A former student who just finished her graduate degree in Vocal Pedagogy returned to resume our work together.
She asked me 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, as well as 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) 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 and studied the human body and psyche with unusual depth.
TODAY, FUNCTIONAL VOCAL PEDAGOGY & SOMATIC EDUCATION…
… are partnering for freer and stronger performance, practice and life styles.
However, finding a voice teacher who combines them both well, and regularly, in their teaching is still rare.
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 born of 3 things: 1) my innate tenacity and refusal to have my pilot light snuffed out due to a long and quite severe health history, and 2) my ability to make useful connections among bits of experiences and information and 3) my desire to use the experiences to help others.
SO, HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
When I was 24 and had just finished a 2- year grad program in vocal performance, few practiced yoga in the United States.
Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais and other methods were not yet in the awareness of most voice teachers, international performers or performing arts’ education systems in the US.
Graduate vocal pedagogy programs were still rare.
And remember-no Internet. If you wanted information you had to dig very deep for a long time. 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.
In about 1979, around age 23, I began exhibiting symptoms of IBS and anxiety disorder. 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 and 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, no naturopaths and information about alternative solutions was difficult to find. However, I continued to perform 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 and as a college adjunct, as well as developing and teaching courses every semester.
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 young woman in my neighborhood. She was excellent, and 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.
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 surgeons and 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.
With each modality I connected what I experienced to singing and vocal pedagogy. 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 more impatient with how I saw voice being taught by college and university teachers.
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–part of the neuroplasticity of the brain and sensory-motor processing 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.
TRAUMA CAN OPEN and STRENGTHEN INTUITIVE PATHWAYS WITH PERSONAL INTENTION FOR GOOD
I have “visions.” No reasonable vocal pedagogue admits this, but hey, clearly my path has not been “reasonable.”
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 know better than to ignore these things so 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.
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.)
And, oh goodie, started up with a different set of debilitating symptoms.
So I spent a year seeing every kind of “-ologist” there is. They found nothing wrong, although it was reported that the symptoms I was suffering from were not uncommon in women of all ages.
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. I realized I was tolerating abusive situations and relationships, including the relationship I had with myself, and worked to get out from these habits. I worked one-on-one with Lovetri in her role as singing voice rehab specialist, all of which made me functional again over a 5 year period.
I never gave up. Sometimes your weakness becomes your greatest strength.
I’m done living like this though. I am going to learn through wellness now. Enough is enough is enough.
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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