“Higher Education” Without a Terminal Academic Degree

A former student who just completed her graduate degree in Vocal Pedagogy returned to resume our work together.

She asked how I developed the combination of vocal pedagogy and somatic education she experiences in her lessons. Her words: “nobody teaches singing like this.” So her prompt gave me the idea for this post.

SO HERE’S A “SHORT” ANSWER

What did the founders of Alexander Technique, The Feldenkrais Method and other somatic education, and vocal pedagogy innovators, have in common?

They used themselves  as primary subjects.

Alexander was an actor who lost his voice. Feldenkrais was an engineer with a black belt in judo and chronic knee pain due to an injury. Ida Rolf,  founder of Rolfing Integrative Technique, was a biochemist who needed solutions to her own health problems and the health issues of her two sons.

Many of the current popular CCM/popular singing pedagogies were developed by people who couldn’t get what they needed as singers from classical teachers, so they set out to build credible research and formulate methods which have ended up serving countless others.

Each of these people had the ability to draw connections among many observations and intuitions. They discoursed with open-minded colleagues and scientists.  They studied the human body and psyche with unusual depth.

TODAY, FUNCTIONAL VOCAL PEDAGOGY & SOMATIC EDUCATION…

… are partnering for freer and stronger performance and life styles.

Finding a voice teacher who combines them both well, and regularly, in their teaching is still rare.  However, this has been done for at least two generations now, and is getting more traction.

MOVING IT ALL FORWARD

So this is my ‘shtick’: I learned how to do this, not through any degreed program, not through certifications or teacher training, not through modeling other pedagogues, but, like those listed above, using myself as the primary subject.

Believe me, it was only out of sheer desperation and necessity.

SO, HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

Yoga was not really a “thing” in the US in 1980, when I was 24 and had just finished a 2- year grad program in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy.

Yoga, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais and other methods were not yet in the awareness of  voice teachers, international performers or performing arts’ education systems in the US.

Graduate programs in vocal pedagogy programs were still rare. My program required singers to do both–about 1/3 pedagogy and 2/3 performance. I had to do a graduate recital, pass a 6 hour exam on general music, IPA and vocal anatomy and write a paper on an historical vocal pedagogue of our choice. I chose Cornelius Reid.

And remember-no Internet. If you wanted information you had to get dressed and go somewhere to dig deep. Using technology meant having an electric typewriter and hand-held calculator, although the first computers, which took up a small room, were being used in colleges.

About age 23, I began experiencing the symptoms of IBS, and anxiety disorder roared through my body. The American Psychiatric Society did not recognize Anxiety Disorder until 1980!

The many doctors I consulted over the next 5 years were condescending and dismissive, and gave me high doses of valium with instructions to “stop being hysterical.” My uber-sensitive system could take one-half of a dose of valium, which enabled me to sit in a corner and drool, and still have the symptoms without being able to move.

I also had many invasive tests administered by sadists that did not bring up anything definitive other than health bills because I didn’t have insurance right then.

There were few alternative health care clinics and no naturopaths. Information about alternative solutions was difficult to find. However, I continued to perform and study singing privately a great deal, and made a name for myself in my 20’s and early 30’s in the niche market of contemporary classical music and chamber opera. I also was teaching over 20 hours a week privately & at the college level, as well as developing courses. Remember, pre Instant Information via Internet.

But then I began missing work due to my symptoms and pain..

I asked for Divine guidance and, while I don’t remember how, was led to a beginning yoga glass taught by a woman in my neighborhood. I took her class in yoga and meditation every week for two years. It gave me practical and grounding tools to manage whatever this awful “thing” was.  I started drawing connections between yoga and singing and adapting poses to teach singing without realizing what I was doing.

I read biographies of famous singers and was influenced by Robert Merrill’s struggle with allergies, diet and singing. (American operatic baritone, 1917-2004.) He ended up living on fish and vegetables in order to be able to sing. So I experimented with diet to see what seemed to trigger symptoms. I constantly drew connections between yoga, diet and the physical act of singing. Back then, no voice teacher talked about diet and life style changes. I offered suggestions to students who usually then searched for their own solutions and made rapid  improvements in their own health.

I was on “tour” in my late 20’s, off and on for two years: Out on the road for 3-5 days then back home again for a few weeks, out and back. I added light weights to my routine and bought a book by Jane Fonda to learn how to use them. She also had an exercise book that included relaxation techniques. Once again, I adapted for teaching.

At the time, nobody in vocal pedagogy and voice science organizations discussed the interconnectedness of all things and how one will affect the other.  This is still true to a large degree.

Over the years, my health took a sinister turn and chronic patterns of surgery and illness became intrenched. I tenaciously looked for and found help for physical and emotional recovery in many out-of-the-mainstream ways.

My husband and I committed financially to my working yearly with 2-4 body workers, somatic educators, chiropractors and alternative medicine practitioners.  One extraordinary medical doctor saved my life and the lives of our children.

But honestly, most of the rest of my experience with western medicine has been quite awful. Botched surgeries, even with “the best surgeons,” resulted in complications that almost killed me, both almost taking me from our children. I refused to be taken from them.

Before the Internet developed advanced search engines, I combed magazines, libraries and bookstores for resources. My favorite early resource was “Maggie’s Women’s Book,” which you can still find on Amazon. She had exercises for post C-sections and pelvic/abdomen health which were revolutionary at the time.

I worked with a yogini privately for five years, an Andover Educator (“Body Mapping”) who was a colleague, and received Therapeutic Massage, Chiropractic, Acupuncture and Rolfing. Certainly not all at once but spread out over the years. All before the year 2000.

At a party I talked with a hip surgeon and asked him if scar tissue created its own kind of problems. He did a rare thing, perhaps because we were at a  reunion and he was into cocktail hour. He admitted that scar tissue often created more problems than the reason for the surgery. BINGO! So I began researching and tried to find someone who could somehow break up the scar tissue in my abdomen. I worked with several massage therapists and an alternative osteopath who used infrared light and facial release. (I avoided bee venom injections because that sounded crazy.)

All this was necessary to allow me to function passionately and with purpose as a parent, partner, teacher, singer and instrumentalist.

I studied detailed anatomy of the body, not just the larynx or how the vocal folds work. Over a 30 year period I kept studying singing with 3 fantastic functional voice teachers while I attended, as well as taught, master classes, workshops and events.

With each thing I attended and observed, I became more convinced of the connections between truly effective vocal pedagogy and somatic education principles.

I became certified in Somatic VoiceWork tm: The Lovetri Method, because Lovetri’s manner and functional methodology closely follows the principles of somatic reeducation–the connection of the body, mind and psyche– at its best.

There was a 6 year period in my late-30’s/early 40’s where I received talk therapy and was on anti-depressent, anti-anxiety and ADD medications all at once. They enabled me to function in the day-to-day, but absolutely killed my passion and creativity. They caused massive weight gain and just masked endocrine and emotional issues caused by endocrine dysfunction that needed to be healed. The 4 endocrinologists I saw were useless.

I relearned how effective visualizing is a gift of the neuroplasticity of the brain.  Of course, as a singer and instrumentalist, I had been doing this unconsciously my whole life, but with Tai Chi, Tribal Belly Dance, Alexander Technique and pilates classes over a 20 year period, I became a beginner again. It was astonishing! With each surgery and surgical complication, with an immune system disorder due to the MTHFR double gene, I had to find ways to “come back.”

I worked with Suzan Postel, who is a most brilliant somatic educator. She was a dancer and singer on Broadway, playing Tuptim in “The King and I,” opposite Rudolf Nureyev as The King. She got into this type of education due to her own injuries and is a master of explaining what we do and why.

AND IF THAT WEREN’T ENOUGH–TRAUMA CAN OPEN and STRENGTHEN INTUITIVE PATHWAYS WITH PERSONAL INTENTION FOR GOOD

No reasonable vocal pedagogue would admit this, but hey, clearly my path has not been “reasonable.” I have visions…always have.

One day I was writing down what I had learned about pelvic stability & respiration, and suddenly I had a ‘vision’ of an elephant waving its trunk at me, balancing easily on a tiny ball with all four huge feet.

I sat quietly for a moment. Then I reread an article sitting on my desk on the psoas muscles being the emotional core of the body.  BAM! The “psoas” are the STABILIZERS OF THE TRUNK–hahahah! Repeated emotional and physical trauma will cause them to freeze and shorten.

And there I went, down the rabbit hole of psoas muscle research (found Liz Koch’s work) and finding body workers who could work on this with me and explain what they were doing and why. One tell-tale sign that the psoas is dysfunctional is walking with the feet splayed outward, which, at the time, I did. And the relationship to the function of the diaphragm is amazing.

I also honed those intuitive skills by working with disciplined spiritual practices to make sure I was truly reading a student’s energy clearly. I have three posts on “Clairsentience as a Teaching Tool” on this blog.

MOST RECENTLY...

Over the past 5 years I’ve delved into neurological health after being diagnosed with bi-lateral vocal fold paralysis from “unknown neurological dysfunction.” (the vocal folds are pristine.)

Only 5 years ago, most otolaryngologists and speech language pathologists new very little about singing voice dysfunction. The field has exploded in the past five years, and there are more skilled people who can help. But five years ago, 2 otolaryngologists and 2 speech-language pathologists that I saw were 2 thumbs down.

There I went again, searching for my own solutions out of desperation. This time I added salt baths and cranial sacral techniques, herbs, veganism, created a reduced work load at a higher pay rate, committed to psycho-spiritual counseling, and read up on vagus nerve stimulation. This lead to Poly-Vagal Theory.

I worked with Jeanie Lovetri in her role as singing voice rehabilitation specialist. After 5 years I am singing functionally again, but certainly not optimally. This means that getting through a simple song is difficult, and if I don’t do my exercises and meditations, the voice goes again.

I never gave up. Sometimes your weakness becomes your greatest strength.

I’m finished living like this though. I am going to learn through wellness now.

None of this learning resulted in an extra couple of academic degrees because you can’t earn degrees in this kind of stuff.

Sometimes the Highest Education comes out of how you’ve lived your life.

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Check out my case studies on Functional Training, Somatic Education and Singing Voice Rehab HERE.

Performing Bio

Teaching Bio

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Interview with Suzan Postel of “The Body Sings”

Here’s a treat for all of us as we begin 2017:  An interview with master Somatic educator and performer, Suzan Postel, of The Body Sings. I have had the opportunity to work with Suzan as her client, by Facetime, and am looking forward to continuing with her this month.  We have referred students to each other and find ourselves in some similar life stages right now, which is why I so appreciate who she is as a person as much as her professional experiences. Enjoy!

Cate:  Please give us a brief overview of your background and how you came to somatic education.

Suzan:  The exploration of body, mind, and creative self-expression has always been an integral part of my life. I started dancing at age 4 and have been singing and playing music as long as I can remember. I grew up in NYC, in an extended family of practitioners in the arts and sciences. My father was the rare breed of surgeon who believed that being a good doctor meant being involved in all aspects of his patients’ healing, not just being a good technician; my mother is a painter, who also loves playing music; and my brother is a singer/ songwriter/ guitarist with whom I’ve enjoyed a lifelong musical collaboration. I grew up as a modern dancer, and sang everything from classical art songs to Joni Mitchell.

I entered the music theatre world somewhat by accident when I attended an open chorus call, solely as an exercise in performance practice, and was offered the leading role in Pirates of Penzance. At the time I was in workshops for a dance company being developed by my favorite teacher from Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Center, but he encouraged me to do the show, saying ‘it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity – take it!’ That experience presented an answer to my dilemma of choosing between singing and dancing, and I went on to perform on Broadway and around the globe.

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I began practicing Pilates as a young dancer and was offered a part time teaching job just after 9/11, when the climate of uncertainty impacted NYC theatre. Despite my initial concern that teaching would conflict with my performing career, it quickly became yet another passion and afforded me the freedom to pursue new creative paths.

I moved to LA in 2013, where I have been singing with many artists including Ben Harper, Michael Buble, and my brother Steve Postell’s all-star band, Night Train Music Club. I maintain my teaching business in my private studio, at clients’ homes, and worldwide via Skype and Facetime.”

 

Suzan with Rudolph Nureyev in The King and I.  Postel as Tuptim.

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Postel as Maria in West Side Story:

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I’ve always explored numerous modalities to maintain my physical and vocal health, including Alexander Technique, Feldenkreis, The Franklin Method, Ideokineses, Yoga, Continuum, Thompson Bodywork, Physical Therapy, and Mindfulness Meditation. I eventually learned that many of the healing methods I was drawn to were forms of ‘Somatic Education’, a term coined by Thomas Hanna in the early 70s, when the view of physiology and psychology as separate entities was increasingly being challenged by the holistic movement. Derived from the Greek word “soma”, meaning body, Hanna described “Somatic” as “the body experienced from within”.

“Somatic Education” is the process of bringing awareness to what is happening unconsciously in the body in order to develop more efficient movement patterns. I incorporated elements of all of my somatic training into my Pilates teaching, and tailored my approach to the individual client. Working extensively in studios and gyms before moving to private practice also exposed me to a wide variety of both traditional and mind/body approaches to training; and the deeper, more transformative effects of the latter further confirmed my inclination towards somatic education.

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Fundamental to my development as a somatic practitioner was my nearly 20-year relationship with the innovative bodyworker Cathy Thompson, whose holistic approach to the voice, body and mind taught me that what I experienced as vocal issues were almost always in my body. When I started teaching Pilates we traded sessions every week until her untimely passing in 2008. In addition to the immeasurable wealth of knowledge Cathy imparted to me both through her hands and her ideas, teaching someone with such heightened body awareness freed me to rely less on my analytical brain and more on my intuition. This came strongly into play during her illness when, using micro-movements, guided breathing, and visualization, I was able to relieve her pain and, during a period of paralysis, help restore mobility. I was also involved in various ways with the writing of her book, which was recently completed by her brilliant daughter Tara, who continues to evolve her mothers’ work and remains my lifelong friend and collaborator. The book will be published in Spring 2017.

Cate: When did you discover Somatic Voicework™: The LoVetri Method, and why did it resonate with you?

Suzan: One night after seeing a performance in Brooklyn I rode the subway home with the wonderful artist Theo Bleckmann, and we got into a discussion about singing and the quest for vocal freedom. I explained that I had stopped taking lessons and was exploring on my own to find the more intrinsic connection between body and voice; starting with body release, transitioning to increasing the air stream, to adding sound on the air, all without introducing extraneous tension. Theo proceeded to tell me about his voice teacher, Jeanie LoVetri, describing the magical transformations he’d experienced and observed through her teaching, and I knew I had to try a session.

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Ten minutes into our first lesson I realized that not only did Jeanie perceive exactly what was happening in my voice, but she was bringing the same level of deep release I practiced in my bodywork to my throat and singing. Afterwards we talked for over an hour, and discovered much common ground in our experience as singers, our backgrounds in dance and somatic modalities, and our teaching philosophies. We began trading voice lessons with Pilates-based bodywork sessions, continually noting parallels between our approaches to the voice and body. Jeanie’s process-oriented, intuitive, and holistic method affirms my belief that somatic awareness is key to stopping the cycle of recurring imbalances, tensions, or injuries we experience in performance and in daily life.

Cate: Yes! I totally agree.  Can you describe some of the things you do in a session and what happens to a client’s practice and awareness. Why is this important and why should it matter to them?

Suzan: Let’s start with why it should matter. Over time our repetitive movements and postural patterns lead to muscular imbalances, and the resulting compensations take us further and further away from the optimal function of our bio-mechanical design. When certain muscle groups are over-worked and tight, there is a weakening in the antagonist muscles, which are designed to work synergistically. In addition, emotional traumas and physical injuries can be held in the tissues unless we bring them into conscious awareness and release them. Life imprints on the body, as well as the mind.

Cate: Hoo-boy, that is so true. Worth saying again “Life imprints on the body as well as the mind.”

Suzan: It is the nature of the mind and body to default to their familiar pathways; so changing an embedded unconscious pattern takes time and patience. Have you ever wondered why you can experience immediate relief in a session with a good massage therapist, but it’s only a matter of time before the issues return? Similarly, you may achieve wonderful results under the guidance of a talented teacher, but until you feel and can reproduce what happened in your own body, the temporary change will give way to your conditioned default. While this is frustrating, it’s actually embedded in our survival instinct to take the path of least resistance (what’s more familiar feels ‘easier’, even if it creates imbalance, physical pain or emotional discomfort). Simply “trying harder” will engage the same pathways unless we develop our sensory awareness of tension or holding patterns, learn to release those areas, and then wait to re-discover the experience of less effortful, natural function.

Cate: !

Suzan: Therefore, whether a client’s interest is in singing, fitness, or rehabilitation, I start by bringing more consciousness into the process of restoring more efficient, healthy function. After performing a movement or releasing unwanted tension we take a moment to check back in with the body so the brain and nervous system can assimilate what has changed. Once that becomes more familiar, the default will gradually shift towards this new, more desirable state, and we can progress from there. If instead I started with a bunch of exercises, while you may increase strength, flexibility, range, etc, you would perform them the same old way, increasing imbalances and the potential for injury.

For example, one of the first things I address with most clients is core strength and stability. ‘Core’ work is a current trend in the fitness world, but it can be poorly taught. If I gave you an abdominal exercise your body would likely default to the surface (rectus) abdominals and hip flexors, leaving your back vulnerable to strain. So we must first locate the deepest (transversus) abs, which are largely underutilized and can therefore be hard to feel. With increased awareness we can consciously deepen the work to develop strength, control and stability.

The transverse abdominals are also important in singing, as they connect directly to the diaphragm and act as secondary breathing muscles. Drawing on this support below the lungs helps maintain breath pressure without engaging muscles higher in the body that constrict the voice.

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Another fundamental of all body learning is experiencing posture not as a fixed, static pose, but rather as a dynamic relationship of parts within the whole structure, both at rest and in motion. The primary ingredient in the somatic process is being willing to be a beginner, allowing yourself to rediscover the innate experience of free movement and sound making. Be patient with yourself, as your body will revert to old patterns; but those moments of noticing are golden. You can’t change the body without first changing the mind.

Cate: Thank you, Suzan, for sharing your journey in Somatic Education!

Please contact Suzan directly HERE if you are interested in deepening your somatic experience via her workshops or online.  Every somatic educator must embody the work themselves before trying to pass it on or help others–it is the nature of the discipline and why all the great innovators of somatic education found their work through attempting to help themselves or their loved ones first.

Suzan Postel is a master educator for The Lovetri Institute for Somatic VoiceWork tm: The Lovetri Method fantastic Summer Program at Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio.  July 22-30, 2017.

To find out more about Singing Voice Specialist/Voice Trainer/Somatic Educator Cate Frazier-Neely, please go HERE.