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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Shut Up and Let the Student Sing, Vocal Master Class #7

This week’s post features a manner of working that is dependent on the student being both musical and a musician. Musical means there is expression in the voice, (phrasing, colors, emotional connection, etc.) regardless of technical and personal issues, and a musician means discerning in what they are able hear with some developed musical skills in place.

Mindy was a 17 year-old soprano who brought the “Pie Jesu” solo from Gabriel Faure’s choral setting of  the Requiem to work on in her private voice lesson. Her church choir director had asked her to sing it during an Easter service and she was very concerned about “breath support.”

She had been studying regularly with me for two years, was very interested in classical music and was smart and sensitive artistically. She preferred to study classical music, but she loved singing in other styles, too.

I decided to not work functionally and somatically in order to veer in another direction.  I suggested that she  listen to some French organ works by the composer/organist Cesar Franck, who lived about the time of Gabriel Faure.  This was during the Romantic period in Western classical music (late 1800’s to early 1900’s.)

Where did that idea come from? (I am open to intuition.)  What did I hope to accomplish? (Read On–)

I grew up as the daughter of a full time church musician organist/choir master (Dad) and singer/voice teacher (Mom.)  Practically every day the “King of Instruments” was part of my environmental soundscape.  I also studied organ in college (while a voice major in the BM program) and spent several summers as a substitute church organist in Pittsburgh, PA. One of my brothers earned both a BM and MM degrees in Organ Performance.

Growing up, we thought it hilarious to call each other names like “Crumhorn” and “Sacbutt,” which are names for organ stops which control tone quality.  Ah‐hem, yes, I know. Very organ geeky…

As a result of my background, I knew that if Mindy could hear the French reed organ pipe sounds that were developed during the Romantic era in Western Europe, played on a good pipe organ, she might be able to follow her own inner compass to execute the long vocal lines of the Faure piece. And by using her ear and musical sense, she could take what she had developed technically and apply it without my “interference.”

French organ builders introduced a type of wind chest that could accommodate high wind pressures, enabling the organ to imitate woodwind instruments like the bassoon, oboe and flute. So between the new mechanical action of the organ and the new woodwind sounds, the organ could produce lovely legato “singing.”

Mindy “got” the connection between Cesar Franck’s “Prelude, Fugue and Variation” for organ and the vocal line of the “Pie Jesu.” She and I were both amazed at what an instant difference it made in her singing.  She automatically and effectively used what she knew to spin the long lines with more freedom and skill.

And I was humbled at how my shutting up enabled the student to learn more!!!!

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