Singing and Teaching From an Undivided Self

We have more academically-educated singers and voice teachers now than at any time in the history of vocal expression, and dare I say it? Very little teaching from an Undivided Self, which means very little useful and true wisdom.

Learning to get to this place this requires TIME.

It’s a sort of alchemical process to find personal, musical and pedagogical ah ha’s! amid the deafening noise of information, data, and a cult of personality. These things don’t work well with singing. Because singing is about first finding silence of stillness and then becoming a channel for bio-electric energy, all human expression and divine connection.

I think many teachers ‘head’ know this–but they don’t FEEL it or EMBODY it.

There is a crying need for a 1:1 Experiential Learning Program outside of academia to allow teachers and singers the time they need to create this alchemical process. To learn to teach WHO they ARE as well as WHAT they KNOW.

I’ve put together what may be the first program of its kind, “The Alchemy of Teaching Singing,” to fill a hole in the Continuing Education of Singing Teachers.

We’ll work with practical and useful steps towards integrating your singing, passions, pedagogical foundations, teaching interests and needs to create your undivided Self.

I’ll also help you honor every facet of your life experience, which creates a space of immense coherence and strength to hold student, learning, and your Self.

THAT’s where the magic happens.

Special thanks to Palmer Parker and his brilliant book “The Courage to Teach.”

Part IV, Journal of a Richard Miller Week

Welcome to Part IV of recently found journal notes from a 1994 workshop in Nashville, taught by the great vocal pedagogue, Richard Miller. You can find Parts, I, II and III HERE.

It is interesting to compare these notes to what is available in pedagogy graduate programs now days. This information seems basic now, but 20 years ago it was new information.

May 25

A medical doctor by the name of ‘Dr. Mitchell’ is brought in to lecture on vocal health basics.  They are ‘basics’ alright.  He is talking to us like we are 10 year-olds.  He gives us such gems as “A professional instrumentalist must operate at over 100% efficiency in order to do his/her work.”

The number of glands that lubricate the cords and larynx dry up as you get older, just as a course of regular aging.  wow, I did not know this….

Medication for infertility can have a permanent effect of lowering the voice. Aspirin can cause vocal fold hemorrhage.  Blood pressure medications can cause drying and mood changes.

Increase hydration when on medications.  Lord he is on a roll.

He says one vague thing about the female endocrine system–“premarin helps keep you moist.”  (used when? all through the life passages? how? the lack of useful information from this medical person is astounding.)

Other brilliant tidbits include 1) When you are on tour, bring your own food. (which you figure out fast enough when you are on tour, ) and 2.) Environmental allergies are hard to test. (smoke, perfume, carpet cleaners, etc.) Basically got nothing out of his lecture.  pffffft.

Next we observe slides of various surgical processes. First one is removing a cyst from a fold. Also observed enlarged blood vessels due to great subglottic pressure in one singer and during menstruation in another. Observed a laser coagulating blood vessels.

Observed a vocal hemorrhage in an undergraduate singer.

Fig 4 Vocal fold hemorrhage

Miller notes that speech pathology degrees do not include singing training until the masters’ level.

Vocal folds should vibrate in phase relative to each other.  When they fail to oscillate in phase, these phase differences contribute to dysphonia. Normal is when the vocal folds open and close together.  Out of phase vibration is when one fold in the open phase while the other fold is in the close phase.  Phase shifts can occur in the lateral/medial plane or anterior to posterior direction.

Many possible variations in vocal fold oscillation means that some seemingly abnormal vibratory patterns are actual normal variations.  Miller says the “open posterior chink” is common, especially in women.

“Bowed vocal folds” typically applies to the aged voice.  It appears that the front part of the folds have atrophied or there is nerve injury to the folds.  This means that the Bernoulli effect takes place through a smaller space and picks up speed.

(I am belly-missing my children but it is a relief to have a break from continuously coordinating all my moves so the kids are taken care of…)

Afternoon Masterclass

Soprano sings Schumann “Widmung”

Miller uses the interval of a 6th on (eh), followed by (a) and back again to even out a wobble on the top.  He maintains that just by opening the mouth while ascending, vowels are modified.  He does not think one needs to substitute different vowel sounds to modify.  It seems to me that he is using “opening the mouth” to mean how the jaw moves through an ascending pattern.

Most of today’s master class singers got lessons on vowel migration or lack thereof.

May 26

Epiglottis covers the larynx in the act of swallowing.  Epiglottis responds to the tongue.  He recommends the book “Comparative Anatomy and Physiology of the Larynx” by Sir Victor Negus.  (Note today: look for this in discount venues and used book stores because it is crazy expensive on Amazon.)

Vibrato is a healthy relaxation principle. The shaking jaw or tongue may be tension, but it is more often in a healthy, relaxed posture, particularly in sopranos because of the size of the larynx.

Miller abhors straight-tone singing.

The “tracheal pull” occurs with lower abdominal breath–lowers the larynx automatically.  Note: this does not mean ignore the width of the ribs or movement of the back when inhaling.

The false vocal folds move away from the true folds as pitch ascends.  This is not a conscious thing, but occurs with proper coordination.

Vocal folds have three parts (skin or ligament, middle, vocalis muscle) The muscles and tissues of the larynx are as sensitive to minute adjustments as the eye.

Chest voice vibrates more fully in the vocalis muscles, Head voice vibrates more on the edge of the folds.

There is fixed subglottic pressure in trachea and bronchi.

Voice scientists at present think there are only 2 registers. (? really?)

When Leontyne Price sang Carmen, she carried chest voice up to a4 and b-flat4 and got nodes.  Had to take off for 6 months.  Miller admits he knows nothing about mitigating technique for popular styles.  (He was good-naturedly accused of living in an ivory tower.)

Point–I don’t want to imitate technical differences between vocal styles. I want to be able to teach technical differences and have been trying to develop methods to do this for years.  Feel like I am out on my own, with few resources. Disappointed Miller couldn’t speak to chest registration and belt more. He does mention that he has observed that a higher larynx allows a singer to sing in chest longer.

All his slides this afternoon are from his book, The Structure of Singing. He also has pictures of the epiglottis/folds from Appleman’s book.

Miller insists on a quiet breath for efficiency.  Sub-mandibular muscles are attached to the hyoid bone which is attached to larynx.

The mouth, pharynx and larynx are the main resonators, just occasionally, the naso-pharynx.

The Germanic school often teaches “cover.”  The Italians teach a small amount of graduated modification at first passaggio and continues on up. Miller recommends starting this adjustment right below the primo passaggio.

Use falsetto in men to counter rigidity.  Falsetto is not head voice in men!

Increase appoggio for high notes.  We compared visual performances and spectrographs of Price, Tebaldi, Steber and Shirley Verrett singing “Visse D’Arte.”  Miller calls Verrett a “zwischen.” She was not as successful singing this aria as the others. She used high clavicular breathing, head bobbed all over the place, very unstable compared to the stillness of the others.  Tebaldi was under-energized in appoggio.

We then spend some time talking about exercises for men’s voices.  He suggests 5-4-3-2-1-5-3-1, starting on “oo” and going to “ah” on 1, using falsetto if the voice is rigid.  He works with several different volunteers from class.  If a singer has a  break going from 5 to 1, he has them sing softer and slide more, sometimes changing the vowels.

Increase appoggio for high notes.

Afternoon Masterclass

Tenor-“Comfort Ye….Every Valley”

Miller vowel-tracts (has singer go vowel to vowel) for more legato and brilliance in a beautiful voice.  Also uses “nie, nie, nia, nia, niu.”   Just an observation–he seems much more comfortable working with male voices.

Soprano–(did not note what she sang) but she has a wonker of a voice–very loud with crazy vibrato.

Miller first realigns support from “pull in” method to appoggio.  He says this will change her subglottic pressure which is currently creating throat tension.

This soprano is large breasted and he has her put her hands behind her back, walk slowly forward, kneel, walk backwards while singing on “ya.”  1—5—1—54321—-5—-1.   This seems to help her alignment and freedom of breath.

Soprano sings John Duke “Nobody Knows This Little Rose”

Miller starts by using agility exercises in mid-voice:

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He is trying to build focus in her middle voice, which doesn’t have much of a presence.

The old wisdom “inhale through the nose like you’re smelling a rose,” pertains to the zygomatic arch.

Stuck in between the pages of this journal at this point were two postcards I sent my children that week. wow.  remember hand-written mail?

LOA for Real Life: You Are What You Hear

This post is not about singing per se, yet it has everything to do with singing, teaching and Being.

For three days the house across the street had a large truck sitting in their front yard, drilling mysteriously and incessantly. A team of 4 men maneuvered various hoses, drilling equipment and large concrete tubes in a clunky sort of worker choreography.

The first day the drilling started I, as a self-employed educator and musician who works from home, thought “uh-oh.” The sounds from the drilling equipment were at an extremely high decibel and almost immediately I started to feel subtle, chaotic vibration throughout my body.  I left the house for a rehearsal and an appointment but was feeling a little sick when I drove away.  My husband worked from home that day and reported feeling “weirdly washed out” when he went to do his run.

The second day I worked from home with clients and students as the manic drilling continued.  By the end of the day, I felt like I had been on a wooden roller coaster for hours and had become unglued and frantic.  I kept using all the breathing and grounding techniques I have learned over the years which helped, but while I was working I was aware that I was talking more frantically.  I had become a sort of electric socket hanging in the middle of the air, waiting for lightening to strike.

One of our cats began throwing up and was clearly out of sorts. He stopped eating and he periodically stared at nothing with his ears back in distress.

I was well-aware that the chaotic patterns of vibration at high decibal levels were causing entrainment in our bodies so that we had begun to vibrate in chaos, too.  My music studio is located at basement level, so the sound was somewhat muffled but I could still physically feel things.

The third day I got through the morning and then went across the street to find out what the hell was going on.  I had noticed that the neighbors had not been home the whole time. How convenient.  But their 15-year-old son was home.  As I walked past the truck, the noise was so loud that I felt my throat close and I quickly became depressed. I wondered how the hello those workers could do what they were doing.  A few of them had industrial strength ear plugs, but that wouldn’t keep those vibrations from hitting their bodies.

It turns out that the neighbors were getting geo-thermal heating, but it was clear they did not know it would cause so much disruption to the neighborhood. I told the son that it was an exciting and good thing they were doing, but, ironically, the process was making people and animals sick. He agreed and said he was feeling sick himself.   I told him about our cat and asked when the drilling would stop.  And then I said I needed to know if they were drilling on Monday because I would to make plans to work away from the house if they would be back.

My mother had come over that morning and began to experience some similar symptoms. After lunch together we spontaneously drove to my friend’s house, about 3 miles away, who has a magic garden on 1/4 of an acre.

It was softly raining. Nina and Lewis have a new enclosed space in the garden and Mom and I sat there for over an hour, drinking in the quiet and stillness, the birdsong and wetness dropping.  I took off my shoes and stood in the moss and wet earth.  The urge to lay face down in the mud was a measure how badly I needed to recalibrate.  It made me sad that my own garden was not a place of refuge at that point.

Hallelujah, when we returned to the house the monster trucks were leaving.  And they didn’t come back.

hummmm. funny how that works.  By staying in the environment that was making me sick, and trying to soldier through, I was causing a sort of resistance to feeling better.  The minute I left the environment to do what felt better, the outer situation ceased to be.  All I know is that I went and took care of myself, and then the calm appeared on the outside.

And Odin, the cat, is ok, too.

Tend what you allow into the garden of your ears because that is what you will become….

Cate's Art Photos 050

Sunflower, cut paper collage, by Angela Neely and Cate Frazier-Neely, 2000