Singing Through Change: Who We are Writing For

If menopause symptoms were due solely to hormonal changes then the menopausal experience would be more homogenous.

In “Singing Through Change: Women’s Voices in Midlife, Menopause and Beyond, Nancy Bos, Joanne Bozeman and I are writing for a wide variety of singers who:

–Have sung all their lives but don’t understand that singing through the lifespan is like being active in sports. You need to tend things along the way or you can’t play.

Don’t know much about their bodies or biological cycles other than what they hear in media or what their doctors tell them.

–Work with singers through midlife and aging: coaches, teachers, performers, choral conductors, music directors and medical personal.

–Are colleagues, students and medical professionals. We are writing the book we wish we’d had as we moved through our changes.

A very T-A-L-L order? Yes.

That’s why there are three of us writing in collaboration. We are really excited about the very unique way of co-authoring we’ve created! It takes longer than if we each write a chapter, but it’ll be worth it!

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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.”

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

Nick is a musical 28-year old tenor with a Theater Degree and college voice lessons. He was on the roster of the Annapolis 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 and have their insertions in the Lumbar Spine.

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.

Releasing and strengthening the psoas  also means working with the “holding” patterns of other muscles around them. 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 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?

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.”