A Singer Diagnosed with Bi-Lateral Vocal Fold Paresis

It’s time to SHATTER the imbedded pedagogical view that “singing with the wrong vocal technique” causes vocal fold injury. That is true in many cases, but in equally as many cases it is not.

Please listen to my interview on the VocalFri podcast. We get into cool stuff every singer and voice teacher needs to hear.

Thanks for your precious attention and time!

Changing Your Story: Private Lesson Fees, Part I

Most private music teachers will price their one to one lessons based on the average cost of lessons in their city or town. While this may be a good place to start, it is something that is in your best interest and the best interests of our communities to outgrow.

I am sharing this post, verbatim, from Cara Transtrom, an Independent private voice studio owner. We met through The SpeakEasy Cooperative founded by Michelle Markwart Deveaux.

Raising rates doesn’t work when you randomly decide to do so without doing the work of understanding yourself, your abilities, your path, your passions, and how that LEADS to rate raises.

Cara’s Words

“Colleagues, I want to share a thought about pricing that has helped me over this last year or two. As is true of many of us, I’m sure, the prices I need to charge for my services in my particular region of the U.S. means that I could never have afforded me (nor could my family) in my growing-up years, college years, or grad-school years.

As you can imagine, I’ve had mixed feelings about this.

So it has often been a struggle to continue to define what it means to take care of myself and my family financially while also fulfilling the passion I have for seeing that vocal education is accessible to those whose limited family resources don’t permit it.

These two things often appear to be in conflict, even though both realities are fully, 100% true simultaneously.

So over the last few years, I’ve been thinking hard about pricing as social justice. I kid you not: if we (mostly female) voice teachers continue to price our services at hobby rates, we help to ensure that the next generation of voice teachers will largely be privileged women who are partnered with someone who can pay all their bills.

So a choice to charge “hobby” rates (which will differ significantly from area to area within the United States, let alone internationally) is actually a choice that will eliminate the following folks from the next generation of voice teachers: large swaths of people of color, first-generation immigrants, some segments of the LGBTQIA+ communities, socio-economically-disenfranchised folks, and others who do not have the luxury of being entirely or almost-entirely supported by family wealth or by a wealthy partner. ”

Cate’s Comment

This may seem like a slap-in-the-face comment to those who keep their rates low to serve a certain demographic. But consider how this can affect anyone who wants to go on in the arts or arts’ education work. They need to work with someone who models both charging a livable wage AND passing it forward to those who can not afford them. After all, your wage has to allow for the on-going bare minimum expenses of self-employment taxes, business expenses, practice and research time and continuing education for the teacher. Otherwise, it is a hobby and you are undercutting those who don’t have a partner who supports them financially.

Cara’s Words

“My choice to charge rates that allow for a basic standard of human needs for me and my family being met, is a choice to help ensure economic justice for the next generation of voice teachers, artists, and teaching artists.

Grit, determination, passion, insatiable curiosity, talent, artistry, creativity, and a relentless desire to grow IS NOT LIMITED only to those with enough privilege to pay for the development of these things: it is instead our human birthright.

I cannot individually change all the world’s economic systems of (in)justice, but I CAN see that the legacy I leave behind for the next generation seeks to ensure that they will have a living wage as artists, teaching artists, or teachers.

We often speak within The Speakeasy Cooperative of pricing for generosity, (pricing in a way that allows us to quietly offer lessons and other services to certain clients in need on a sliding scale different from our published or “usual” rates).

But do we often stop to think of the fact that the way in which we price our services MAY BE ONE OF THE MOST POTENT, EFFECTIVE, AND VALUABLE WAYS THAT WE INSIST UPON ECONOMIC, RACIAL, AND CULTURAL JUSTICE in the communities, countries, and the globe in which we live?

We can and we do touch & change the hearts and minds of people with our performances and our teaching: this we take for granted.

But let’s also embrace the reality that we can and we will change the economic (in)justice that surrounds artists and teaching artists of almost every culture by the ripple effects of our own pricing and money-value choices.

Michelle Markwart Deveaux’s words:

Income + Intention + Impact = BeastyBoss. 

Our money does MORE than help us. 
Our rates are about impact in the world. 

Greed is an insatiable, excessive, selfish craving for more more more. (Jen Sincero) 

Let’s not confuse Greed and Money.

Comments? Thoughts?

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!

Sign up for our mailing list to receive regular publication updates & fun peeks

or

Join us on our Facebook Group Page for insights, information and some great conversations.

or Follow us on Instagram if you are off of Facebook. You’ll need to download the Instagram app to your phone, create an account, and then just look for “Singing Through Change” and Follow.

Practice while Standing on One Leg

Ian Anderson, lead singer of Jethro Tull

Did you know you can improve your rhythm AND your singing….while balancing on one leg?

Wha?????

To find out some of WHYS and HOWS, watch my guest appearance on Adam Neely’s fantastic Youtube Channel.

Please pardon the bad haircut. My beloved hairdresser is out on maternity leave and, well, you know…

Excess Saliva While Singing, Part I, Vocal Masterclass #10

Recently I worked with three singers who experience excessive saliva while they sing. They need to constantly stop to swallow and regroup before resuming phonation. Getting to the bottom of the issue was different for each one! What a puzzle.

In this first of a 2-part “Saliva Series,” I’ll describe one possible reason and my solutions/recommendations solutions for one singer. The next post will be on another reason and possible solution.

“Steven” is a bass with a church job who also sings with an established men’s a cappella ensemble with the name “The Suspicious Cheese Lords.” This organization is paying for each singer to have a private lesson with either Elizabeth Daniels or myself, as we have been their ensemble’s vocal clinicians for the past 7 years. When Steven came in, I asked him to tell me what he wanted to work on and he mentioned the saliva issue, among other things.

We were able to help his excess-saliva-and-need-to-swallow-a-great-deal issue in one session.

Reason #1: Saliva as drainage can be a head/neck alignment issue.

The overlying principles used in our session together were:

Observation, Somatic Empathy, and Using Repeated Slow and Tiny Muscle Movements to Bring Head and Neck into a Freer Dynamic. (Steven cranes his head forward in a rather fixed state, but only while singing.  He described his work environment as aerodynamic, with supportive-seating, computer height, standing desk, etc.)

We then adding the task of holding music, singing small intervals of pitch while on only two vowels, back and forth along the chromatic scale.

We balanced coordination among arms, wrists, hands, and core muscles while holding music, which affects that neck-head freedom. He experienced new sensations around the T-12 vertebrae, especially in ease of breath response and engagement upon phonation.  He voiced that he thought this would reduce anxiety around performance and ensemble rehearsals.

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All this for saliva issues!

What did we “do?”

  1. Somatic Tongue release which takes a full 10 minutes to experience.
  2. Drape over a Pilates ball to experience spinal movement–which changed shoulders from a fixed to a dynamic alignment. (another ten minutes.)
  3. Then “Gorilla Breath” in stages, from draping front first over a large Pilates ball to graduated standing. (based on Alexander Technique and other body-mind work involving limbic response noises.)
  4. Tongue over straw, ai-ai-ai on 1-2-1-2-1, while guiding back to freedom of spine. At the end of all this slow work he reported that he felt freedom and movement in tailbone and pelvic area.
  5. We also worked back and forth between his native language of French and English and the curious minutia around the “a” vowel which was exposed.

All this mind-body work alternated with allowing one or two minutes between activities to process and let the work to “sink in.” I told one or two anecdotal stories to allow him to relax his focus, laugh and regroup.

I suggested that he mark in his scores when to swallow if it became excessive again while he was learning new skills

We finished by Steven singing a page of choral music. No saliva. He realizes that practicing this awareness is important and is not the same as what he normally experiences out of anxiety about the saliva overload. He said, “I feel singing as a connection between my body and my head. And the saliva is greatly reduced.”

It also helped him use the good stuff that his former teacher had taught him!

Thanks for reading! These kinds of in-depth blog posts take time to write and edit. Please like, subscribe or share if you found it useful!

Opera Arias for the 20-Something Soprano: Lyric-Coloratura Soprano

ErosWhile I am known in the Washington, DC area as a voice teacher who works with musical theater and popular singers, I  was a classical soprano for 25 years, and do work with a good number of post masters’ degree opera singers, especially soprani.  The majority of these singers are talented, hard-working and smart, but need help finding operatic repertoire for auditions that is 1) suited to their age, experience and stage of development and 2) not what everyone else is singing in auditions.

If you are a lyric-coloratura soprano between the ages of 22 and 29 or so, consider the following arias in place of the standards you needed to learn as an undergraduate or graduate student:

1.  “The Fairy God Mother’s Aria” from Massanet’s Cendrillon.   Esther Heideman has a beautiful recording up on You Tube, and there is also video of a charming master class by Renee Fleming at Harvard which features this aria.

2.  “Kommet ein schlanker Bursch gegangen,” one of Annchen’s arias from Weber’s Der Freischutz.  Look for the fabulous Edith Mathis on Youtube.

3.  “Saltro che lacrime,” the lovely minuette sung by Servilia in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito

4.  Mme. Mao’s Aria in Adam’s Nixon in China

5.  Cunning Little Vixen’s Aria in Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen  (I once had an unusually brilliant high school student cast in this role for The Washington National Opera many years ago!)

Famous voice teachers often don’t agree on what are considered appropriate arias for voices, but I think that if they themselves were pushed into singing repertoire that was not right for them at one time, maybe they’ve wised up.  That happened to me right after I first sang Fiordiligi, at age 27, which was a perfect role, but then I began to be hired to sing arias from La Wally and other big gun stuff before I was ready.  And it is hard to turn down work, especially with orchestra, especially paid…etc.

The reason this is important is that the voice does not lie.  Sure, you can fool people, and most people in your audience don’t know the difference anyway, between what’s “right” for your voice and what isn’t.  But the incorrect operatic repertoire takes a toll on your psyche and physical instrument, and it is hard to deliver authentic performances when you are masquerading as something you are not.

Find something you can learn and do it well.  Biting off Petitgirad’s Coloratura aria from The Elephant Man when you would be much better in “Fair Robin, I Love,” from Tartuffe is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.  Do what is right for you, not what you WISH was right.

This series of posts will feature guest artist/teachers.   Please feel free to add any ideas or comments, or post links to other repertoire.

Singing Live Vs. Autotune….

KelliOHara The National Association of Teachers of Singing’s May/June issue of the Journal of Singing has come out. My article,”Live vs. Autotune–Comparing Apples to Oranges to Get Fruit Salad,” is published in The Journal’s regular column, The Independent Teacher.

The article is an exploration into how advances in the recording industry over the past 20 years have shaped my work as a teacher of singing of both classical and popular music of over 30 years. If you would like a copy of this article, forward your email and I will send your a pdf file. If you’d like to send your email privately, you can find me on Facebook or contact me through my website.)

The Journal of Singing is a compilation of scholarly, academic and scientific articles on the act and art of singing, mostly from a classical point of view, but the musical theater and pop sectors have begun to infiltrate in the past 15 years.

Unfortunately, there is a ridiculous amount of brouhaha among teachers of different musical styles, in spite of the advances of the teaching community over the years.

Craftsman2

It would be really awesome if this article contributes, in some small way, to building more bridges among teachers and singers, performers and scholars.

RyanAdamsSMALL