What can count as freedom

Hudson River Greenway (Merleau-Ponty’s Critique) ©MAIERMOUL
Hudson River Greenway (Merleau-Ponty’s Critique) ©MAIERMOUL

For Merleau-Ponty, however, even existential freedom admits of degrees: the bodily sedimentation of habit and skill partly shapes our consciousness at any moment (Dillon 1998: 141). We are not unconditionally free – not even existentially free – to think and try to act just as we like.

From this perspective, our embodied facticity partly constitutes our consciousness: what can count as freedom for a singer – what she can authentically conceive and aspire to – is partly constituted by what she can presently do and how she can do it.

This is why singing teachers sometimes have to resort to getting the student to produce sound in a novel way – getting them to bend, dance, or squeal when vocalizing. Repetitive practice is indispensable to vocal technique, not only to train the requisite stamina and flexibility in the muscles, but also because

a singer often cannot even imagine what she is aiming for until she produces it, and she cannot produce it until her muscles are engaged appropriately, even by means she cannot initially understand or consciously intend.

Merleau-Ponty’s critique transforms Sartre’s static dialectic into a developmental one (Dillon 1988: 46): whatever freedom we are able to exercise can enable us to transcend our present facticity, even if only to a small degree, but if we can reproduce the new experiences so created, we create a new facticity that may become a platform for further change.

This is why so much depends on how existing vocal technique is established: the more technique is built on the basis of freedom, the more open it is to its own transcendence.

-Tim Kjeldsen, Learning To Let Go: Control and freedom in the passagio, in Voice Studies, Konstantinos Thomaidis, Ben Macpherson, eds.