The Informed Singer
Welcome to my new blog! If you're here, you've decided to read my rantings about voice, music and the arts. Thank you for stopping by. I'd like to begin this new chapter of my website with some thoughts about what I do as a teacher and why I'm so passionate about the human voice in general.
Through the years, I have been on the receiving end of many opinions about my own voice, my art, technique, etc. Most of these have been positive, but as a very young singer (I began my professional career at age 8), I was subject to vast criticisms about my general "lack of knowledge" on the subject of the voice and music. Obviously, I spent many years since picking up as much information as I could, and trying desperately to please every single authority figure I met in the field. This resulted in some unwanted side-affects, most notably, the near-destruction of my instrument! Yes, I almost lost my voice entirely. Ever hear the phrase, "too many chefs can spoil the meal?" Well, that's exactly where I ended up. Being a voice prodigy at a young age made me blissfully unaware of the specifics needed to sustain a healthy instrument. I had the natural ability and a great basic technical foundation. 40-50 years ago, that would have been enough. Nowadays, everyone wants to put in their two cents. This is not usually done out of malice. Rather, many people who teach/coach/direct DO have one's best interests at heart. The problem is that not only is singing subjective, but biology plays a HUGE factor in all of this. The way a person creates sound at the age of 16 is not the same at age 22, nor at the age of 30, 40, or even 70. This sounds like a no-brainer, but imagine trying to put a size 6 dress on a size 12 body - it won't fit!
Trying to incorporate every single instructor's opinions about "where my voice was going" became maddening. Not to mention, no one took into account the fact that my body was rapidly changing. Things needed to be adjusted constantly. Of course, any problems I did have were instantly blamed on my own "youthful foolishness," "past voice instructors," or, my personal favorite, "over-ambition for a career." Needless to say, I felt that a change needed to come. Had I destroyed myself? Had all these professionals been right? Was I a fool?
NO! I decided to go back to the basics and re-learn everything I could about my technique. I went back to my amazingly non-judgemental voice teacher and was given a list of books to read, biology to study, and strength exercises to do. I spent the last 12 years rebuilding my voice through this information, and I can honestly say that I understand now EXACTLY where things went off the rails. After years of hard work, I restored my voice to pristine condition - almost better than when I started. Through my reading and studies, I gained understanding of how our voices work physiologically, and also how creating music with the voice is different from creating speech. I have learned that the brain plays a huge role in all of this. The technique I teach relies on a lot of brain-body connection. Understanding sound production from a musical perspective is something many take for granted, and this is why I chose to teach!
Most people do not realize it, but singing is a non-linear activity as far as the brain is concerned. You don't just open your mouth and let it out. You have to breathe properly, lower the larynx, monitor your airflow, pay attention to your resonators to get certain vocal colors, and also be heard over an orchestra or band without killing yourself. As we've evolved as a society, we have become more reliant on speech and language to express ourselves. while that works one-on-one, or over the phone, it does not work when trying to sing in a performance setting. We've become so dependent on artificial amplification, we have forgotten how to listen for certain subtleties in the human voice during live performance! I will address this in later blog posts, for sure. My point here is that we used to communicate on a more primal level. Imagine you are a caveman and have no formal language. How do you express pain? Anger? Happiness? You vocalize, howl, or deeply grunt! You also use a completely different part of your brain to do that!
Getting back to biology, everyone has a different set up with regard to their voice and accompanying resonators. One size does NOT fit all, and that goes for voice types as well. The size and color of one's voice depends on many factors. Vocal cord thickness and length as well as facial structure play the most important roles. There is no evolutionary advantage to one person's background versus another - rather, singers need to learn their own personal strengths and use biological facts to apply the technique appropriately. The larynx is always going to need to be lowered in order to produce a good sound. How low depends on that singer's own physiology. This is why I have become passionate about spreading this information. Singers need to know about their own bodies and how technique relates to them individually. While it's great to take masterclasses and get expert opinions from famous folks, a singer needs to understand that there are certain unavoidable truths about basic vocal technique that are scientifically proven and just work. These methods come from hundreds of years of tradition and were regarded as fact until what I refer to as the "Great Vocal Health Scare of the Late 20th Century." But I will discuss that at a later time.
In conclusion, I want to give my students as much information as their brains can hold. To be an informed singer is to truly be a healthy singer. When you know how the mechanisms work physiologically, you can prime yourself for any curveballs thrown in your direction! I urge my students and potential students to keep an open mind and keep studying. As I mentioned before, the voice changes constantly as we age, and one always has to adapt technique to support those changes. This is why I love singing. It's always a process and one never ceases to learn.