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

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.