Robert Mueller’s Voice and a Perceived “Doddering” in His Testimony

A colleague was recently consulted for Mel Beta, an online commentary and pop culture source, on Robert Mueller’s voice during the recent hearings here in the US.

The article combines a sincere inquiry about the quality of Mueller’s voice and hesitations in his performance, with evidence that often any message not delivered quickly, loudly and confidently is not to be tolerated as “informed.” Hesitation is seen as weak and an opportunity to move in for a kill. The media has gleefully spread this around as “news.”

And it shows that our voices factor hugely in how our verbal messages are heard and understood.

Liz Jackson Hearns‘ work as a voice teacher whose speciality is transgender voices, makes her a natural to speak on “Why a nervous voice happens.” She also said that people who aren’t used to being on camera may not have the delivery skills for that medium. It has nothing to do with their manner of working, intelligence or skill. Thank goodness, Liz was interviewed for this!

The Mel Beta article also interviewed Steven Camarata, an SLP and professor at Vanderbilt University, who said that Mueller is just a breathy talker.

My opinion is that Mueller’s voice issues may be partially due to Liz’s observations, but also reflect what can happen to an aging voice: Presbyphonia, or vocal fold atrophy and bowing, is common in those of Mueller’s age.

Voice changes due to vocal cord atrophy are common in people over the age of 60 years. The most common symptoms include:

  • Reduced vocal volume
  • Higher pitched voice
  • Breathy, “thin” sound
  • Increased speaking effort
  • Vocal fatigue
  • Difficulty communicating with friends and family (especially with noise in the background or on the telephone)

This is why Mueller’s voice may have been perceived as breathy by Camarata, but it is also why his breath usage is “off.” If the vocal folds are not able to come together, natural robust support will falter and the speaker has to make more effort to speak, which is very fatiguing on all levels.

Targeted vocal function exercises done with recommended pacing do help aging voices. And just for the record, there are much younger speakers and singers who are diagnosed with this condition early in their lives. And it has nothing to do with poor technique or vocal abuse.

Also, if brain function as we age contributes to any of Mueller’s perceived “doddering,” ‘white matter’ can change in the elderly. ‘White matter’ is brain tissue composed of nerve fibers that connect nerve cells.This correlates with the speed of their mental processing.

The speed in mental processing is what is perceived as doddering. But it has nothing to do with ‘failing’ as a leader or expert.

“America champions the loud and the garish” –Wynton Marsalis

The Alchemy of Teaching Singing

Singing Voice Rehabilitation

Cate’s Collegial Consults

Vocal Conditioning

Singing Through Change: Who We are Writing For

If menopause symptoms were due solely to hormonal changes then the menopausal experience would be more homogenous.

In “Singing Through Change: Women’s Voices in Midlife, Menopause and Beyond, Nancy Bos, Joanne Bozeman and I are writing for a wide variety of singers who:

–Have sung all their lives but don’t understand that singing through the lifespan is like being active in sports. You need to tend things along the way or you can’t play.

Don’t know much about their bodies or biological cycles other than what they hear in media or what their doctors tell them.

–Work with singers through midlife and aging: coaches, teachers, performers, choral conductors, music directors and medical personal.

–Are colleagues, students and medical professionals. We are writing the book we wish we’d had as we moved through our changes.

A very T-A-L-L order? Yes.

That’s why there are three of us writing in collaboration. We are really excited about the very unique way of co-authoring we’ve created! It takes longer than if we each write a chapter, but it’ll be worth it!

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Singing and Teaching From an Undivided Self

We have more academically-educated singers and voice teachers now than at any time in the history of vocal expression, and dare I say it? Very little teaching from an Undivided Self, which means very little useful and true wisdom.

Learning to get to this place this requires TIME.

It’s a sort of alchemical process to find personal, musical and pedagogical ah ha’s! amid the deafening noise of information, data, and a cult of personality. These things don’t work well with singing. Because singing is about first finding silence of stillness and then becoming a channel for bio-electric energy, all human expression and divine connection.

I think many teachers ‘head’ know this–but they don’t FEEL it or EMBODY it.

There is a crying need for a 1:1 Experiential Learning Program outside of academia to allow teachers and singers the time they need to create this alchemical process. To learn to teach WHO they ARE as well as WHAT they KNOW.

I’ve put together what may be the first program of its kind, “The Alchemy of Teaching Singing,” to fill a hole in the Continuing Education of Singing Teachers.

We’ll work with practical and useful steps towards integrating your singing, passions, pedagogical foundations, teaching interests and needs to create your undivided Self.

I’ll also help you honor every facet of your life experience, which creates a space of immense coherence and strength to hold student, learning, and your Self.

THAT’s where the magic happens.

Special thanks to Palmer Parker and his brilliant book “The Courage to Teach.”

Evidence-Based Vocal Pedagogy and Other Mystifications, Part II

If you haven’t read Part I, head over for a quick read.

My husband is an Instructional Designer. We have long, sexy talks about Andragogy, which is the art and science of teaching Adult Learners. In his field, (and many others) Pedagogy means the art and science of teaching children.

These conversations have got my WHEELS TURNING and I am thinking that “Evidence-Based Vocal Pedagogy,” when working with adult singers, would be enhanced by using a few principles from Evidence-based Adult Learning.

So If you work with adult singers or voice teachers, here’s a short quiz to find out if your teaching might be more effective with a few of these basic principles of Adult Learning. (and maybe you already do this–BRAVA if that is the case.)

I. Adults learn better when the instruction they receive is tailored to their learning styles (e.g, Visual, Aural, and Kinesthetic)

DRAMATIC PAUSE

The answer, according to Evidence-Based Adult Learning is, no. Most of us were taught otherwise. But here are some interesting articles that explain more:

Debunking Learning Myths

The Atlantic “Are Learning Styles” Real?

II. The more you give your students, the more they will learn.

TAKES A SIP OF TEA

Once again, the answer is no. A colleague asked what is meant by “the more you give.” In this case, they are referring to the amount of information or ideas presented in one training session, whether that is one class or 10 classes, or in a private lesson or coaching.

To get how this might apply to both private lessons for adults and courses, here are three sources to jump start your thinking:

Compulsory Teaching, by Dr. Shannon Coates

Shut Up and Let the Student Sing, by Cate Frazier-Neely

Giving Students ‘Think Time

III. Making mistakes is useful for learning

STARES OUT WINDOW AT DAFFODILS

Here, the answer is yes. The enemy of learning, creativity and authentic vocal expression is Perfectionism.

There’s a fine line between expecting a student’s best and demanding perfection.

However, my colleague, Jennifer Cooper, says that in teaching adult singers, making repeated mistakes at the fundamental level (pitches, rhythmic accuracy etc.) can create a reinforcement of inaccuracy (i.e. once that pitch is learned “wrong”, it takes dozens of accurate repetitions to correct it).

And I would add that the educating the ear and physical coordination, to make music, is harder as an adult that it is for a child–just like languages and sports. Making mistakes is only useful for people who do the work of learning from them.

The Secret of Creativity: Make Mistakes

IV. Students who express satisfaction with a training course are more likely to have learned more than students who say they were dissatisfied with the training course.

WATCHES CAT LICKING HIS PRIVATES

This one may surprise you. The answer here is no, too!

Expressing satisfaction with a teacher or training course may not be the same as learning what is being taught by the teacher or in that training program. The five-star, ‘rate your professor’ nonsense that has taken root does not measure anything accurately or well. I have seen amazing teachers given one star because the student thought the homework was too hard, and charismatic teachers given 5 stars because they acted like buddies with their students. Expressing satisfaction, or no satisfaction, has little to do with what has been learned in many cases. To read more:

Alliger, G.M. Tannenbaum, Bennett, Traver, & Shotland (1997) A meta-analysis of the relations among training criteria. Personnel Psychology, 50(2), 341-358

Sitzmann, T, Brown, Casper, Ely and Zimmerman (2008) a review and meta-analysis of the nomological network of trainee reactions, Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 280-295

Please share your thoughts on this series! I am preparing the infrastructure for a new voice teacher mentoring course and could use your reactions to these posts.

Evidence-Based Vocal Pedagogy and Other Mystifications Part I

I’m developing a 5-month digestible program for singing teachers who haven’t had the opportunity to develop a hands-on understanding of what “evidence-based” teaching of singing means in the 21st century.

Dr. Kari Ragan has written her thoughts on this topic in a Journal of Singing article. You do have to be a NATS member to access it on line. However, you can always contact Kari, tell her you are interested in her work, and ask if she will forward you her article.

I’ve been able to work privately with many masters-in-pedagogy and performance graduates, in classical, jazz and contemporary genres, after they graduate with their degrees. I’m seeing a strange trend that has developed over the past 10-15 years, of voice teachers not understanding what to do with the information they have learned. They aren’t sure how to make it useful or fit it in with their world of experience. So the next summer, they go to another pedagogy intensive, hoping to learn what they still do not understand.

There are many fine voice pedagogues who teach in useful ways, and are able to distinguish between voice science, vocal pedagogy, what is true and what is useful. But if you want to be the best teacher you can be, and are not in their programs, how to you begin to make the same distinctions?

That’s what my program is for. I am collaborating with Dr. Patrick L’Espoir Decosta (Australian National University School of Business) to lay the infrastructure for the course.

In Part II I give you a little quiz on what you might think “evidence-based” means in the field of Adult Learning. Especially interesting if you teach adults!

Menopause and Singing: Shifting the Conversation

As some of you know, I am co-authoring a book with Nancy Bos and Joanne Hayes Bozeman on the topic of women singing through midlife biological changes and menopause.

Research has been pretty fascinating and we are digging into areas not usually associated with The Change. (ooooo, suspense!) Our interviews include 52 female singers during 1) various stages of peri-menopause and menopause, 2) a large variety of genres and musical styles 3) many skill levels and cultural experiences.

We are speaking with colleagues and experts in a wide variety of disciplines and will reference many top-notch resources. We are grateful for those who’ve researched and written about hormonal effects on the female singing voice.

But the REAL experts are the women themselves. Their stories, their solutions, their journeys: sometimes easy and breezing on through, some devastatingly difficult.

Statistics are important but their purpose is not to reveal how individual the mid-life journey is for EACH woman. Data can be used to influence public health policy and obtaining grants for important research. Stories save individuals and pass on wisdom not found in data.

Both are needed!

Western medical science & academic learning must become equal partners with honed intuition, and listening to the Wisdom of the Body to create health, wellness and experience singing in new ways.

This is an “angle” of our book. We are writing for singers and teachers who may not have access to the information that has been gathered over the past 30 years. We are also writing for women who are willing to do the work of rebirthing themselves during these years and need extra support.

I’ll report on our progress so join me here for peeks and perks!

Index of my previous articles

Vocal Warm Ups to Enchant Your Singing

I was inspired to write this blog post by Nikki Loney, a Canadian vocal music educator who runs a popular vocal music education podcast called The Full Voice. She has a three-part series called “Warm Ups from Around the World.”

The warm-ups Nikki includes are suitable for many ages and stages of singers. Part of her mission is to help singers & teachers understand the reasons for the vocal exercises they use, and sing them in a spirit of fun and exploration. While the exercises may be familiar to more experienced teachers, I was thrilled to hear the guest artist/teachers’ explanations for WHY you are using them and HOW to do them.

This matters much more than the actual exercises themselves! So consider heading over to her series and listen.

In the meantime, here’s three vocal warm-ups from CateFNStudios that I use.

I.  Pick a short musical phrase from the music that your student or group is singing. Choose one that can be moved up and down the chromatic scale easily. Limit them one or two measures at the most.

Here’s an example for developing voices of any age or stage: a passage from the end of Linda Ronstadt’s recording of Ray Orbison’s “Blue Bayou.”

Use “Blue—Bay—-Ou—-“

Works for women and men. Roy Orbison recorded it first, but he ends on the upper tonic, not the displaced third. If you aren’t sure what that means, listen to them both. You’ll hear the difference without needing to know the theory.

This helps coordinate chest to head registration smoothly in all styles of music, perhaps after registration work has taken root. It easily syncs with most functional vocal pedagogy models out there that use other names for those registrations/qualities.

It can also help with teaching relationships between intervals and with coordinating sustained singing. You can also use it as a “Messa di Voce” exercise.

Plus you get to introduce young people to Ronstadt and Orbison if they look at you with a blank stare….

For choristers, any pattern that has slow, sustained passages has the benefit of the kind of choral tuning that American choral conductor Robert Shaw used. Church choir directors can’t usually take the time needed for this way of working, but it can be incorporated into 2 minutes with one short passage as part of your choir’s warm-up. Over time this will develop stamina, mental focus, and group bonding.

II. For vocal flexibility and ear training for world music, Indie artists or jazz singers–have them warm up on arpeggiated patterns that are not the traditional major scale 1-3-5-8-5-3-1 pattern.

Eventually move to other arpeggiated blues or harmonic patterns using syllables they choose. Try to guide them to “ahs and ays” on the lower notes and “ees, oos or ohs” on the higher pitches. Scat singers will use their patterns or you can suggest something like “doo-bway-doo,” etc.

PS. I make classical singers do this, too, to wake up their ears.

I recognize that not all singers and teachers can play this warm up in different keys on a keyboard. You can adapt this idea for you and your students in any way that serves them.

III. This general idea is for singers who know their music well and are far enough along that it makes sense to them:

I coached privately many years ago with the late Randolph Maulden, of The Washington Opera. Obviously I warmed up before coachings, but then he often had me sing phrases from whatever I was working on, starting 4 1/2 steps down from its key, and going up two more 1/2 steps beyond the highest note and back down. I experienced this as a real work out. This gave me a chance to move through all the registration minutia, and solidified where high notes in the right key actually existed in my throat, body and psyche (as a whole singer.) This idea also can be adapted, so open to your creativity!

Once you know the HOW and the WHY for a warm-up or exercise, you can always adapt it to be the most useful!

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