Joshua was a 46-year old tenor with a lovely singing voice and a great deal of responsibilities both at work and to his family. He had three children under the age of 13, a wife managing her chronic medical condition, and he worked full-time in a demanding corporate job. It is amazing to me that he made time for voice lessons consistently since his wife bought him a few lessons for his 40th birthday, 6 years ago!
Josh studied singing in college, could follow written music, and performed in musical theater for many years. At the time we started lessons he was singing in his synagogue choir and occasionally soloing as a lay cantor. He wanted to eventually return to singing musical theater in community productions. He figured if he could keep at it, he wouldn’t be rusty when he retired.
He had a physical history of severe sinus and throat issues, including terrible allergies and multiple procedures to remove nasal polyps.
Josh had little time or head space to practice. While he enjoyed our journeying through functional vocal development, he had little interest in really changing the way he sang. Progress was exceptionally slow but I always allowed time at the end of every lesson for him to sing through a song or two, with my accompanying at the piano so he could enjoy music-making.
Just when I was going to release him from my studio because he really didn’t want to change, he had an epiphany. He began understand that he couldn’t just launch into a major aria or show tune because he wanted to, and he started to discern what would bring him satisfaction with the progress he’d made.
Joshua also began to also understand the relationships among his singing, sinus and throat issues and the merciless way he drove himself through life to accomplish what he wanted and needed to do.
Up until this “epiphany,” the physical releases and different vocal sensations created by our work together couldn’t take root for this reason:
He equated the pressure in his throat with the pressure he needed to keep going with his responsibilities as as father, husband and bread winner. To let go of some habitual muscles responses to create freer singing responses felt, to him, like letting go of what he needed to”have” to push through life.
Personal Ego identifications often shift during voice training based on motor learning change, as opposed to a more band-aid approach of completing a motor task. And this ego change can be threatening to many singers.
Yet he did understand that his singing needed to be easier. We began changing his diet through working with a nutritionist and found a medical practice for his sinus issues that had a holistic approach. He also found a better ENT for his sinus flair ups and changed some of the chemical cleaners in his home to less toxic alternatives.
Slowly he opened to to the idea allowing somatic experiencing. Somatic education is largely guided by a practitioner or teacher such as myself who has trained her/his high “somatic empathy” senses to serve others as a precursor, or partner, to functional vocal pedagogy. I am not the only person doing this in voice lessons, with groups of singers and with singing rehab patients, but it is still a rare combination to find in one teacher.
I also got Josh into regular therapeutic massage. He started working with an integrative health specialist on adrenal fatigue, which effects hormonal balance, which frankly, made all the difference in the world in his ability to make faster vocal progress. Then the somatic experiencing started to make more sense to him as he started to feel different physically.
Josh studied with me regularly–every other week–for over 6 years before the air flow pattern and patterns of muscle dysfunction were transformed to consistent freer singing. But kudos to him for not giving up when most people would have because of family and work, and kudos to me for having the patience of the Biblical Job!
Josh continues to sing as a lay cantor in his synagogue and now enjoys singing musical theater repertoire from the Golden Age standards as well as Disney film musicals like Hercules.
If you teach voice primarily in academic music programs, or even work mostly with children and teenagers, chances are good that you don’t see students like Josh in your studio. As people age, their belief systems and health patterns become “fixed,” unless they are tenacious about learning to change and grow. And this requires a huge leap of faith–those “fixed” ideas were originally developed to help a person survive in their environment. This is obviously complicated by the number of responsibilities one has, cultural and religious attitudes, personal expectations and mental & physical health.
All we want to do is sing and enjoy our singing! But the ability to do so is very tied to every facet of our being. Singing is part of living well–everyone needs some movement, some exercise, some beauty and the support of others to connect body to soul, the stuff of a well-lived life!
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Click here to read “Beliefs That Hinder Singing, Part I.”