“The only thing better than singing is more singing.”
I was diagnosed with nodules when I was in my Masters’ degree – for classical voice performance. When I was in the ENT’s office, I realized that I didn’t know anything about how my voice worked. Not really.
Sure, I’d been taking voice lessons since I was in high school, sung in choirs forever, and I had even taken one semester of vocal pedagogy. But that didn’t teach me about my voice. I just hadn’t been paying attention.
So here I was in this chair – alone – crying. I barely heard what the ENT was saying. I just didn’t know what this meant for me – for my singing career that hadn’t even started yet. I heard him say that this was most likely caused by “vocal misuse and abuse.”
This is, as I know now, an unfortunate standard line still used in too many clinics. I was doing everything that teachers and coaches and conductors told me to do! How was I abusing my voice?
I went on immediate and complete vocal rest, found a speech therapist, and dropped out of the lead role in the opera. (And then had another night of crying about that.)
“Whether you are in the midst of a big upheaval or riding the smaller rapids of everyday life, I want you to know you are not alone, not now, or at any stage of the journey.”
-Elizabeth Lesser, Broken Open, p. xxiv
My client leaned in a little closer like she was going to tell me a secret. “Do you know how many people have had voice surgery??” Her tone was hushed and her eyes were wide.
In all actuality, she was sharing a secret. She works in the music industry and knows more than a few singers who aren’t able to talk about their “voice issues” because they might get labeled, judged, or out-right attacked. Having voice problems makes people “bad” in the public eye, and you hear echoes of judgement from every corner of the universe. It can be subtle, but it’s there.
People have suffered in secret for far too long because of the stigma(s) attached to having “voice problems.”
This mentality of being “wrong” or “stupid” or “bad” because you have a voice challenge needs to stop. Now.
“We are all of us three persons: the one we think ourselves to be, the one others think us to be and the one we truly are.”
This plight is never so acute as when applied to the student singer and how they perceive themselves through their voice. In my work, I have found that one of the most important things to do is to help singers find their ‘basic vocal tone.’
In his book Voice: Psyche and Soma, Cornelius Reid makes an exceptionally important point often skimmed when examining his substantial pedagogy: the topic of aesthetic listening and its inherent dangers.
Aesthetic listening is hearing a voice in a way that overlays aesthetic and stylistic preferences onto the mechanism (‘the one we think ourselves to be’). For example, a classical voice teacher might prefer darker, rounder tones and would train students to emit sounds in that way. A musical theater voice teacher might go the opposite way and entrain a voice into a very bright, brassy, forward sound. Both are ‘specializations,’ a term borrowed from Peter T. Harrison in his book The Human Nature of the Singing Voice.
Yesterday someone suggested I write a proposal for a conference presentation on how to get along. More specifically, about how people in the professional voice arena can create avenues of goodwill and constructive dialog. Maybe – be friendlier to each other, and more open to exchanging ideas?
His point was, “its lovely when voice professionals come together and get along, but how do you do that? What makes that possible? We need someone to talk about it.”
I don’t know how to write that proposal yet. I’m not sure how to instruct others on how to “get along” when I have so much to learn about it myself.
Please understand, my chosen profession (call me crazy for choosing it) is fraught with historic tension, fear, anger and strained relationships. I won’t even claim to understand this psychological history, because I don’t and don’t want to. I have heard enough stories and experienced enough relationship woes between voice teachers to know something is potentially awry.
Do relationship problems exist more chronically or pervasively in voice than in other professions? Who cares. They exist, and there are historic “dividing lines” between voice scientists and voice teachers, classical singers and pop singers, university faculty and community voice teachers. Many lines have been drawn in many people’s heads, and you can probably think of a few more than I’ve listed here.
“Specificity refers to the concept that strength training must be designed
to appropriately target the specific muscle or muscle group with the intended skill or task.”
(pg. 246, The Vocal Athlete, 2014)
Think: jazz lit and style as tools in the pedagogy toolbox.
In the 11+ plus years I taught university level jazz voice lessons, it (eventually) became obvious that jazz was good for voices. I could use it to get a barely functioning voice to work like a charm, and even if a student wasn’t swimming in musical talent, a seme
ster or two of jazz voice lessons could help him/her get control of pitch, range, harmonic awareness, rhythm, and basic levels of phrasing. Jazz helped vocal function based issues.
Jazz is replete with opportunities for teaching, at least in my opinion. And I don’t think we’ve even begun to plumb its depths as a vocal training tool.