Robert Mueller’s Voice and a Perceived “Doddering” in His Testimony

A colleague was recently consulted for Mel Beta, an online commentary and pop culture source, on Robert Mueller’s voice during the recent hearings here in the US.

The article combines a sincere inquiry about the quality of Mueller’s voice and hesitations in his performance, with evidence that often any message not delivered quickly, loudly and confidently is not to be tolerated as “informed.” Hesitation is seen as weak and an opportunity to move in for a kill. The media has gleefully spread this around as “news.”

And it shows that our voices factor hugely in how our verbal messages are heard and understood.

Liz Jackson Hearns‘ work as a voice teacher whose speciality is transgender voices, makes her a natural to speak on “Why a nervous voice happens.” She also said that people who aren’t used to being on camera may not have the delivery skills for that medium. It has nothing to do with their manner of working, intelligence or skill. Thank goodness, Liz was interviewed for this!

The Mel Beta article also interviewed Steven Camarata, an SLP and professor at Vanderbilt University, who said that Mueller is just a breathy talker.

My opinion is that Mueller’s voice issues may be partially due to Liz’s observations, but also reflect what can happen to an aging voice: Presbyphonia, or vocal fold atrophy and bowing, is common in those of Mueller’s age.

Voice changes due to vocal cord atrophy are common in people over the age of 60 years. The most common symptoms include:

  • Reduced vocal volume
  • Higher pitched voice
  • Breathy, “thin” sound
  • Increased speaking effort
  • Vocal fatigue
  • Difficulty communicating with friends and family (especially with noise in the background or on the telephone)

This is why Mueller’s voice may have been perceived as breathy by Camarata, but it is also why his breath usage is “off.” If the vocal folds are not able to come together, natural robust support will falter and the speaker has to make more effort to speak, which is very fatiguing on all levels.

Targeted vocal function exercises done with recommended pacing do help aging voices. And just for the record, there are much younger speakers and singers who are diagnosed with this condition early in their lives. And it has nothing to do with poor technique or vocal abuse.

Also, if brain function as we age contributes to any of Mueller’s perceived “doddering,” ‘white matter’ can change in the elderly. ‘White matter’ is brain tissue composed of nerve fibers that connect nerve cells.This correlates with the speed of their mental processing.

The speed in mental processing is what is perceived as doddering. But it has nothing to do with ‘failing’ as a leader or expert.

“America champions the loud and the garish” –Wynton Marsalis

The Alchemy of Teaching Singing

Singing Voice Rehabilitation

Cate’s Collegial Consults

Vocal Conditioning

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 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 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.”