

This initial foray sought answers to just two of the myriad unanswered questions surrounding this topic: Does a singer’s body image influence her singing? If so, when and how? It employed a feminist methodological framework that would provide for consciousness-raising as both a method and aim of the study. Four collegiate women singers served as co-researchers, and data collection took place in three parts: a focus group, audio diaries, and interviews. The focus group was specifically geared towards consciousness-raising in order to provide co-researchers with the awareness necessary for examining their body image. Co-researchers then recorded semi-structured audio diaries for one month after practice sessions, voice lessons, and performances. One-on-one interviews concluded data collection and provided a situation of co-analysis wherein the researcher and co-researcher could deeply examine data from the focus group and diaries.

The major discovery of this research is a pervasive sense of separation between a woman singer’s “everyday body” and her singer’s body. Self-objectification served as a barrier to a conscious recognition of embodied experience and effectively split the singer in two. The various states of the relationship between these two seemingly separate entities resulted in specific outcomes for singing, including restriction, unawareness, inconsistency, and focus. The discussion concludes with a consideration of how a positive body image may encourage effective and artistic vocal performance and how voice teachers might help foster a positive experience of one’s body.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Arts and Humanities
Thesis Advisors
Allsup, Randall Everett
Ed.D.C.T., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 1, 2021