“Higher Education” Without a Terminal Academic Degree

A former student who just completed her graduate degree in Vocal Pedagogy returned to resume our work together.

She asked how I developed the combination of vocal pedagogy and somatic education she experiences in her lessons. Her words: “nobody teaches singing like this.” So her prompt gave me the idea for this post.

SO HERE’S A “SHORT” ANSWER

What did the founders of Alexander Technique, The Feldenkrais Method and other somatic education, and vocal pedagogy innovators, have in common?

They used themselves  as primary subjects.

Alexander was an actor who lost his voice. Feldenkrais was an engineer with a black belt in judo and chronic knee pain due to an injury. Ida Rolf,  founder of Rolfing Integrative Technique, was a biochemist who needed solutions to her own health problems and the health issues of her two sons.

Many of the current popular CCM/popular singing pedagogies were developed by people who couldn’t get what they needed as singers from classical teachers, so they set out to build credible research and formulate methods which have ended up serving countless others.

Each of these people had the ability to draw connections among many observations and intuitions. They discoursed with open-minded colleagues and scientists.  They studied the human body and psyche with unusual depth.

TODAY, FUNCTIONAL VOCAL PEDAGOGY & SOMATIC EDUCATION…

… are partnering for freer and stronger performance and life styles.

Finding a voice teacher who combines them both well, and regularly, in their teaching is still rare.  However, this has been done for at least two generations now, and is getting more traction.

MOVING IT ALL FORWARD

So this is my ‘shtick’: I learned how to do this, not through any degreed program, not through certifications or teacher training, not through modeling other pedagogues, but, like those listed above, using myself as the primary subject.

Believe me, it was only out of sheer desperation and necessity.

SO, HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

Yoga was not really a “thing” in the US in 1980, when I was 24 and had just finished a 2- year grad program in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy.

Yoga, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais and other methods were not yet in the awareness of  voice teachers, international performers or performing arts’ education systems in the US.

Graduate programs in vocal pedagogy programs were still rare. My program required singers to do both–about 1/3 pedagogy and 2/3 performance. I had to do a graduate recital, pass a 6 hour exam on general music, IPA and vocal anatomy and write a paper on an historical vocal pedagogue of our choice. I chose Cornelius Reid.

And remember-no Internet. If you wanted information you had to get dressed and go somewhere to dig deep. Using technology meant having an electric typewriter and hand-held calculator, although the first computers, which took up a small room, were being used in colleges.

About age 23, I began experiencing the symptoms of IBS, and anxiety disorder roared through my body. The American Psychiatric Society did not recognize Anxiety Disorder until 1980!

The many doctors I consulted over the next 5 years were condescending and dismissive, and gave me high doses of valium with instructions to “stop being hysterical.” My uber-sensitive system could take one-half of a dose of valium, which enabled me to sit in a corner and drool, and still have the symptoms without being able to move.

I also had many invasive tests administered by sadists that did not bring up anything definitive other than health bills because I didn’t have insurance right then.

There were few alternative health care clinics and no naturopaths. Information about alternative solutions was difficult to find. However, I continued to perform and study singing privately a great deal, and made a name for myself in my 20’s and early 30’s in the niche market of contemporary classical music and chamber opera. I also was teaching over 20 hours a week privately & at the college level, as well as developing courses. Remember, pre Instant Information via Internet.

But then I began missing work due to my symptoms and pain..

I asked for Divine guidance and, while I don’t remember how, was led to a beginning yoga glass taught by a woman in my neighborhood. I took her class in yoga and meditation every week for two years. It gave me practical and grounding tools to manage whatever this awful “thing” was.  I started drawing connections between yoga and singing and adapting poses to teach singing without realizing what I was doing.

I read biographies of famous singers and was influenced by Robert Merrill’s struggle with allergies, diet and singing. (American operatic baritone, 1917-2004.) He ended up living on fish and vegetables in order to be able to sing. So I experimented with diet to see what seemed to trigger symptoms. I constantly drew connections between yoga, diet and the physical act of singing. Back then, no voice teacher talked about diet and life style changes. I offered suggestions to students who usually then searched for their own solutions and made rapid  improvements in their own health.

I was on “tour” in my late 20’s, off and on for two years: Out on the road for 3-5 days then back home again for a few weeks, out and back. I added light weights to my routine and bought a book by Jane Fonda to learn how to use them. She also had an exercise book that included relaxation techniques. Once again, I adapted for teaching.

At the time, nobody in vocal pedagogy and voice science organizations discussed the interconnectedness of all things and how one will affect the other.  This is still true to a large degree.

Over the years, my health took a sinister turn and chronic patterns of surgery and illness became intrenched. I tenaciously looked for and found help for physical and emotional recovery in many out-of-the-mainstream ways.

My husband and I committed financially to my working yearly with 2-4 body workers, somatic educators, chiropractors and alternative medicine practitioners.  One extraordinary medical doctor saved my life and the lives of our children.

But honestly, most of the rest of my experience with western medicine has been quite awful. Botched surgeries, even with “the best surgeons,” resulted in complications that almost killed me, both almost taking me from our children. I refused to be taken from them.

Before the Internet developed advanced search engines, I combed magazines, libraries and bookstores for resources. My favorite early resource was “Maggie’s Women’s Book,” which you can still find on Amazon. She had exercises for post C-sections and pelvic/abdomen health which were revolutionary at the time.

I worked with a yogini privately for five years, an Andover Educator (“Body Mapping”) who was a colleague, and received Therapeutic Massage, Chiropractic, Acupuncture and Rolfing. Certainly not all at once but spread out over the years. All before the year 2000.

At a party I talked with a hip surgeon and asked him if scar tissue created its own kind of problems. He did a rare thing, perhaps because we were at a  reunion and he was into cocktail hour. He admitted that scar tissue often created more problems than the reason for the surgery. BINGO! So I began researching and tried to find someone who could somehow break up the scar tissue in my abdomen. I worked with several massage therapists and an alternative osteopath who used infrared light and facial release. (I avoided bee venom injections because that sounded crazy.)

All this was necessary to allow me to function passionately and with purpose as a parent, partner, teacher, singer and instrumentalist.

I studied detailed anatomy of the body, not just the larynx or how the vocal folds work. Over a 30 year period I kept studying singing with 3 fantastic functional voice teachers while I attended, as well as taught, master classes, workshops and events.

With each thing I attended and observed, I became more convinced of the connections between truly effective vocal pedagogy and somatic education principles.

I became certified in Somatic VoiceWork tm: The Lovetri Method, because Lovetri’s manner and functional methodology closely follows the principles of somatic reeducation–the connection of the body, mind and psyche– at its best.

There was a 6 year period in my late-30’s/early 40’s where I received talk therapy and was on anti-depressent, anti-anxiety and ADD medications all at once. They enabled me to function in the day-to-day, but absolutely killed my passion and creativity. They caused massive weight gain and just masked endocrine and emotional issues caused by endocrine dysfunction that needed to be healed. The 4 endocrinologists I saw were useless.

I relearned how effective visualizing is a gift of the neuroplasticity of the brain.  Of course, as a singer and instrumentalist, I had been doing this unconsciously my whole life, but with Tai Chi, Tribal Belly Dance, Alexander Technique and pilates classes over a 20 year period, I became a beginner again. It was astonishing! With each surgery and surgical complication, with an immune system disorder due to the MTHFR double gene, I had to find ways to “come back.”

I worked with Suzan Postel, who is a most brilliant somatic educator. She was a dancer and singer on Broadway, playing Tuptim in “The King and I,” opposite Rudolf Nureyev as The King. She got into this type of education due to her own injuries and is a master of explaining what we do and why.

AND IF THAT WEREN’T ENOUGH–TRAUMA CAN OPEN and STRENGTHEN INTUITIVE PATHWAYS WITH PERSONAL INTENTION FOR GOOD

No reasonable vocal pedagogue would admit this, but hey, clearly my path has not been “reasonable.” I have visions…always have.

One day I was writing down what I had learned about pelvic stability & respiration, and suddenly I had a ‘vision’ of an elephant waving its trunk at me, balancing easily on a tiny ball with all four huge feet.

I sat quietly for a moment. Then I reread an article sitting on my desk on the psoas muscles being the emotional core of the body.  BAM! The “psoas” are the STABILIZERS OF THE TRUNK–hahahah! Repeated emotional and physical trauma will cause them to freeze and shorten.

And there I went, down the rabbit hole of psoas muscle research (found Liz Koch’s work) and finding body workers who could work on this with me and explain what they were doing and why. One tell-tale sign that the psoas is dysfunctional is walking with the feet splayed outward, which, at the time, I did. And the relationship to the function of the diaphragm is amazing.

I also honed those intuitive skills by working with disciplined spiritual practices to make sure I was truly reading a student’s energy clearly. I have three posts on “Clairsentience as a Teaching Tool” on this blog.

MOST RECENTLY...

Over the past 5 years I’ve delved into neurological health after being diagnosed with bi-lateral vocal fold paralysis from “unknown neurological dysfunction.” (the vocal folds are pristine.)

Only 5 years ago, most otolaryngologists and speech language pathologists new very little about singing voice dysfunction. The field has exploded in the past five years, and there are more skilled people who can help. But five years ago, 2 otolaryngologists and 2 speech-language pathologists that I saw were 2 thumbs down.

There I went again, searching for my own solutions out of desperation. This time I added salt baths and cranial sacral techniques, herbs, veganism, created a reduced work load at a higher pay rate, committed to psycho-spiritual counseling, and read up on vagus nerve stimulation. This lead to Poly-Vagal Theory.

I worked with Jeanie Lovetri in her role as singing voice rehabilitation specialist. After 5 years I am singing functionally again, but certainly not optimally. This means that getting through a simple song is difficult, and if I don’t do my exercises and meditations, the voice goes again.

I never gave up. Sometimes your weakness becomes your greatest strength.

I’m finished living like this though. I am going to learn through wellness now.

None of this learning resulted in an extra couple of academic degrees because you can’t earn degrees in this kind of stuff.

Sometimes the Highest Education comes out of how you’ve lived your life.

*************************************************************************************

Check out my case studies on Functional Training, Somatic Education and Singing Voice Rehab HERE.

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6 Comments

  1. Fascinating blog post! I can empathize with your journey. I haven’t had so many of the health issues that you have had but I HAVE had some. I’ve been teaching and performing professionally since I finished grad school in 1991.

    I received a degree in vocal performance because I couldn’t find a vocal pedagogy program during the late 80’s. Of course, I was trained classically but all the gigs I’ve had have been in musical theatre and on cruise ships and theme parks singing pop/rock/country/jazz etc. I’ve had nodes, two vocal hemorrhages, and as of April, a vocal polyp caused by MTD. Honestly, I’m not an awful singer although one might think so from this list! LOL. It’s just that I was taught how to sing Mozart and Debussy and that technique didn’t always serve me in my contemporary gigs. However, with each new malady, I learn something about my voice. I was a full time performer from 1999 – 2009. I had to heal myself when working in a foreign country or when on ship contracts and had to teach myself how to sing these styles of music by learning the hard way how NOT to do it as no speech therapists, CCM teachers, or doctors were available to me. It was a long journey to say the least. Imagine my joy to discover when I came back to teaching about 8 years ago all the wonderful new science and research in CCM singing AND the increasing acceptance of the genre! I discovered many techniques on my own (out of necessity) and when they were presented to me at various workshops, I understood immediately as I had lived it and made similar discoveries along the way.

    At this point in my career, I’ve settled more into teaching (I still perform, though not 8 shows a week anymore) and I can honestly say that this polyp might be one of the best things to happen to me. I’m currently treating the polyp with speech therapy, physical therapy, massage therapy, yoga, the acid watcher diet, and dry needling. I’ve learned SO much in the past month and I’ve been able to pass on this knowledge to my students. They have grown exponentially in this time. I can honestly say I am grateful. I’m looking forward to what else I will learn along the way.

    I am also very intrigued by my situation. I see photos of the polyp and can’t imagine how I can still sing…and yet I can. How is that even possible? I doubt the many teachers would be able to ascertain the presence of a polyp and in fact, my only clue was at the end of a long teaching day when my voice would tire and start cutting out. I’ve been open with my students about my situation and they are learning a lot through me and this experience and I am happy I can use my new found knowledge to help them create a solid vocal hygiene program as well as teach them solid technique.

    I am happy to say that I’m gigging after taking 6 weeks off, my speaking voice no longer tires when talking, and my singing voice feels stronger than it has in years…even with the polyp…thanks to my SLP, PT, yoga teacher, and massage therapist. However, now I focus on my WHOLE body when moving through daily life and of course, each time I sing. The ENT said he will re-examine me in August and at that time I can decide to opt for surgery or just live with my situation. I’m not sold on the idea of surgery yet since I’m currently able to do everything I want to do. I guess we’ll see in August.

    I recently got hired as an adjunct at a nearby college to teach musical theatre voice. What they liked most about my resume was the “real world” experience. Oh yeah, we’ve got this!

    Like

  2. Love this post, Cate. Thank you for sharing your story. I met you at the Westminster Summer Pedagogy Institute back in 2016 (?) and hope to cross paths with you again.

    Amanda Chmela
    Rider University, School of Fine and Performing Arts
    Adjunct Instructor, Applied Voice
    Long Island University, C.W. Post, Adjunct Professor, Applied Voice
    http://www.amandachmela.com
    631-275-8315

    http://www.LongIslandVoiceLessons.com
    longislandvoicelessons@gmail.com

    Like

    1. omgosh, Amanda, thank you for reminding me! I always had this nagging thing in the back of my head that we had met and I couldn’t remember when or where. (2015) You are an incredible teacher and musician–putting it together now! And thanks for reading, too.

      Like

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