Life Experiment – Weight Lifting

Today marks 4 months into a weight training program I never imagined I’d do.  But, in order to change the body, you have to change your habits.  This is what I tell my voice clients everyday.

But you can’t preach what you don’t know.  Well, you can, but then you just sound hollow and boring after awhile.  There’s no #truthjuice behind words without experience to back them.

I’ve witness several clients go through a fundamental shift in vocal function after approximately one year of doing organized voice exercises.  Something in their bodies aligns in a new way, and they seem to have a new ground zero set point.  In order to truly know what that feels like, I have to go through that process myself – at least that’s what seems logical.

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Don’t Go To Music School

“But I worry that what students of the arts are often seeking in higher education is nothing more than proof of their own legitimacy – proof they are for real as creative people, because their degree says so.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic (103)

So, don’t go to music school.  Unless you have to.  Unless you feel so excited about it, your heart bursts.  Unless you know it’s the perfect path for you.  Unless it’s paid for, or you can easily afford it.

Of course, not all of these criteria will apply to you, and many people are blessed by music school in ways that nothing else can bless them.  All I want to point out is that creating art does not require a degree from college, nor does it require the kind of money colleges are asking for these days.

“But if you’re considering some sort of advanced schooling in the arts and you’re not rolling in cash, I’m telling you – you can live without it.  You can certainly live without the debt, because debt will always be the abattoir of creative dreams.” (104)

I feel like I have some ground to stand on when talking about this subject.  1) I was a University professor for 12 years.  2) I do not have an undergraduate degree in music.  3) I do have a master’s degree in music.

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Expressed By You

“Most things have already been done – but they have not yet been done by you.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic (p. 97)

Someone recently called me the Liz Gilbert of the voice world.  That’s high praise, ’cause Elizabeth Gilbert has changed my life. Twice. And even though I may never be as influential or well spoken as she is, I get her.  She speaks to me, just as I hope to speak to you.

The first time was with Eat, Pray, Love.  I know, I know, totally 2007, but I read that book in one sitting because I was deeply desperate for hope and authenticity.  Those were things I couldn’t muster for myself at the time, and that book was a guidepost toward my healing.

In that dark time, Eat, Pray, Love was a ray of bright, loving light shining straight into my heart.  One sitting, one book, life bettered.

The second time Liz’s words changed me was with her new book Big Magic.  A friend asked me if I wanted to borrow el libro recently, and with a title like that, who could refuse?  Several ideas from Big Magic have allowed me to do the unthinkable, including start this blog.  Hence, the next few posts will be about insights from this gem.

On discussing originality vs. authenticity, Gilbert says, “Everything reminds us of something.  But once you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours.” (97)Big Magic and Esther

Boom.  This concept is a game changer, and I’ll tell you why.

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The Three Mechanical Parts of the Voice

Many moons ago, in an auditorium not so far away, I caught a lecture that changed my life.  Dr. Tom Cleveland (an unbelievably compelling human being and voice pioneer) of the Vanderbilt Voice Center gave a talk during one of the music school’s special lunchtime learning programs at the Blair School of Music.  My student, who’s lesson was scheduled at that hour, didn’t have a choice about going.  We were going.  Something inside my soul knew it was important.  How important, exactly, hit me about midway through the talk.  Not days or months later, but exactly during that monumental, way-too-short hour.

He talked about a lot of things, showed video clips of the vocal folds in action, imitated the sound of the vocal folds without the vocal tract, told funny stories, talked about the voice center, referenced his research, and MADE A MECHANICAL VOICE OUT OF A BELLOWS, A DUCK CALL, AND A PIECE OF TUBING.

Wait.  What??  Stop, please.  Dr. Cleveland!  Did you just create a voice out of supplies from your shed??  Did that thing just sing vowels to us??  What is happening, and how do I make my whole life about this duck call/bellows/vowel-tube trick?

In that moment everything changed.  Ba-bam.

Do you remember back in the day when the internet wasn’t fast OR filled with information?  Well, this happened during those days.  Finding out more required asking a lot of questions of a lot of people, and trying to find someone to teach me about voice science that could also handle the fact that I sing jazz.  Back in those days, it felt like the classical singing camp had some kind of lock-down on information regarding the voice, which was a strange realization.  Fortunately, there was a woman at Western Michigan University named Diana Spradling who was a huge (huge) voice nerd and jazz voice teacher.  She graciously gave me lessons and showed me a spectrogram.  (Clouds parted, sun rays from heaven entered.)  It was like finding the holy grail.  A jazz teacher who loved voice science!

But – I digress.  Back to the mechanical voice situation.

Dr. Cleveland showed us that the voice can be understood in three parts: the power source, the vibrator, and the resonator.  The lungs and respiratory system provide the airflow and pressure, or fuel for the voice, the vocal folds cut up the column of air by vibrating and thus create a sound source, and the head acts like a container that resonates the sound.  This very simple model gives us a place to start addressing interactions between the three systems, and how they work in concert.  To this day, I tell every single student this 3-system story if they allow me even 1 minute to do it because if they know about it, they can begin asking empowered questions about it.

The Voice in 3 mechanical parts:

  1. Power Source – Lungs
  2. Sound source (or vibrator) – Vocal Folds
  3. Resonator – Vocal Tract

Got it.

Next: a video to show YOU how to make a voice using a duck call and a piece of tubing.  Stay tuned.

Here is a link to the American Academy of Otolaryngology’s description of the 3 mechanical parts of the voice: Click here and enjoy!

 

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A Winding Road To the Vocal Studio

Each one of us has a story.  And as Brené Brown has shown us with her research, there is value in telling stories and being vulnerable.  I want to tell you an abbreviated story of how I came to be a professional voice teacher.  This idea, of telling the story of how I got here, has been in my head for over a year.

And honestly, my inner critic has had a lot to say about keeping quiet and not saying one single, solitary word about it.

My hope is that telling a short version of the story in this lil’ bloggy blog will help someone out there take a deep breath and enjoy the ride a bit more.  There is no better way to live than trying things out.

How do you know what you like and what you’re made of if you don’t take some risks and go for it?  Your joy is at stake.  I believe we are in an era where lots of us are waking up to the realization that there is no standard except joy.  I have indeed learned that the amount of joy I feel is the measure, and pretty much not much else will do as far as standards go.

So, here goes.  Deep breath . . . and . . . writing . . .

I have always been able to sing.  My parents tell a story about my first words, which happened to come out in the form of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” from beginning to end.  Up to that point I had not done the typical baby babble.  Nope, I launched from no words straight into a song.  A crazy tale that my mom will tell you if you’d like to hear it from her perspective.

Fast forward into my 20s.  I took a job doing psychology research at Vanderbilt University after college, and with saxophone in hand, headed to Nashville.  There was an advertisement for “jazz voice lessons” at the Nashville Jazz Institute in the local paper about 8 months after moving to Music City and it felt like the heavens opened.  You see, I had always played jazz, but never got a chance to sing it.  (Except once.  In high school.  At a small cabaret dance in the cafeteria.)  And I knew in my heart of hearts that this was for me.  It was the thing I was born to do.

Fast foward again . . .after learning how to sing the jazz music, how to book gigs and tours, how to record albums, how to lead a band, how to make a formidable dent in a “music career” while working full time . . . to landing a dream job as a teacher of jazz voice at Vanderbilt University at the Blair school of Music.  I took that job and ran with it.  What started out with only 1 student in the spring of 2005, turned into upwards of 20 students per semester in a few short years.  The students were hungry for jazz, and I was thrilled to be there.  It just worked.

Alongside teaching, I still worked at different jobs and simultaneously managed the different aspects of being a jazz performer and writer.  One of my favorite jobs was as a women’s advocate at a domestic violence shelter.  (That job deserves a post of it’s own.)  Then came an overwhelming curiosity to know how the voice works, and ultimately grad school for a Master’s degree in Commercial Vocal Performance at Belmont University.  There, I absorbed as much knowledge as I could about voice pedagogy and music.  It was a “just the right thing at the right time” kind of experience.

One of the highlights of my life thus far has been a summer spent in Salt Lake City, Utah, studying voice science with people like Ingo Titze, Eric Hunter, and Kitty Verdolini-Abbott.  There are many wonderful life highlights, actually, but this particular summer stands out as one of the richest educational opportunities of my life.  You have to understand, the real graduate degree I want doesn’t exist yet.  This particular summer program is the closest thing you can get to a pure Vocology degree, and it felt like I’d hit the jackpot.

All that to say, I really enjoy bridging the gap between the classical and commercial singers of the world.  I want to bring the best practice and knowledge I can from the world of voice science (much of which is held by classical voice professionals) to the contemporary musicians who need it to do their very demanding jobs.  My frustrations in taking voice lessons early on and not being able to get answers about “why” have lead to finding a world of information and teachers that have helped me make sense of the whys AND hows of the voice.  (Another blog on that subject soon.)

I now work for myself and am the owner of Love Revolution Vocal Studios.  I am in the transformation business, and there is literally nothing better than helping someone heal or encouraging their beauty or being there for the next emotional breakthrough.  This job is a perfect marriage between psychology and music, and God willing, I’ll get to do it for a very long time.

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