Here’s to Good-byes and New Beginnings

Hi Everyone!

I am ending this blog and want to thank you for reading my posts.

The site will stay up for now.

I am currently writing a book which has been in manuscript form for about 9 years, and it must be finished and marketed. I do have an agent interested. It will be illustrated with my own original abstract art.

WANT TO KNOW MORE? READ ON!

The topic is on Menopause, Kundalini and Sexual Alchemy.

Sexual Alchemy is the union of spirituality and sexual activity and can be channeled for physical and emotional healing of the self and others. It often results in continuous brilliant creativity, creative focus and energy.  It can help create stability within an individual during chaos and disruption if a protocol, practice or ritual has been developed with that intent.

The union of these three topics is relatively new.  Each of these topics by themselves, let alone in combination, are things  that Western culture fears, ignores, jokes about or is suspicious of. Yet the survival of our world needs women who have integrated these experiences well, are healing the collective unconscious of the Divine Feminine free of religious dogma,  and are living OUT LOUD, each in their own way, with the hidden wisdom that we have been privy to through trial and fire.

And I can say, at age 61, that much of what is out there on these topics, with the exception of health and wellness for women’s life cycles,  is confusing, inaccurate or deliberately misleading and divisive.

This is the book I wish I had been able to read over ten years ago.

If you’d like to be kept on my mailing list for updates and the book’s launch, please sign up at CateFNStudios.com on my contact page.

Blessings to you and yours and thank you for your readership over the years!

Best,
Cate Frazier-Neely

Featured image: “Immaculate Conception,” hand-painted collage papers on 4″ x 4″ birch panels, CFN

A Singer with Vocal Fold Atrophy and Type One Thyroplasty

Vocal fold dysfunction has been cloaked in secrecy and shame for far too long.  It’s a source of unimaginable frustration for people regardless of whether or not they sing.

But it has been the singers that felt it was somehow their fault, that they weren’t trying hard enough or their technique was faulty.

Fortunately, this attitude is changing. And it is one reason why I have been so vocal in my journey through bi-lateral vocal fold paralysis and paresis. It is my desire to help change the stigma and provide useful information for people who need it.

Vocal fold atrophy, otherwise known as Presbylaryngitis is a common as people age.  What follows is one case study of a student with whom I have worked for many years.

“Marco” and I have an interesting 11-year history together as student and voice teacher. He made his way to my studio in 2006 after Vanderbilt Voice Clinic diagnosed vocal fold atrophy and had performed a Type One Thyroplasty .

His background is important:

Marco was a 65 year old jazz singer, pianist and band leader who had suffered from chronic voice problems for ten years before we began working together. His vocal health history between 1994-2005 shows how long and hard he searched for medical and vocal help. He went from otolaryngologists and speech language pathologists to voice teachers and back around again. Nothing worked for him.

He had difficulty speaking, stopped singing professionally and began leading his jazz trio and big band from the piano. His voice felt like sand paper was rubbing over his throat and he sounded like Louis Armstrong with a 4 note range.

After 9 years of searching with multiple ENTs and otolaryngologists, he was finally diagnosed with a glottal gap stemming from an atrophied left vocal fold. Why this was so hard to diagnose, I will never know. As a result, his false vocal cords had become hyperactive as he tried to push his sound out.

He tried a collagen augmentation which did improve things for about 5 months, but he stopped working with the speech-language pathologist he had been assigned because he felt their work was not helping. Then the collagen wore off. Instead of getting another injection, Marco chose to go to  Vanderbilt Voice Clinic for evaluation. It was there that he received a similar diagnosis of atrophied left vocal fold but decided to have the suggested procedure called a ‘Type One Thyroplasty.’

The operation involves inserting an implant next to the vocal fold to push the fold towards the midline. That way, the left fold can supposedly meet the right fold when it vibrates.

Marco made his way to my studio after Vanderbilt surgeons had performed the thyroplasty and had cleared him to study singing again.

In my initial intake, where I ask prospective students questions related to work ethic, motivations, medications and personal life style habits, Marco told me he smoked weed fairly frequently. I asked him if he’d be willing to cut his smoking by half for at least 6 months while we worked and keep a record of when he smoked, when he didn’t, and when he did the exercises. He agreed, for the first 6 months he did do this.

We started with breathing, which I do with pathology patients because by the time they get to me they are a mass of nerves, frustration and anger. Also, Marco would need tools to relax his parasympathetic nervous system while he was cutting down on weed.  We worked out 3 breathing “meditations,” which at first were really hard for him to focus on but they became more fluid after just a few weeks. He was diligent.

Then we moved into working standard kinesthetic responses like feeling the inhale as a “release” and feeling the air naturally rebound into the lungs. He then exhaled on non-pitched lip trills while pulling the abdominals in to lift up the chest. This action was used just to stimulate coordination.

Then we moved into pitched patterns of lip trills such as 1-1-1 and 1-2-1 slowly moving to 1-3-1 and 1-3-5-3-1. For the first two weeks he tired easily and a haunted look would come into his eyes. At which point we would talk about his vocal health habits, diet choices, how much drinking alcohol he was doing during gigs, etc.

It was during these times that I found out his singing and jazz piano were a second career after 30 years as a parole officer in the prison system, barking out orders to the inmates through a bull horn.  DA-DING DA-DING YEOWZA! Which means, he probably had a longer history of vocal dysfunction that he realized. Marco was working with a therapist on many personal issues, including depression.

I just noted that and moved on within the scope of my work. But these short rest talks served to help him trust me with his most vulnerable self.

All initial exercises were to find a balance between starting to phonate and releasing various throat muscles that had become bound.

We segued into the following kinds of vocal exercises:

Phonating on “mm” in his speech range, repeating on one pitch “mm” “mm” “mmmmmmm” and then moving those into 1-2-1, 1-3-1, 1-5-1. Eventually, after about a month, he was able to do a glide from one pitch to the next without excessive abdominal “pump” movement.

Clearly he was working at the paced schedule I wrote out for him. He took it seriously.

We used the syllable “ung,” riding gently on the “ng” through various short intervals. He was moving in a slurred legato from pitch to pitch! VICTORY! Celebrate small improvements always!

Then we moved into singing the syllable “They,” on one pitch, starting with a gentle vocal fry (a speech-language pathology tool, which is considered the lowest vocal register that needs little breath pressure to do) and moving into the diphthong of “ey.”

My rational was:

  1. The voiced “TH” helps get the folds to come together without involvement of the false vocal folds which had become hyperactive and overtaken the role of the true cords.
  2. The first part of the dipthong encourages thyroarytenoid contraction, which has been proven to aid in vocal therapy. HERE is an article that supports this kind of working.  It was written by speech-language pathologists at the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology at the University of Federal of Santa Maria, Brazil.
  3. The second part of the dipthong (the ee vowel) needs awareness on the part of the singer to keep his folds together, even for a split second.

So as you can see, Marco’s singing voice rehab went very slowly, very specifically, and it took about 6-8 months of hard work and consistency on his part to be able to sing some jazz standards again. He started with songs with a limited range.

Then, after a year of consistent work together, (twice a month,) he decided to cut an album before, as he put it, “his voice went again.”  We spent the next 8 months working on the full album. He hired good people and the end result was something he could feel really good about.

But the story doesn’t end there. After about 7 years of working together consistently after the first thyroplasty, Marco suddenly lost all progress. He had begun to heavily smoke weed again, although it is unclear to me if that had anything to do with what happened with the implant.  His voice went right back to where it had been when we started. I sadly told him he needed to go back to Vanderbilt which he did. The implants had slipped out of place, and one fold was vibrating lower than the other. So he had another Thyroplasty.

We started the whole process all over again. This time I had more therapeutic tools, and he was in much better vocal shape vocally beforehand, so the improvement was much faster. He cut back on the weed and alcohol again and lost 20 pounds. Over the next year he actually got some head mix going and flipped into a weak falsetto. He recorded another album. And he was regularly gigging in the DC area.

Marcos’ journey reminds me of the phrase from JoAnna’s song “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” from Sweeney Todd.

If I cannot fly

Let me sing!.”

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If you found this post useful, please like, share or comment. Thank you for reading!

Please Note:  I am an Independent SVRS and do not work in a medical setting. However, I do work on referral from speech-language pathologists and otolaryngologists after a singer has been diagnosed and treated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broadway Christmas Songs

This year I have an unusual number of wonderful dancer/singers in my private studio who’ve graduated from college and are making their way in the world.  They’ve asked for help finding repertoire from musicals for the holidays for Christmas gigs.

My first inclination is to say “do your research.” But then I thought that I’d like to know for myself what’s out there, other than the handful of songs I recalled off the top of my head. I tried to include easy tunes that singers can learn quickly but also threw in some things that need more time to put together. Some items have karaoke accompaniments available and some would do better with a live accompanist playing an original arrangement.

Plus, I just found a used CD for 50 cents at a recent joy ride through a Used Book Store and used it as the basis for this list. The producer was Bruce Kimmel and it came out in the 1990’s.

New Deal for Christmas from Annie (Strouse, Charnin) Music starts about :45

Be a Santa from Subways Are for Sleeping  (Styne, Comden, Green)

Christmas Eve from She Loves Me (Bock, Harnick)

Pine Cones and Holly Berries from Here’s Love (Wilson) Paired with It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

Also from this musical, That Man Over There

Turkey Lurkey Time from Promises, Promises (Bacharach, David)

Christmas Gifts from A Wonderful Life (Raposo, Harnick)

Hard Candy Christmas from Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (Hall)

I Don’t Remember Christmas from Starting Here, Starting Now (Shire, Maltby, Jr.)

We Need a Little Christmas from Mame (Herman) –

Lovers on Christmas Eve from I Love My Wife (Coleman, Stewart)

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas from Meet Me in St. Louis (Martin, Blane)

At Christmas Time and Toys Medley from Song of Norway (Wright, Forrest) This one will need some arranging, but keep it in mind, especially if you are looking for an early legit musical with hymn-like part writing.

Surabaya Santa and Christmas Lullaby from Songs for a New World (Brown)

Please add your suggestions in the comments list.

To follow this blog please click the tri-lines in the upper left of the article. Thank you for being here and reading this blog!

Vocal Pedagogy and Creativity, Part II

Part I in this series was well-received and lays out the groundwork for Part II–

Introduction

In this post, I’ve gone academic on you–just to have a framework to discuss broad topics.  I’ve highlighted three elements that are part of a larger concept that psychologist Benjamin Bloom identified for his learning model widely known as Bloom’s Taxology.

Anyone who wants to teach or to transform information into a useful body of personal wisdom would find his work very interesting. However, you certainly don’t need to consciously know this stuff to have the same outcome. I have operated in the following “mode” most of my life and I am sure many of you do, too.

Bloom identified three “areas” of Learning as:

I.   Cognitive Learning (Mental skills and Knowledge)

II.  Affective (Growth in Feelings and Emotional Areas)

III. Psychomotor (Manual or Physical Skills)

According to Bloom, collecting information and remembering data are considered the beginning, or bottom rung, of Cognitive Learning.

And Creating is the top rung.

And here’s what the Cognitive Domain looks like in Bloom’s pyramid:

bloom-taxonomy

I have observed that many teachers teach from the place of collecting and remembering information, and then maybe have stepped up onto the level of Understanding what it means to them. This is a good start. But as a teacher for others, you need to get to the top 1-3 parts of the pyramid to be truly effective and a “great” teacher.

There is obviously some overlap of all three domains because we each are unique individuals who find our own ways.

For the purposes of this article, I would like to highlight THREE aspects of learning, one from each domain, for you to consider.

Cognitive Domain

1. “Divergent Thinking” means generating multiple ways of taking information and finding new ways to address a topic or find solutions to a problem. This kind of thinking has become a hot topic for the study of brain function in creativity.

Divergent thinking occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, ‘non-linear’ manner. It does not move from a to b to c. It prefers to zig when everyone else is zagging. It thrives in solitude, uncertainty and the imagination. It makes useful connections among unrelated pieces of information. The manner in which divergent thinking takes place is unique to everyone and everyone has to discover their own ways to develop and allow it.

Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is the ability to apply rules to arrive at a single ‘correct’ solution to a problem, such as an answer to an IQ test question. This process is systematic and linear.  Both styles of thinking are important and meant to work together.

Psychomotor Domain

1. Somatic Re-Education of the Body and establishing the realization that your body carries its own wisdom.

This connection has been severed in the culture in which we live, but has revived among singers, dancers, actors and athletes and physical therapists because our art is the stuff of which this connection is made.  The reason I place such fundamental importance on learning through somatic re-education is that western culture is still imbued with the notion that all worthy learning takes place in the brain and “higher realms.”

Oh my goodness, no. no no no.  I have had to learn, through an unusually severe health history, that the body learns and holds information too, and is meant to take its place as an equal with the brain and heart center. Sometimes the heart needs to heal before the body can heal. Sometimes the body needs to heal before the brain can work well. Somatic Education helps us reestablish how our bodies and minds are meant to function together, and is especially important as we age.

Alexander Technique, Feldenkreis, Yoga, Rolfing, Nutrition etc., and other modalities are all methods of somatic re-education.  But the effect it has on you is directly related to the kind of teaching you receive.

Affective Learning

1. Development of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence can be a natural gift which seems to be more hard-wired in women that in men.  But it can be developed in anyone. It is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. E.I. is now being taught in business schools like Wharton and Case Western Reserve as a necessary tool in what is called “Resonant Leadership.”

Other ways of developing this part of Affective Learning are through counseling and modeling behavior of other emotionally intelligent people.  Time Magazine published a recent article which, at the end of an article on drugs and depression, lists drug-free ways that have all been scientifically proven to have transformative effects on emotions and in handling interpersonal relationships well: Exercise, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Behavioral-Activation Therapy, Mindfulness Training and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.

(I totally understand the need for the right drugs in the right doses, monitored by a health care professional. I have suffered from diagnosed clinical depression in which drugs were life-saving and enabled me to function. I eventually was able to move off the drugs through diet that was right for my body and some of the above therapies. This, in no way, is medical advise. JUST INFORMATION!)

Conclusion to a long blog post…

These aspects  of turning information into something useful are true for anyone in any field.  Many life-long learners and some of your favorite teachers are using these steps to teach, even though they may not be consciously aware that Learning Theory has names for the processes.

Are there any Vocal Pedagogy graduate programs out there including Bloom’s theories in the coursework? The steps can be cultivated and are incredibly rewarding. Those EUREKA moments and connections are the stuff of ecstasy!

Life is about experiencing ALL the aspects of learning, not just running around devouring and acquiring new information and others’ ideas. And don’t panic. You have Time to realize learning is life long and no one is ever finished.  I started teaching music when I was 13 years old, had my first paid singing gig at 18, and am now 61. It sure did not happen all at once and is on-going.

Please like, comment or share this post if you found it useful. Thank you for being here!

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Also check out this video by Sir Ken Robinson

 

Vocal Pedagogy and Creativity, Part I

I once had 4 voice lessons with an expensive and well-known singer who had sung opera many years in Europe. After returning to the States, she developed a method of voice teaching based on 15 years of her personal research into voice science.

I sought her help after seeing an ENT (supposedly he worked with singers) who completely missed the fact that I was developing bi-lateral vocal fold paralysis. (!) Neither the teacher or the ENT helped me at all and both sets of information were actually harmful both physically and psychologically. GRRRRRR

So here were two learned professionals, WHO COULD NOT SEE or HEAR THE PERSON IN FRONT OF THEM. Did they need more information so they could have helped me? NO. What they both needed was to get outside of the information they had collected and turn it into something useful.

One of the main differences between intelligence and creativity is that the creative person has the ability to draw connections among bits of information and imagine various paths and outcomes. And this is the missing ingredient with many voice teachers who run around collecting information, certifications and degrees by the boat-load.

Read How to Make Connections Like a Creative Genius.

These are all valid ways to learn and perhaps start to assimilate experience, but one vital thing we are not taught in our school systems, academia and general culture is how to turn information and book learning into something useful. Has it occurred to you that the information presented in the learning environment is just an INTRODUCTION to understanding? Just the tip of the iceberg?

Information, by itself, is not the stuff that enables you to be effective.

Chances are good that you are getting information from someone who is also consuming information without turning it into their own Experience. When you teach, you are teaching who you are as well as whatever it is you teach. So inability to turn information into something useful is passed on in your manner of working. Rather a vicious circle.

The transformative and alchemical process to turn information into a creative experience requires time, self-acceptance, effort, and in many cases, more money. And this inner process is different for everyone.  It has its own time-table to follow and does not give a hoot about you being productive, “an expert,” and a reliable cog in society.

A personal note from my own voice studio: I work with voice teachers who are certified in 2 or 3  methods of vocal pedagogy. They are good teachers and wonderful human beings who at some level, feel that a few lessons going over the exercises that they learned in the certifications will turn them into the singers they want to be or help them with their students. So when they have not reached where they want to go after 4-6 lessons, or even 6 months, they stop. I understand. It is expensive and time-consuming. And who has the time to practice, experiment, observe, and at the same time learn how to ALLOW the process of the slow change of muscle fibers and neurological connections? And do this year after year after year? After year?

Yet, that is exactly the kind of creative process necessary, whether you do it yourself or reach out for guidance, to transform learning into useful experience.

Information continually changes, BUT SO DO OUR BODIES and EMOTIONS. Especially for women because of our life cycles and hormonal effects on the voice. But it is true for men, too, and for anyone who has survived physical or mental health crisis. If you are coping with a chronic issue that doctors can not solve, it is doubly true. It is a constant creative act to experience, assimilate and present information to others.  What you learned as a 21-year-old will no longer serve you at 25, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70+

Guess what. Life is continually about transformation into something new until it is time to transform again.

THIS IS THE SECRET THAT NO ONE TALKS ABOUT. We are taught that having a magic degree or certification or studying with that Broadway star can lead to wisdom and effectiveness.  While learning is a wonderful experience, having a personal value system that allows you to assimilate the new process is something that I have observed many teachers do not have.

Finding your own creative path is never easy in a culture that says it values creativity but does not value the time, solitude and continuous experimentation to develop a creative thing or thought and turn it into experience. As far as singing and teaching singing goes, you are more apt to do this if your personal values match up with these commitments.

I just finished watching the tv series “Genius” about the life and work of Albert Einstein, produced by Ron Howard. I recommend this series as a way to illustrate my point.

And here’s the KICKER–our personal values are shaped by our culture, religious traditions and the hive mind. What is required to live creatively and turn information into a body of deep personal experience?

I am not talking about work experience. I am talking about a deeper knowing that often comes from our deepest, most vulnerable places.

In Part II, I’ll outline some of the counter-culture elements that are needed to walk this particular path.  A good book to read, in the meantime, is The Courage to Teach, by Parker Palmer.

Please comment, like, share or subscribe if this post interests you!

“Transformation” abstract study by Cate Frazier-Neely

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Quilted Treasures and Loving Measures

This Voicing the Craft post was inspired by a fantastic crazy quilt designed and made by my long-time friend, Katherine Pinard.  It hangs in the music studio’s waiting room. Dozens of odd shapes symbolize the ways we have become fragmented as a society and as individuals, but in piecing them together skillfully, she made them come together to make something whole. Katherine is working some powerful magic through imagination and skill.

Katherine'squilt

About 4 years ago I commissioned Mindy Carlson to create a series of 4 quilted pieces representing the four seasons, specifically to hang inside our front entry and up the stairs to our home’s second floor.  This wall stayed bare for the first 16 years we were in the house. I didn’t want the usual family photos lining the stairs, so after I got to know Mindy and her work, I asked her if she wanted to try this commission.  Each panel is pieced together masterfully to create a whole panel-of-fabric look.

mindy'squilts

But these quilts point to a larger set of values, one that permeates the history and genealogy of many women around the world throughout time.  Women’s stories are told through crafting useful items, through creative journaling about feelings and the events of the day, through sharing stories of children’s ages and stages as well as life’s hormonal changes.  It is all the passing on of women’s wisdom through stories and art.

My father (1928-2003) loved family genealogy and research, but he collected history in much different ways than I do. He connected through the “begets of begets,” the ownership of land, immigrant ship logs, purchasing slips, birth, marriage and death records and other ledger lines of history.  When Dad was researching in the 1960’s through 1990’s, it was mostly in the days before the Internet, and he had to go to other cities and wade through volumes of records of hand-written and typed accounts. He wrote to countless county offices, libraries, college historians, blueprint offices, military archives, distant relatives and such to collect information.  He collated, labeled and stored photos, packed everything away in boxes and neat notebooks and organized extended family reunions of people who would meet once and never see each other again.  He tracked down a family Bible that had somehow left the family and found it in Florida. The owner graciously mailed it to him, and he began trying to collect funds from family to have it restored and rebound. I think he and mom ended up absorbing over $1,000 in the early 1990’s to restore the family Bible to the Frazier Line. It was money they did not have, but such were his values and he felt a great responsibility to pass on what he knew. He spoke of family names and places to his children and grandchildren with increasing fervor as he got older, wanting someone to carry on the information and take care of what he had discovered.  One brother and I have it all now, and I must admit, as I get older I wonder what will happen to everything if our children and their cousins are not interested in preserving it.

While the first two blog photos were of recent quilt purchases, they also happen to have been made by two very close friends.  I also have dozens of quilted, sewn, knit, cross-stitched and crocheted items from great-aunts on both sides of the family, my grandmother, mother, mother-and sister-in-law, and friends. Here are a few baby blankets that I used with my children, two from my husband’s Aunt Betsy and one from my friend, Kate Huntress-Reeve:

GreatAuntBetsyandKateHR

This next photo is of a crazy quilt that was made for me by women who lived outside of Morgantown, West Virginia, nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. I worked one college summer, 1975, at a mission station in those beautiful mountains with of a team of other college-aged men and women. We looked after dozens of children with learning disabilities and cleft palettes who were the result of inbreeding among families. On Sunday mornings I played the out-of-tune piano in the small mountain church, leading hymns, playing preludes and postludes and teaching some of the kids how to play folk tunes after services. (I also had my one and only stint playing guitar and singing in a blue grass band.) At the end of the summer, the families presented me with this awesome quilt, made from knit and wool scraps:

AppalachianCrazyQuilt

After my paternal grandmother passed, my grandfather remarried.  Helene was always very nice to me and we shared the rather odd trait of having studied Latin for four years in high school, she about 1911-1915 and me from 1970-1974. When she passed away, she willed me this woven tapestry quilt, which had been in her family since about 1870.  It was created on a loom and sewn in two pieces.

Helene'sJacobeanQuilt

And the last quilt I’ll post, was a project I designed one day to keep three 5-year old boys (my son and two of his friends) busy when I was caring for them and my 1 year old daughter. Their part of the project lasted about 30 minutes, and mine took several hours….They drew with crayons on muslin squares which I heat-set, then pieced together to form a quilt. Their signatures appear in the bottom right. Originally, this quilt was sent to a young boy who had leukemia, but when he passed, his mother returned it with a photo of it wrapped around him.  The feet and hands in this photo belong to my husband….

Boys'Quilt

Boys'SignatureQuilt

Many of the quilts and hand-made items are stored in the cedar chest that was my maternal grandmother’s. The photo above the chest is one of mine, enlarged and framed.

Grandma'sCedarChest

Many times I have been able to combine my love of crafts, art and women’s history with creating musical programs for the Smithsonian Institution museums in Washington, DC. One such program I wrote and conducted, called “Wrapping Home Around Me,” featured music from the musical Quilters, poems and writings from indigenous crafters and songs about weaving and quilting.

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How do you treasure and pass on family genealogies? I’d love to hear how others are doing this!

(If you found value in this post, please comment, like or share. Thanks for being here!)

Featured image is “Roots,” by Cate Frazier-Neely, acrylic and ink on paper

A Singer With Muscle Tension Dysphonia (MTD)

This is my first blog post as a singing voice rehabilitation specialist.

It is important that I state that I do not work in a clinical setting, but privately, on referral from Speech-Language Pathologists and other Singing Voice Rehabilitation Specialists. This is one case, one approach. For every singer recovering from MTD, there will be different needs, different reasons for the condition, and different exercises.

If you’d like a good article on MTD and solutions, read “Collaboration and Conquest: MTD as Viewed by a Singing Voice Specialist and a SLP,” by  Goffi-Fynn and Carroll. (PubMed) Communicating in a unified medical language is important so that the team of an otolaryngologist, speech-language pathologist and voice teacher can communicate about their patient-student.

However, translating my quick-as-lightening intuition to speaking quantifiable medical language with others is my weak suit and, even after almost 10 years as a SVS, I am constantly trying to learn how to do it. Different parts of the brain are responsible for speech and for language processing. Evidently my Broca’s Area is not as strong as my Wernicke’s….So, what follows is an accurate, but unclinical, account of working with Roz.

Roz is in her late 20’s and has already experienced more than her share of vocal pathology and vocal issues. She holds a BM degree in vocal performance and is a professional chorister with excellent musicianship and a beautiful voice. She loves to sing early Western choral music and was employed at a large cathedral as a soprano in their octet. She is an event photographer as her day job.

She recently left her church job to seek medical help when her voice started skipping pitches. She also was not able to phonate the beginnings of phrases that started with vowels. Then her singing became breathy and cut out at about C-5. Her speaking voice seemed ok but she was afraid that would start to be a problem, too.

Roz’ SLP from John’s Hopkins’ Voice Center forwarded me her diagnosis and history, which included treatment for reflux, pre-nodules, partial paresis of the left vocal fold, vocal fold scarring and a non-vocal surgery. This history had left her ultra-aware of when to seek help.

Right now, the suggested medical protocol for a singer with vocal fold dysfunction is to first see a qualified otolaryngologist who truly understands a singers’ needs. Many otolaryngologists and ENT doctors do not have this sub-specialty, and even those who say they work with singers often are inexperienced or have surgical solutions as the only options to severe pathology. A prized otolaryngologist knows that small changes that might not be important to a non-singer’s voice can make or break a singer’s ability to sing what they want or need to sing.

Then, a speech-language pathologist, usually associated with the voice clinic, sees the patient for voice therapy. Some speech-language pathologists are singing voice specialists, and many are not. (Just like some voice teachers are singing voice specialists and many are not.) I had been teaching singing for about 27 years before I began to move in this direction, and it became a way to turn lemons into lemonade after I was diagnosed with bi-lateral vocal fold paralysis in early 2013. My singing voice specialist is Jeanie Lovetri, founder of Somatic Voicework tm: The Lovetri Method and The Voice Workshop in New York City.

The SLP saw Roz for one session and showed her manual neck massages to begin to unwind her tension responses. I introduced Roz to Vibrant Voice Technique and the use of a vibrator to help make the manual massages more effective. The wise use of a vibrator helps relax muscles that do not belong in the singing process, and allows “the right” muscles to begin to work before strengthening them.  In pathology patients, it is not an instant fix but improvement is seen and felt almost right away.

MTD’s pathology is not life-threatening and can be solved, but is insufficient to explain the degree of dysphonia is causes. There are many reasons why someone can develop this frustrating condition. In Roz’s initial consultation with me, she shared that she had been singing in an abusive situation. She knew that she was reacting to, and recoiling from, the abysmal choral conducting and not-so-subtle emotional abuses of the church organist who was also the choral conductor at the cathedral where she sang.

Singers who have not had an opportunity to learn how to deflect this kind of negativity will have it reflect in their bodies and throats. In her case, over time, her effective vocal technique became unable able to respond to the glorious music, collaboration with other singers and the conductor. She also was stiffening and collapsing muscles in her throat to create the stylized “no vibrato” sound and was anxious because she could not follow the director’s waving and stabbing of his fingers in the air as he played the organ. And she was cowing under his constant criticism of the sopranos, of which she was one of two. While it is possible to sing in the musical style she loves with minimum vibrato, it becomes impossible under this kind of conductor unless you can focus solely on what you need to do and block out everything else that does not serve your goals.

“Learned vocalization for speech and song is developed by auditory input of one’s environment but not in the mammalian system.  In many people these two systems are often disassociated.”  (Christy Ludow, Communication Sciences and Disorders, James Madison University.)  I based all of Roz’s initial vocal exercises on sounds that come from our limbic system. (involuntary sounds made when we have not been severed from the spontaneous expressions of anger, fear, desire, surprise, etc.)

In Roz’s case, her muscles were in hyper-function, but this masked hypo-function. Her voice stopped speaking somewhere along the line so she kept forcing closure in order to get sound, which eventually led to the dysphonia. In this case, the exercises were kept very short, often on whatever pitch came out as opposed to specific pitches, using the syllables “thack” or (thae.) Roz had a great deal of anger and disappointment left over from her experience, so all the exercises were preceded with physical expression of those emotions by punching a pillow for a minute, or punching the air, etc, followed by one sound of emotional expression on that specific syllable.

A week later we removed the “th” and went through a similar procedure. Every single time, she phonated on a vowel when she allowed it to come from her emotional motor system! (limbic part of the brain.)

Pacing of the lesson was important to ensure she didn’t get tired or discouraged and she used the vibrator off and on all through the lessons. After about two lessons she was able to phonate short pitch patterns, moving up and down the scale, stopping for frequent short breaks. She could sing certain vowels over short intervals, which enabled her to really feel her progress.

After 3-4 lessons, the muscles where the tongue meets the hyoid bone and others were sufficiently released that we could add tiny squeaks and squeals to help activate the cryco-thyroid muscles. This had to be done slowly, with her using the vibrator and me manually massaging the back neck muscles to watch for a return to hyper-function of the neck muscles, but she progressed. Then we moved from one tiny squeak down an interval of a third. Then we moved to exercises involving more than one syllable like “ihi-(eehee)-ihi-ihi-ihi” on one pitch or a pattern, coordinating with conscious use of transverse abdominals to get things going.  She had no trouble accessing and isolating various abdominal muscles, which was a testimony to her former technique.

From there we moved to a sustained (i) over short traditional vocalize patterns. When the voice skipped, she’d rest, repeat all the patterns in sequence. and take off again. She is almost ready to move into the standard voice therapy exercises (Stempler, semi-occluded variations, straw bubbling in water, etc.) We absolutely could not start with those.

Slowly her beautiful voice is reemerging, and she realizes she will sing again before the year is out. But now she will look for a choral situation that is what she knows the experience can be!

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The cover art is my contemporary collage “A Vocal Chord.” 🙂 The vocal fold shapes are stacked in bowls, like pitches in a chord! Come on people! If you guys don’t get it, no one will!