Professional Opera Singer – Florian Thomas

Rolfing® was so profoundly “life-changing” for Professional Opera Singer Florian Thomas, he decided to move to the UK with his wife, become freelance and to train part-time to become a Certified Rolfer®. The European Rolfing® Association invited me to meet Thomas and investigate further.

Sitting in the corner of the Rail House Café in central London, I am taken by surprise as a tall, slender, elegant man strides towards me. I initially think that he has mistaken me for someone else, but Florian Thomas introduces himself and smiles as I confess, somewhat abashed, that I was expecting – how should I say it – an altogether larger-built gentleman.

“Rolfing enabled me to reinvent myself”, Thomas says. “I lost 45 kilos over three years doing intermittent fasting but that’s a whole other story!”

What happened? I ask.

“My father had a stroke six years ago at the age of 55. I am 38 now but I knew back then, that with our family history of heart attacks and strokes, I would be next in line.  I decided to do something about it and, in fact, my wife Caitlin – she is a very talented opera singer – has always been very slim and health-conscious. Caitlin is Australian and they do have a healthier approach to life I think! In any case, my weight loss leads us to why I ended up trying Rolfing!”

 Why did you try Rolfing?

“I had lost all this weight but found that my posture was stuck in a certain position, as though I was still carrying the old weight.  I became suddenly more aware of my hunched back, the scoliosis and that the lower back pain hadn’t gone away.  I also felt stuck and inflexible in other aspects of life. Around the same time, my wife who is also a professional opera singer showed me a documentary on fascia with a part about Rolfing in it: “Quarks & Co: Geheimnisvolle Faszien- Neues vom Ruecken”.

Did you try other therapies before Rolfing?

“Yes, I saw an osteopath for 15 years but I found Rolfing® to be so much more powerful. I have also tried the Feldenkrais Method®, Training Therapy, lifting weights in a medical gym, and so on. However, ten sessions of Rolfing, the complete Ten Series, did more for me than all fifteen years of Osteopathy, or indeed, any other therapy. Nothing has had the same beneficial effect as Rolfing. For me it has been totally life-changing.”

How did Rolfing help you?

“Rolfing gave me greater balance and more ease of movement. My body feels now totally at ease. It is incredible what happens if your brain isn’t distracted, if energy and concentration isn’t taken up in just maintaining what should be a simple posture. If the body is stressed, one’s mind is that much more anxious and preoccupied.

I feel more creative now and the balance and alignment through Rolfing has enabled me to bring more colours into my voice. I sing more efficiently now, it takes up a lot less energy. I feel happy walking on stage, it feels nice and easy. I am calmer and more confident. I am more aware of what’s going on in my body and am consequently more aware also of my peripheral surroundings, of my place and physical presence on the stage. I am more grounded altogether.”

Did you feel the benefits of Rolfing immediately or did you have to wait for a few sessions to feel any effect?

“I felt the benefits after even the first session, for me it was immediate. I could also feel the effect of Rolfing in between my treatment sessions.”

What made you move to England? 

“I might never have left my job if I hadn’t done The Ten Series. I am Austrian and was with the Vienna State Opera for ten years. I was in a very safe and comfortable position with a solid contract and salary. Being a freelance opera singer now is, of course, much less certain. However, Rolfing is very grounding and working with gravity brings you into closer contact with the ground. I felt I was suddenly open for a change, a complete change.

My wife and I already had an apartment in Oxford and there were also family and work reasons on my wife’s side that encouraged us to try our move. Oxford is now our home and we teach from there, but we also spend a lot of time working in London.”

Did Rolfing present any surprises?

Oh yes! The total surprise was to know what it felt like to have so much freedom in my body.  What it is like to move around with such ease, effortlessly. After Session 7 of the Ten Series where the Rolfer works on your cranium, I actually walked around feeling strangely arrogant. Working on my jaw was also very powerful. That work revealed to me what it feels like to be free to hold my head up high, confidently and comfortably!’

Who is your Rolfer?

“I saw Harvey Burns when I was living in Vienna. He is British actually, and a Certified Advanced Rolfer® and Rolfing Instructor. Harvey took me through the ‘Ten Series’. Now, here in the UK, our Rolfer is Naomi Wynter-Vincent whom I see every so often.“

How often did you see your Rolfer during the initial Ten Series?

“Harvey would judge how much Rolfing was required. Sometimes it was once a week, sometimes it was every three weeks, and so on. Harvey had a very intuitive approach, I saw him whenever he felt the timing was right.”

Are you now training to be a Certified Rolfer® yourself? 

“Yes. I want to introduce Rolfing to musicians, and to integrate it with my own vocal teaching. I have already completed ‘The Spectrum’, the preliminary Rolfing training, and I will qualify as a Certified Rolfer® in April 2018. I still work as a professional opera singer, however I am now a freelancer, and together my wife and I, also run Oxford Voice Coaching (teaching adults in Oxford and London). I am also a Tomatis® listening trainer.”

What does Rolfing bring to Music and the Performing Arts?

“Rolfing is holistic and I consider music to be a holistic challenge. Take the example of Andy Murray crashing out of Queen’s last week; Andy was obviously disappointed and said he would have to go back and discuss his performance with his team. A professional sportsperson, is able to draw on a dedicated qualified back-up team, to call on physiological and psychological support channels. Singers and performers don’t generally have such a team, to support them in getting over what might be a traumatic performance, either emotionally or physically. Perhaps the performance resulted in a poor review, or in an injury resulting from a collision or bad fall on stage. Performance is highly physical and singing is like a sport. You really can’t separate the creative artist from the physical artist. I feel there should be far more consideration of the latter. In my view, a great many singers could benefit from being Rolfed.

Opera singers and performers need to develop a strong personality, to build resilience both mentally and physically. Singers tend not to talk about any injury as it can be so damaging to their career, and certainly you can sing for a long time ‘on the edge’ so sometimes, it only takes something to flip the system over to effect serious and possibly long-term damage. I know too many singers who have had to sadly retire early as their body deteriorated before its time. Prevention is better than cure.

I think singing teachers in the UK and the US generally have embraced a more physiological approach. I experienced that Rolfing enables you to fine-tune your whole body which for singers is the instrument. I see it as being very compatible and complementary with modern vocal pedagogy.

Receiving Rolfing has changed me. The effects it had on me as a singer and as a human being are substantial. I am very much looking forward to learning to Rolf, to pass it on as a practitioner through my hands. I am also very grateful to have reached a new place as a performer where my voice is supported by grounded and balanced physicality.”

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