Speaking Up About Voice Problems

“Whether you are in the midst of a big upheaval or riding the smaller rapids of everyday life, I want you to know you are not alone, not now, or at any stage of the journey.”
-Elizabeth Lesser, Broken Open, p. xxiv

My client leaned in a little closer like she was going to tell me a secret.  “Do you know how many people have had voice surgery??”  Her tone was hushed and her eyes were wide.

In all actuality, she was sharing a secret.  She works in the music industry and knows more than a few singers who aren’t able to talk about their “voice issues” because they might get labeled, judged, or out-right attacked. Having voice problems makes people “bad” in the public eye, and you hear echoes of judgement from every corner of the universe.  It can be subtle, but it’s there.

People have suffered in secret for far too long because of the stigma(s) attached to having “voice problems.”

This mentality of being “wrong” or “stupid” or “bad” because you have a voice challenge needs to stop.  Now.

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Basic Vocal Tone

by Justin Petersen

Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes once wrote,

“We are all of us three persons: the one we think ourselves to be, the one others think us to be and the one we truly are.”

This plight is never so acute as when applied to the student singer and how they perceive themselves through their voice. In my work, I have found that one of the most important things to do is to help singers find their ‘basic vocal tone.’

In his book Voice: Psyche and Soma, Cornelius Reid makes an exceptionally important point often skimmed when examining his substantial pedagogy: the topic of aesthetic listening and its inherent dangers.

Aesthetic listening is hearing a voice in a way that overlays aesthetic and stylistic preferences onto the mechanism (‘the one we think ourselves to be’). For example, a classical voice teacher might prefer darker, rounder tones and would train students to emit sounds in that way. A musical theater voice teacher might go the opposite way and entrain a voice into a very bright, brassy, forward sound.  Both are ‘specializations,’ a term borrowed from Peter T. Harrison in his book The Human Nature of the Singing Voice.

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How To Get Along?

Yesterday someone suggested I write a proposal for a conference presentation on how to get along.  More specifically,  about how people in the professional voice arena can create avenues of goodwill and constructive dialog.  Maybe – be friendlier to each other, and more open to exchanging ideas?

His point was, “its lovely when voice professionals come together and get along, but how do you do that?  What makes that possible?  We need someone to talk about it.”

I don’t know how to write that proposal yet.  I’m not sure how to instruct others on how to “get along” when I have so much to learn about it myself.

Please understand, my chosen profession (call me crazy for choosing it) is fraught with historic tension, fear, anger and strained relationships.  I won’t even claim to understand this psychological history, because I don’t and don’t want to.  I have heard enough stories and experienced enough relationship woes between voice teachers to know something is potentially awry.

Do relationship problems exist more chronically or pervasively in voice than in other professions?  Who cares.  They exist, and there are historic “dividing lines” between voice scientists and voice teachers, classical singers and pop singers, university faculty and community voice teachers.  Many lines have been drawn in many people’s heads, and you can probably think of a few more than I’ve listed here.

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Muscle Specificity, Exercise Science, and Jazz

“Specificity refers to the concept that strength training must be designed
to appropriately target the specific muscle or muscle group with the intended skill or task.”
(pg. 246, The Vocal Athlete, 2014)

On the heels of presenting at the Jazz Educators Network conference in New Orleans two weeks ago, I’d like to share some ideas about using jazz to train voices.

My presentation was called “Functional Voice Training Through Jazz Literature and Style,” and it outlined the benefits of using jazz rep and style as a training modality for commercial (or contemporary) singers.

Think: jazz lit and style as tools in the pedagogy toolbox.

In the 11+ plus years I taught university level jazz voice lessons, it (eventually) became obvious that jazz was good for voices.  I could use it to get a barely functioning voice to work like a charm, and even if a student wasn’t swimming in musical talent, a seme

ster or two of jazz voice lessons could help him/her get control of pitch, range, harmonic awareness, rhythm, and basic levels of phrasing.  Jazz helped vocal function based issues.

Jazz is replete with opportunities for teaching, at least in my opinion.  And I don’t think we’ve even begun to plumb its depths as a vocal training tool.

So, let’s begin, shall we?

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Vocology and Finding Common Ground

“Maybe we have more in common than we ever thought.”
~Ingo Titze
“Interviews on Voice Matters,” Nov. 24, 2015

In a recent interview with Dr. Ingo Titze, Director of the National Center for Voice and Speech, we discussed a wide array of subjects.  My favorite part of the interview revealed an idea worthy of it’s own post.

What is the greatest value of science, especially as it pertains to the voice?

Dr. Titze explains:

Liz: What are your dreams for the future of vocology?

Dr. Titze: Well the first thing that I see happening is that the science, even though it’s designed to present facts and give information, I think it’s greater value is bringing together people from different camps of voice training that were very suspicious of each other and hardly talked to each other before.  Because now they can both say, “well, science helps me figure out what I do, but it also helps me figure out what the other person does.  And maybe we have more in common than we ever thought.

Thank you, Dr. Titze, for helping pioneer the field of Vocology.  The world is a better place because of your work and spirit.  And maybe we will find, over time, we all have more in common than we ever thought – both as voice professionals and human beings.

Below is a full version of the interview, and below that, a listing of the subjects covered in chronological order.  I hope you gain inspiration and insight from Dr. Titze’s story and his vision for the future of voice science.

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