Evidence-Based Vocal Pedagogy and Other Mystifications Part I

I’m developing a 5-month digestible program for singing teachers who haven’t had the opportunity to develop a hands-on understanding of what “evidence-based” teaching of singing means in the 21st century.

Dr. Kari Ragan has written her thoughts on this topic in a Journal of Singing article. You do have to be a NATS member to access it on line. However, you can always contact Kari, tell her you are interested in her work, and ask if she will forward you her article.

I’ve been able to work privately with many masters-in-pedagogy and performance graduates, in classical, jazz and contemporary genres, after they graduate with their degrees. I’m seeing a strange trend that has developed over the past 10-15 years, of voice teachers not understanding what to do with the information they have learned. They aren’t sure how to make it useful or fit it in with their world of experience. So the next summer, they go to another pedagogy intensive, hoping to learn what they still do not understand.

There are many fine voice pedagogues who teach in useful ways, and are able to distinguish between voice science, vocal pedagogy, what is true and what is useful. But if you want to be the best teacher you can be, and are not in their programs, how to you begin to make the same distinctions?

That’s what my program is for. I am collaborating with Dr. Patrick L’Espoir Decosta (Australian National University School of Business) to lay the infrastructure for the course.

In Part II I give you a little quiz on what you might think “evidence-based” means in the field of Adult Learning. Especially interesting if you teach adults!

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

Nick is a musical and musically-literate 28-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 sings in operetta, opera and golden age musical theater. He arrived full of enthusiasm…and with a voice transitioning from baritone to tenor.

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.

The Psoas is deeply connected to the diaphragm through the fascia, and with the main ligaments of the diaphragm  which run alongside the psoas and wrap around the top of the psoas.

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 he needed to tea 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!” There was a gradual change in his perception of standing and moving.

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

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Part V, Final Post, Journal of a Richard Miller Week

Thanks for joining me for the final installment of Journal of a Richard Miller Week. In this series I am sharing my journal notes from a 1994 week’s workshop with the great vocal pedagogue, Richard Miller.

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.

Friday, May 27

The first part of the morning is spent studying female registration.
Chest voice “pivotal point” around E-flat above middle C.
From E-flat to F# 5, “voce media”–sometimes called head voice
F# first passaggio.

(I hope we have time to talk about this more. My first passaggio is around E-flat)

High C–F6–Flageolet

The size of the larynx determines the “pivotal point.” In mezzos and dramatic sopranos these points are obviously different. (my question answered.)
Lighter voices have an ease about registration matters.

Whistle voice is not the same as flageolet according to voice science. Whistle voice is a dampening and slapping apart of the folds.

Flageolet is a great assister, but not necessary for all voices. Some voices can’t do this.

Miller feels it is best to start vocalizing in upper middle voice.

Insert 1

Miller emphasizes charging what you are worth. “Is this an avocation or a profession?”

We work with the following–

1—–5—–1——54321
EH———————-

In upper middle range–
5′ 5′ 5—-1
Eh EH EH—–

1——8—7—8—–1
EH

Equality of timbre dependent on more appogiuro.

Heavier baritones may need to go toward (a) on top. Use ah-oh-oo combinations.

Do not base tenor (or anything) on the “HEY!” or “call” technique. Introduces too much vocalis pressure which can create imbalance. (Note: this was before voice science knew much about registration balance in popular music or musical theater.)

Insert 1

Mezzo di voce important every day.

Zwichen-fachs must be the patient in development.

We listen to recordings of Boerling, Corelli, Comingo, Pavarotti, all singing the same “pen-sier” to a high B-flat. All very different, all thrilling. Vowel choices interesting.

It is a common male teacher mistake to have women sing up high with too much breath pressure. Female teachers tend to underenergize their male students.

We have been saving our questions all week for today. There are many technical questions and clarifications. I ask him about his wife. What role has she played in his professional success?

Miller seems surprised by this question and says he has never had anyone ask it before. His eyes actually tear up a bit, when he says he would not be where he is without her. She has enabled him in every way to be where he is today, from taking care of his home and children to typing and editing manuscripts to listening to him practice talks.

There is a good-natured disagreement between Miller and the female teachers/singers in the class (myself included) over his assertion that the abdominal muscles have no play in support. He says there is no use of abdominal muscles other than all the muscles of the thorax have their origins in the pubic area and are therefore “used” without thinking about it in appogiuro. All the women have spoken up in disagreement, and we have a show and tell that is very interesting. He concedes that women have more space in the abdomen because of the womb, and perhaps we feel things differently.

We end the week with singing “daily regimen warm-ups.” He emphasizes warming-up before teaching.

On performing dates, sing through the voice by 12 noon. Before performing, sing agility exercises.

Learn not to sing fully during contracted orchestra rehearsals and save bloom for performance.

We leave the room slowly, speaking with each other, trading business cards, thanking Miller and talking in small groups. I am anxious to see the children but don’t fly back to DC until tomorrow morning.

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:

13451345135

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?

Part III, Journal of a Richard Miller Week

(Photo of Bach Invention #13 by Deborah Hurd)

This is Part III of sharing personal journal notes from five days of intensive teacher training with the great vocal pedagogue and singer, Richard Miller, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1994.  For Parts I and II, go HERE and scroll down.

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.

Tuesday, May 24, 1994.

Early this morning I spoke with (the two year old) on the phone–Ma said she was drinking her bottle and smiling.  She wanted me to keep talking and talking! I sang her “baa baa black sheep.”

There’s not enough coffee in me yet but here goes….Nose breath valuable at the end of long phrases, like Brahms, Strauss to help avoid a noisy release.  Miller says you don’t need to breath in the shape of the vowel.  This is just extraneous movement.

Use “breath of expectancy,” don’t over open the soft palate–straight back from the soft palate is a bony ridge.

He emphasizes practicing daily onset/agility/sostenuto

Miller is passionate about the function of the solo voice in a choral setting.  (right on!)  “Choral music is vocal music!”  He cites Robert Fountain and Robert Shaw (two choral directors who were household names in my home.) I am smiling as he quotes Shaw’s philosophy–“you don’t blend voices…you balance voices.”  This means you must have a working physiology of the voice to direct a choir. (oh, ivory tower thoughts….so true but not reality…)

Use of consonants for adjustments of the vocal tract:
Insert I

We then practice this on our own for a few minutes to feel how the vocal tract is shaped with by these consonants.  It sounds like a bee hive exploded in here right now.

What I notice the most is that these consonants help the (a) vowel resonate toward the front of the mouth more, rather than getting caught in the back. (Then there are a  bunch of gibberish notes that I can not make sense of, followed by the phrase “Refer to Miller’s “Structure of Singing.”)

We stand and are led in some stretching exercises by a teacher from the group.  We divide into SATB and sing the exercises he has used all week in choral voicing.   He doesn’t stop to “correct,” but lets us sing and makes general comments.

He lectures on fundamentals, harmonics, overtones and partials.  His lecture is almost verbatim from his book “Training Soprano Voices,” which I have and had him autograph. I made notes in the margins.

Nasality permeates American culture in speaking, therefore, in singing.  (I wondered about this when he first mentioned ‘Sing as you Speak.”)

Insert 2

It is a mistake to build voices entirely on (i) or (u) Interesting, as I spent 3 years with (shall remain nameless) vocalizing only on (i).

Miller’s slides were put on glossies to be used with an overhead–clearer than slides.

Robert Merrill and Sam Ramey studied with the same teacher as Paul Plishka, Thomas Hampson and Leonard Warren.  (note from 2016.  I just looked this up because when I reread this, I couldn’t believe one teacher influenced Warren to Hampson, but Horst Gunther, baritone and teacher, was born 1913 and died in 2013!)

Miller mentions that there are not enough elite power singers used as subjects for voice science.  Which was another question I had earlier this week.

Afternoon masterclass–students from Belmont University–

20-yr-old soprano sings Mozart “Deh vieni, non tardar”  Miller:  recitative should have an arioso quality, not “secco.”  Needs longer vowels more in rhythm.  Establish a legato line in 6/8, 12/8, etc by singing one pitch for an entire phrase.  He insists on a consistent vibrato but doesn’t address that in more detail.  “Don’t die on the the dot.”

21-yr-old soprano sings Bach “My Heart Ever Faithful”  Miller uses

Insert 3

He uses the phrase “Stay with the same vowel” instead of “don’t close into nose” or zygomatic terminology.

(Then my mind wanders to making lists of logistics I need to take care of for upcoming vocal workshops I am teaching with The Washington Vocal Consortium.  

21-yr-old soprano sings Rossini “La Promessa”

intervalic leaps need blah blah blah to be connection.  (really? I wrote blah, blah, blah? I am not proud of this.  It must have been something obvious.)

Ricci calls singing in Italain with open (E) and (e) the “Julliard/Italian” school. Ending with these vowels needs to have the voice in a higher place, closer to (i)    Optional ending: end with “no” then jump to the upper octave on (a)

Soprano teacher sings Charpentier “Depuis Le Jour”

Make sure endings are (oe);  Bring nasals in later in vowel, but this doesn’t mean a dipthong.  He reiterates: don’t pull belly in as this restricts breath.  He wants “toute fleur–higher places, used (niu, niu, niu) into “toute”

It is fascinating to hear all these sopranos in one afternoon.  No wonder people don’t know “what” I am.  Miller spends a long time vowel-tracking this soprano, making sure she knows exactly what vowel she is on on any given note.

Baritone Teacher sings Paladihle Psyche (in the International French Collection of Songs)

Miller works with the note-to-note legato phrase, staying with basics of vowel and legato.  I am reminded of how important it is to keep drilling basics.  He uses the “mmm” to keep this baritone from pressing into his low notes.  He spends the whole time working vowel to vowel.

Mezzo Teacher sings the third song from Persian Poems by Santoliquido

He works the “sing as you speak” to help her change the shape of her vocal tract, which seems to be pulled out of shape in a sort of over-dark, fake mezzo place.  She is having a tough time with this because it feels so wrong.  He has her feel her submandibular region to help keep is soft while singing–

Insert 4

I spent time today passing notes back and forth with a teacher by the name of Peggy Swanson from New Hampshire.  We figured out that we are 4th cousins and that our common ancestor was the Rev. James Robinson Frazier!

Miller ends today’s session with the phrase “There are great differences between being a great teacher of singing and being a great singer. One does not necessarily ensure the other.”

Part II, Journal of a Richard Miller Week

Part II of sharing personal journal notes from five days of intensive teacher training with the great vocal pedagogue and singer, Richard Miller, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1994.  You can read Part I HERE.

Large_0291802

Monday, May 23, 1994 Morning Session focusing on reading Spectrographs*

Miller’s own singing is in excellent shape.  He always illustrates and models well.  He says to never, ever pull your own throat out of shape to show a student what they sound like.  He is emphasizing that in this day and age of instant everything, building a systematic technique slowly, over time, has become a lost art.

I spoke on the phone early this morning (before cell phones) with (the 2-year old).  She just listened, smiled and told Grandma she had to poop.  (The 6-year old) is already in school.

Every vowel has a laryngeal position, coupled with the position of the vocal tract, which acts as a filter.  I want to ask more about this.  I don’t think he means that you consciously change these things for every pitch on every vowel.   I am sure he is speaking to what he has observed as a voice scientist. I want to ask him about test subjects.  All professionals? Women in various life cycles? Rock singers?  I think all the test subjects have been classical singing men but I may be wrong.

‘Front’ Vowels (Lateral vowels) such as ee, the pharynx is the stronger resonator.

‘Back Vowels” (rounded vowels) such as ah, the mouth is the stronger resonator.

Do not use the term ‘idiot jaw.’ This actually closes the throat and is not an indicator of jaw freedom in singing.

“Sing as one speaks” means let the vowels follow the same vocal tract as in speaking.  I want to ask about this, too.  How can that work with the way most Americans speak??? LIGHT BULB moment–he is talking about the shape above the cords, not the way breath is used, right? Another question. Am I the only one with all these questions??

Supraglottic considerations in singing–above the glottis.  Tongue has 8 muscles.  He’s talking about lots of info on tongue and hyoid bone which is familiar and easy to see in my “Gray’s Anatomy” book.

I am paying a lot of attention to Miller’s pacing and humor and he is brilliant at rhythmically moving his lecture along.  I am as interested in his manner of delivery as well as the information because of all the workshops I am teaching these days.

The zygomatic region is the area of the cheeks, muscles under the cheeks and related to the soft palate. (What affects the front affects the back. makes sense.)

We are introduced to a 1951 recording of Jussi Boerling singing Pagliacci and are learning to read a sound spectrograph of his singing.* Each voice has its own harmonic system.  When there is “noise” in the voice, there are “overtones” which don’t belong to the universal system.

Analysis of the spectrum is tedious.  I just want to bask in Boerling’s sound. So much for being a scientist…

Tenor voice does not need to drop the jaw to define the vowel.

Work “NIU”  5—3—1           “YOU”   5—3—1

Afternoon Session-Masterclass with singers from class

A soprano sings “Vilia”

Miller wants more first formant so that the fundamental is augmented. He worked with this–

1

He asks for more “zygomatic arch” on the top G’s and emphasizes the axial posture of the neck.

He stops working for a moment to give her a rest.  He is telling a few anecdotes about his opera roles and what stage directors asked him to do, and how singers need to find ways to show character in the body without violating basic body alignment principles so the instrument can work.  “Stage directors usually don’t know anything about singing.”

He is working on her breathing and breath management through the following exercises, first by sitting, and then standing:

2

Don’t pout out the belly–it is not necessary to do anything in the hypogastric area.

A tenor sings Mussgoursky

Wow this guy has a fast vibrato.  He teaches at a college in Wisconsin. Miller says the vibrato rate seems to be part of him, not the result of pressure on the throat.  Miller wants more relationship between his Forte and Piano.  (“more legitimacy in the piano.” He has the tenor hum the melody, then work tongue position with a voiced “V.”

3

He has the tenor open his mouth ever so slightly during the second passaggio while retaining the same vowel. (this seems to slightly loosen his jaw?)  Don’t pull down upper lip while ascending.

Miller stops to interject his thoughts on singing while aging. 1) know what you are doing. Constantly seek learning, balance, redoing. 3) don’t stop.

I sing “El Majo Discreto” by Granados

Miller “This voice may get into Verdi in another 5-10 years.”  Just when I am feeling puffed up and smug he adds

“Get rid of hang dog look.  Don’t drop the jaw so much, especially through the middle and lower voices.  Save for upper range.”

He has me work quite a bit with “Garcia posture.” I put my hands behind my back, palms facing out, to open chest.  Watch that sway back doesn’t come in. He wants me to stop preparing to sing so much.

He asks if I have ever considered a lingaul frenectomy, and I tell him my teacher (Elizabeth Daniels) has recommended it in the past.  He looks at the underside of my tongue and encourages me to have the procedure for more tongue freedom.

We wrap up the afternoon listening to some old Firestone Classic Performance Videos.  We listen to Renata Tebaldi and Franco Corelli.  (note: some of these are available on Amazon now.)

_________________________________________________________________

*Two years before I attended Miller’s teacher training, I delivered our daughter by a complicated high-risk c-section that went horribly wrong–the surgeon sewed the placenta back into my womb.  In the week following her birth, (and thank god she was ok) I fought for my life and had two more surgical procedures that year to correct the damage.  Then my husband’s father suddenly died.

I began searching for ways to heal on multiple levels, which is when I first experienced Somatic ReEducation–although I didn’t know at the time that is what I had stumbled upon.  I attended Miller’s symposium in 1994 to try to reconnect with my intellectual interests, but had a great deal of difficulty focusing on his science lectures because of what I had been through. Retrospect provides perspective.

This is why I don’t have a lot of notes on reading a spectrograph analysis. Most of his important observations in voice science can be found in his books.

spectrograph

Please stay tuned by subscribing or commenting, for Part III of “Journal of a Richard Miller week.”

Part I, Journal of a Richard Miller Week

I recently came across a journal I kept during five days of intensive teacher training with the great vocal pedagogue and singer, Richard Miller, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1994 . It is a combination of notes, observations and feelings–but not a standard academic report.

It is also record of how far we’ve come as teachers, because now, much of this information is considered standard fare in masters and doctoral programs and continuing education workshops and webinars. But back then, it was not, and few people had access to the Internet regularly.

At this point in life, I had been teaching 14 years, established a credible performance career regionally in contemporary chamber music and opera and had two young children.

May 21, 1994  Been looking forward to this week in Nashville to study with Richard Miller for a long time.  This damn travel anxiety messed with me on the way to the airport and I am already missing the kids even though I am looking forward to a break.  Breathe into belly and exhale.  Breathe and exhale.  A thought flits across my consciousness: “your knowledge comes from your belly and heart, not from your head.”  2.5 hour layover in St. Louis from DC where I get to read a book for more than a few minutes before being interrupted by little Neely’s age 2 and 6.  Arriving in Nashville, there’s my sweet brother, Jim, smiling and waiting with a big hug to pick me up and take me to his house.  I get to see Benjamin. (my brother’s first child)

May 22, 1994

Systematic Vocal Technique, first session with Miller

There are 50 voice teachers from around the world here.  I met 4 teachers from the DC area already.

His comment that “The process of staying in the inspiratory position has no counterpart in speaking except for stage speech” really strikes me.  Miller uses a microphone to teach. There’s static on the amp. EEK! How can a room full of voice teachers stand this?

Breath Management is establishing the cycle of Inspiration with Onset/ Phonation and Renewal. Air seeks to fill its reservoir at its lowest point. Atmospheric pressure should lead to subglottic pressure.

Fast staccato on one pitch    mm  mm  mm  ha ha ha

Miller calls the ‘rectus abdominus’ the outer shell for all the muscles of singing–not as important as the external and internal obliques, etc.  I guess I have been focused on this sheet of muscle because of all the abdominal surgeries over the past 4 years.  Perhaps the rectus is the only muscle I can feel right now due to scar tissue and trauma??

Miller suggests starting warm-ups with “onset exercises”

Insert 1

He says “we’ve been brought up with too many vocal myths.  Cites a quote by Lamperti “do not crowd the lungs with breath, but satisfy them.”  He says that British oratorio circles advocate upper back breathing, which collapses the sternum.  I want to ask him more about this but he has requested that we note all our questions and ask them at the end of the week in a Question session.

Insert 2

The diaphragm expands sideways more than down.  Miller frequently cites faulty teaching he’s observed by artists and clinicians at NATS’ functions.

  1. The Voice is an Acoustical Instrument
  2. The Voice is a Physiological Instrument, therefore it must go by the laws of acoustics and basic physiology

Miller disagrees with the statement that “all voice teachers are after the same thing,”  No we are not–there are too many tonal ideals, he says.  I am glad to hear this because every time a colleague says that, I think “nope.” Just listening to all the voice teachers at the university (where I was adjunct at the time) and what’s going on in their studios and in juries… wow.

Lordy I miss my babies.  I am listening to Miller and taking notes, but my heart feels sad- mother-lonely-longing sighs.

He is discussing the German “grunt and hold” technique:  Take a breath and grunt to cut it off, then let go at the throat and begin to sing without losing thoracic pressure.  Says it is not necessary to prepare to breathe!

There is a relationship between onset and agility.

He REALLY nixes “squeezing the anal sphincter” because there are sphincters all over the body and they all respond at the same time.  Please, no “pinch a penny’ or ‘hold a coin in your bum.’  People really try to sing that way??????? People really teach it????? Why???????

The most efficient coordinated singing will also be the most appealing to the ear.

It is very easy in any “system” to go rigid.  Do agility exercises.

Insert 3

He suggests using the term “support” only with the body’s structural system, not with muscles.  You can not have the appoggio without starting with the structural system.  He is assuming we all know what appoggio is, at least intellectually.  I am feeling like a dum-dum.

The singing voice as a Tripartite Instrument:  1.  Motor Source (breath management) 2. The Vibrator (larynx) and 3.  The Resonator (supraglottal or vocal tract)

In a balanced and free structural support, you must be able to hop on one foot. (visual image of 50 of us all clattering to our feet to hop about like the Dufflepuds in the Narnia series)

Dufflepuds

Reminder-the front lower ribs are attached to each other–it is the back ribs that float.

When the sternum falls, the rib cage HAS to cave in and the diaphragm HAS to mount.

He talks about physical types of bodies and how that influences breathing.  I wish he’d talk more about this.  It seems crucial.

The ideal is a balance among all four of the following muscle groups:
pectoral, epigastral, umbilical, pubic (hypogastral)

He says most teachers emphasize one or two over others.  He is showing us pictures of muscles before resonators on purpose.  Slides show origins and insertions of thoracic and pelvic muscles.  These slides show me why the chiropractic and body work have been so integral to starting to reestablish health after all my surgeries.

I’m hungry and my focus has gone to the beach.  I may have met a distant cousin who is a voice teacher, too.  We know enough about Frazier family history that there seems to be a connection.

  • Coming Up Next: Part II, Journal of a Richard Miller week