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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Update on Women, Menopause, Singing

To receive publication updates on the new book “Women Singing Through Menopause, Midlife and Beyond,” please sign up at Studio Bos Media

We are still wooing the right title.

Writing with coauthors Nancy Bos and Joanne Hayes Bozeman has been one of the most rewarding collaborative experiences of a long life spent in collaboration. Combining the voices of three powerhouse artist/educators who are researchers has taken a huge investment of T-I-M-E. But building a solid infrastructure for the book and becoming vulnerable to each other (check out Brene Brown’s The Call to Courage) are birthing our idea into reality.

We are writing a book for Great Aunt Betsy who sings in her church choir, for the college voice professor who has always sung well and then, well, doesn’t. For the community musical theater singer, to the elite classical and popular music singer. For the voice teacher or singer who’s own voice has gotten better and better and may not understand what is happening with others who have a different experience. For the medical community that knows nothing about menopause and voice changes because it is outside of their health model. For the used-to-sing woman who is just fine with how her voice is as she gets older and doesn’t think much about it.

So the challenge has been how to combine our three author-voices, our interviewees’ individual stories AND a curated list of reliable information into one voice–

–to reach all these singers.

It’s happening and we can’t wait to share it with you!

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

A Later Life Singer: Vocal Master Class #4

“In helping a person increase functionality, it is important to follow the logic of human development.  You can not expect someone to run who can not walk.”

–from “Singing With Your Whole Self–The Feldenkrais Method and Voice,” by Samuel Nelson and Elizabeth Blades-Zeller.

Val is a 64-year old retired business woman who has sung her whole life and studied singing privately off and on. She is in good health. After her husband passed away, she decided to renew herself by studying singing and exploring  jazz standards in several languages.

Somatics

I had noticed that Val routinely “held” herself very carefully and there was a veiled sound to her singing, although it also had a lovely timbre and was tuneful. She sang in a swallowed chest registration, tongue tension was easy to hear. She shared with me that her mother always told her she couldn’t sing and frequently made fun of her attempts to take lessons as a young adult. She had no parental support for her singing and obviously felt she did not deserve to be heard….

…..and I could see by the way she carried herself that she had no kinesthetic sense of her spine as supportive and flexible. She said she often had lower back pain, but as far as she knew, there was no medical issue. So  I chose to  start with exercises I learned from Andover Educator, Dr. Sarah Adams Hoover. Dr. Hoover introduced me in 2000 to the study and practical application of Body Mapping, a phrase coined by the founder of Andover Education, William Conable. Here is one exercise that Sarah taught me:

I asked Val to drape herself, stomach first, over a 55 mm Pilates ball and gently roll back and forth until she became comfortable and relaxed. After asking her permission to touch her back, I placed one hand on the center of the back of her head and the other on her tail bone. (essentially the length of the spine.)

Through slow awareness exercises, such mindful breathing and mental images stimulated by spinal animation videos on the web, she became aware of differences in sensation between 1.) holding herself in her habitual rigid pattern and 2) being able to feel her spine contracting when she inhales, and lengthening on the exhale. The reason this is important is that if the spine is not freely moving on inhaling and exhaling, there will be incomplete movement anywhere else, including the larynx and vocal folds!

With time, this awareness was transferred to sitting and standing, allowing for the change in gravity with each. Her new awareness needs to be reenforced as she sings.

Dr. June Wieder, author of Song of the Spine calls this natural movement “…a standing wave between these curves in order to maintain the structural and neural integrity of the nervous system.” The freedom of our singing is dependent on the function of our central nervous system.

Functional Voice Training

Thanks to the baby boomers and those who came of age in the late 1940’s,  1950’s and ’60’s, there are more senior singers than ever working to stay vital and sing longer. When working with older singers you must understand what happens to a body and voice as it ages.  Also know that it is possible for new neural pathways from brain to body to be forged with the right kind of physical and mental exercises in voices that have functional problems.

If I was to work with Val according to how she sounded, I would have started with breathing and brighter vowels, “getting the sound forward,” trying to relax the tongue, relearning vowel formations, activating the soft palate, etc.  She would have improved for a time, maybe 3 months, then tapered off, because the issues did not stem from how she sounded.

They were the result of what her vocal folds were not doing.

“They way she sounded” were symptoms of atrophied vocal folds and general largyngeal muscle weakness. which caused all these other things. Also, ossification of the larynx (cartilage turning into bone) actually starts in a fetus, but the process continues and amplifies as we age. There are vocal advantages to this, but it does make it impossible to “have your voice feel, sound and act like it did when you were younger.”

In spite of Val’s singing entirely in a low register, it was a weak ‘chest voice function’ which was a surprise to her. Our process, once a week for the first 3 months, focused on exercises to coax response from those weakened laryngeal muscles, then strengthen them in balance with her newly found head voice. Only then could we start to entice a more enjoyable and effective  breath and breath management system.

In the second 3 months, we added a few traditional vocalize after the functional technical work. I had to remember that I could not move faster than Val was ready to go functionally AND emotionally. She began personal therapy which has enabled her to move through her study with more purpose and happiness.

Vital Singing

From the start, I made a deal with Val that if she would trust me and not work on any songs during her lessons for 6 months, she could use the following resources to play with her singing at home. I promised we would begin working on songs after she had been regularly studying and practicing what I wanted her to practice for 6 months. I wasn’t sure she’d cooperate but she did!

  1.   Flight: Rhiannon’s Interactive Guide to Vocal Improvisation
  2.  Pages from Bob Staloff’s book Scat! Comes with a CD. (This is actually an advanced book for people already skilled in jazz style, not just straight American Standards found in collections. So unless you are working with an accomplished jazz artist, I strongly recommend that the teacher be able to sing the exercises before introducing the exercises to students.
  3. I built some exercises around some of the Spanish and French songs she wanted to sing, focusing on singing the phrases without consonants. (snuck some traditional pedagogy in there!)

This approach enabled her to have fun until she caught on to what the functional work could help her do and why we were doing it.

Then, after working with her consistently for about 11 months, I partnered her with a client who is a professional guitarist interested in the same kinds of music, and they prepared a one half hour Christmas set for a holiday gathering. That is a huge deal for someone who has never done such a thing before!

She is now singing at local open mikes, and has developed the confidence to sign up for summer music camps with major artists like Bobby McFerrin.  Her voice has lost the veiled, “stuck” quality, is brighter and more present, and she has a usable 2 octave range with easy transitions from bottom to top.  She now has an instrument that she can “play” with.  She also started a Circle Singing group in her suburb and leads it weekly.

This is a real “voice building” process. I know that many voice teachers don’t bother with students like Val.  But we live in a world sorely in need of transformation. By transforming ourselves and helping students transform themselves, we become part of an alchemical process of healing a very sick culture.

And post-menopausal women, when guided through the change with a team of supported friends, teachers and other guides, become incredible pillars of creativity, strength and power!

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