Beliefs That Hinder Singing, Part II: Vocal Master Class #9

Joshua is a 46-year old tenor with a lovely singing voice and a great deal of responsibilities both at work and to his family.  He has three children under the age of 13, a wife managing her chronic medical condition, and he works full-time in a demanding corporate job.  It is amazing to me that he has made time for voice lessons consistently since his wife bought him a few lessons for his 40th birthday, 6 years ago!

Josh studied singing in college, follows written music, and performed in musical theater for many years. At the time we started lessons he was singing in his synagogue choir and occasionally soloing as a lay cantor. He wanted to eventually return to singing musical theater in community productions. He figured if he could keep at it, he wouldn’t be rusty when he retired.

He has a history of severe sinus and throat issues, including terrible allergies and multiple procedures to remove nasal polyps.

Josh has little time or head space to practice. While he enjoys our journeying through  functional vocal development, it took him a very long while to change the way he sang. Progress was slow but I always allowed time at the end of every lesson for him to sing through a song or two, with my accompanying at the piano so he could enjoy music-making.

After about 3 years of consistent bi-weekly lessons, he began to understand that he couldn’t just launch into a major aria or show tune because he wanted to, and he started to discern what would bring him satisfaction with the progress he’d been able to make.

Joshua also began to also understand the relationships among his singing, sinus and throat issues and the merciless way he drove himself through life to accomplish what he wanted and needed to do.

Up until this personal epiphany, the physical releases and different vocal sensations created by our work together couldn’t take root for this reason:

He equated the pressure in his throat with the pressure he needed to keep going with his responsibilities as as father, husband and bread winner. To let go of some habitual muscles responses to create freer singing responses felt, to him, like letting go of what he needed to”have” to push through life.

Personal Ego identifications often shift during voice training based on motor learning change, as opposed to a more band-aid approach of completing a motor task. And this ego change can be threatening to many singers.

Yet he did understand that his singing needed to be easier. We began changing his diet through working with a nutritionist and found a medical practice for his sinus issues that had a holistic approach.  He also found a better ENT for his sinus flair ups and changed some of the chemical cleaners in his home to less toxic alternatives.

Slowly he opened to to the idea allowing regular somatic education with an outside body worker/practitioner. Somatic education is largely guided by a practitioner or voice teacher, such as myself, who has trained her/his high “somatic empathy” to serve others as a precursor, or partner, to functional vocal pedagogy. I am not the only person doing this in lessons and sessions, but it is still a rare combination to find in one voice teacher.

I also got Josh into regular therapeutic massage.  He started working with an integrative health specialist on adrenal fatigue, which effects hormonal balance, which frankly, made all the difference in the world in his ability to make faster vocal progress. Then the somatic experiencing started to make more sense to him as he started to feel different physically.

Josh studied with me regularly–every other week–for over 6 years before the air flow pattern and patterns of muscle dysfunction were transformed to consistent freer singing. But kudos to him for not giving up when most people would have because of family and work, and kudos to me for having the patience of the Biblical Job!

Josh continues to sing as a lay cantor in his synagogue and now enjoys singing musical theater repertoire from the Golden Age standards as well as Disney film musicals like Hercules.

If you teach voice primarily in academic music programs, or even work mostly with children and teenagers, chances are good that you don’t see students like  Josh in your studio. As people age, their belief systems and health patterns become “fixed,” unless they are tenacious about learning to change and grow. And this requires a huge leap of faith–those “fixed” ideas were originally developed to help a person survive in their environment. This is obviously complicated by the number of responsibilities one has, cultural and religious attitudes, personal expectations and mental & physical health.

All we want to do is sing and enjoy our singing! But the ability to do so is very tied to every facet of our being.  Singing is part of living well–everyone needs some movement, some exercise, some beauty and the support of others to connect body to soul, the stuff of a well-lived life!

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Click here to read “Beliefs That Hinder Singing, Part I.”

or “Higher Education Without The Terminal Academic Degree”

 

 

 

 

 

Psoas Release and Strengthening in a Tenor: Vocal Master Class #2

 

Nick is a musical and musically-literate 26-year old tenor with a Theater Degree and college voice lessons. He was on the roster of, and acted professionally with, an East Coast Shakespeare Company and is interested in singing opera and legit musical theater. He arrived full of enthusiasm…and with a voice transitioning from baritone to tenor.

Somatics

About 15 years ago, through personal circumstance, I realized that the ‘Psoas Muscles’  are an important part of both the body’s Core Muscles and Respiratory System. Somatic Educators are talking about them now, but they remain rarely discussed in the voice teaching community. They are  primary muscles in stabilizing the trunk of the body and in movement.

Nicks’ postural habits were to stand with his pelvis thrust forward and his thoracic and cervical vertebrae collapsed. He stood and walked with his knees turned out and feet splayed. Vocal pedagogue, Marybeth Dayme, (Dynamics of the Singing Voice and other vocal pedagogy books), advocates that singers stand with their feet pointing straight out, knees unlocked, to help biodynamic energy flow. I use this idea with most students and for most, it stabilizes the hips and pelvic structure so breath management and general grounding work more efficiently. But Nick could not stand this way comfortably, and it made his alignment even worse, so I knew I needed to teach him how to first release, then strengthen, his psoas muscles if we were going to free up his alignment in order to have his functional voice training really take root.

For the first two months of weekly lessons, we worked on psoas lengthening, releasing, and strengthening. This took about five to ten minutes of every lesson, and he did the exercises at home. His body alignment used to make him look like a “curmudgeon,” and now reads “leading man!” But more importantly, he has adapted for himself what he needs to do physically for a curmudgeon-y character that will not interfere with what he wants to do vocally.  Good if you need to sing Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame!

Here are some good sources for learning about the Psoas Muscles and how to release and strengthen them for free and flexible alignment.

Liz Koch’s “The Psoas Book.”  Or Visit her Website.

How to Stretch and Strengthen the Psoas

articles from Align Integration and Movement

Always start with a psoas release–which is easy.  Lie on your back with your feet on the floor, knees bent. Just relax and breathe for a minute, and you will feel the small of your back release to the floor. This is a basic release, and it depends on the person how long it will take.

Functional Voice Training

We spend a great deal of time working through the tenor first passaggio. (D# through F# or so) He is developing a new way to move through this transition point, which involves registration isolation, registration blending, and vowel work on traditional vocalise. The three teachers that I learned the most from for working through the tenor passaggio are James McDonald, Richard Miller, Elizabeth Daniels, Jeanie Lovetri and confirmed by the writings of David Jones.

Functional training helps a great deal with breathing and breath management, without mentioning breathing. However, with this student I do work an organic “back breath,” and awareness that the muscles of the epigastrium can not get big and hard on inhalation, or the “appoggio” can not engage in singing.

We also work on not over-opening the mouth while developing ease in his temporalis and masseter muscles. (the mouth is a primary resonating cavity for registration used in classical singing, and if it is to far open in the middle, vocal focus is lost.) This is a tenor’s mid range, and volumes have been written about negotiating this passage. Often high notes are not an issue. But the quality of the top and longevity in singing are dependent on the way this area is sung, for both classical and pop singers.

This requires monitored self-massage of these muscles as he sings slowly from pitch to pitch, vowel to vowel.

Vital Singing

James is so musical that as his mind, throat and body coordinate, his heart takes over and he is beginning to sing beautifully consistently.  It remains astonishing to me how functional work frees a musical soul! We are still a long way from singing the operatic repertoire he want to sing, but the voice takes time.

You absolutely can not hurry a voice towards real operatic development.

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