A Singer Diagnosed with Bi-Lateral Vocal Fold Paresis

It’s time to SHATTER the imbedded pedagogical view that “singing with the wrong vocal technique” causes vocal fold injury. That is true in many cases, but in equally as many cases it is not.

Please listen to my interview on the VocalFri podcast. We get into cool stuff every singer and voice teacher needs to hear.

Thanks for your precious attention and time!

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

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 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.