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!

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

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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.

Book Titles and Search Engines…

Who knew it would take so long to come up with a title for our upcoming book on Singing and Menopause, to be published by StudioBos Media???

We started out months ago by brain-storming every idea we could think of to see what would stick. We ran titles by some of our interviewees, colleagues and friends and our editor. We had to have certain words in the title for the Search Engine. We didn’t want it to be too academic-y or cartoonish.

“Aunt Flo’s Not in the House Anymore” was the first of the spaghetti thrown against the wall. It didn’t stick. (Evidently people in the midwest “get” that but as an East Coaster I was ‘Huh?’)

Let me know if you don’t get it too….

Today we finally decided on

Singing Through Change: Women’s Voices in Midlife, Menopause, and Beyond

A quote from co-author Joanne Hayes Bozeman:

Through researching and writing this book, I have come to appreciate that the menopausal transition is far more than a set of symptoms attached to a shift in hormones. It’s a unique, sometimes untidy socio-physiological-psychological metamorphosis for women. For singers, the voice is often a crucial part of that metamorphosis.

Sign up for our mailing list and read about the authors here.

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…

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

Excess Saliva While Singing, Part II: Vocal Master Class #11

Let’s face it, the topic of “saliva and singing” isn’t particularly interesting unless you are a singer who finds yourself needing to swallow after every other word. Or you need to completely stop singing to allow saliva time to move down the esophagus.

Chronic excess saliva while singing can suck the joy out of making music. It makes you feel unreliable and is both anxiety and frustration-producing as well. Which just makes the problem worse. And then you feel worse because you KNOW this.

I’d never thought much about this issue in my 38 years of working with singers and singing teachers. Then, last month, three clients turned up IN THE SAME WEEK, who were dealing with excess saliva and singing. One singer’s issue was solved within one session, but I had to do my research because it was new to me.

I then had to fit that research into my overlying pedagogic principles and the use of personal creativity in the studio. (Read Vocal Pedagogy and Creativity, Parts, I and II, starting HERE.)

Reason #2: Excess Saliva and Singing can be caused by certain mouthwashes, toothpastes and teeth whitening products.

Celia, Singer #2, is in her late 30’s, a professional chorister with a BA in piano. She developed the excess saliva about a year ago. When she came for her first session, as we were speaking I noted that her mouth smelled minty. As it turned out, I had just spoken with my dentist about excess saliva and certain mouthwashes, which sometimes contains saliva-inducing ingredients that are normally used to help people with dry mouth. Obviously, vocal fold health depends upon being hydrated.  I asked Celia about her dental regime and she told me that she regularly uses a mouthwash and fluoride gel-cams.

Da-Ding! I suggested she do her own research on the products she used and discovered that they did contain flavoring agents that are often saliva-inducing. These can include sweeteners such as sorbitol, sucralose, sodium saccharin, and xylitol, all of which stimulate salivary function. Three days after discontinuing use of these products, she noticed much less excess saliva while she sang. We had one more session and she seemed to be happy with her progress and ready to return to her voice teacher.

Jan Potter Reed, a wonderful SLP and Singing Voice Specialist at The Chicago Institute for Voice, suggested elderberry lozenges as a possible remedy for excess saliva, but added that singers have to be in touch with whether or not they dry out the mouth too much and create other issues by drying out the vocal folds.

NOTE: Another cause of excessive swallowing during singing is acid reflux.  Each singer with this condition needs a different management plan and kinds of support.

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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!

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