I have restored the voices of many professional and amateur singers (and speakers). Some of the clients were sent to me by area physicians with issues as minor as pin-point nodules or as major as uni-lateral vocal fold paralysis. I have restored the voices of cheerleaders, exercise professionals, and lead singers of rock bands. Among the most interesting cases of voice restoration have been older adults between the ages of 40 and 77! Usually poor vocal techniques, poor vocal hygiene or continued issues of voice abuse are the main causes of trouble in the younger adult singers, and presbylarynx (or presbyphonia) literally, “old age voice,” is the primary issue of people over 55 years of age.
I want to talk a little about how I restore the voices of older clients.
Let’s say the singer (or speaker) is having symptoms of the aging voice, which include gradual loss of energy, range, clarity, control and volume, or is now limited to producing a very wobbly vibrato where there was a succinct one before. The first thing I do after having them sing for me is to evaluate what has been their baseline technical thoughts about breathing, breath management and placement. Breath management is another term for the all too frequently misunderstood term “support.” Placement means the origination point of phonation…or sound, and it’s subsequent trajectory or direction within and outside of the mouth.
Many singers have been taught or just allowed to originate their sound in the back of their mouths and even more singers hold the vibrato there. In my view, the problem with that is, “the voice” is basically an exhalation which has been set in vibration, creating pitch. The quality of those pitches are influenced by what the singer does with the tongue, the lower jaw and the internal spaces within the skull and body itself. Unless the singer would like to “color” the sound in a certain way, it is much easier on the vocal folds to roll at their best physiological pace (hopefully faster) if the air-flow is coming out of the front of the mouth, rather than being trapped in the back of the mouth by a backward movement of the tongue. Singing in the front of the mouth can naturally generate a beautiful, free, and stable vibrato that oscillates without a wobble of any kind as long as the singer manages the breath well. I want my singers to let the sound out of the mouth by singing in a demonstrable forward direction—without pushing or attempting to “project” the sound.
Also, many singers have been taught to “breathe from the diaphragm,” which is physiologically impossible! These singers usually end up pressurizing the abdominal musculature to accomplish that, and this can help create an imposing wobble—starting in their youth—-and continuing for sure as they age. Using facts from scientific descriptions of the functional anatomy of the respiratory system, I am able to literally show the singer how breathing actually works and then I can change the way they think about and accomplish the acts of breathing and breath management. Now they are able to produce the default, or natural quality of their real instrument….not the one they created in their youth, by trying to sound older than they were, or by imitating singers they admired.
In this way, I am able to “YOUTHanize” the older singer, while introducing them to their real default sound…which is usually always one thousand times better than the sound they developed over a lifetime of singing.
I LOVE to teach older singers and these are just a couple of the tools I use to restore their voices. Adults are ready, focused, and want to practice to restore the beauty of the instrument they once enjoyed. My students not only have the pleasure of enjoying the restoration, but also the excitement of feeling and hearing the true improvement of a quality they never knew they had! It is really a delightful moment for us when the student becomes overwhelmed by the beauty of their own natural instrument returned to a resilient, flexible state!
Like any kid who tells you at 5 that she wants to be a nurse, a teacher, Miss America and Barbie, I always had serious interests in multiple professions. I knew at an early age that I wanted to be: a professional Musician, a professional English Teacher, AND a professional Psychologist—all at the same time!! I was passionately interested in all of those professions and the truth is that all of those interests became the ingredients for the fuel that propelled my life choice to be a Voice Teacher!
First, the singer IS the ONLY instrument with The WORD. So, the study and understanding of great literature and poetry in any language, only augments what a trainer has to offer as a Vocal Coach! One of the obligations of the Vocal Coach is to help the student bring out the meaning of the story they are sharing so that their audience can feel their own feelings about their personal life experiences as they listen to the lyrics and musical content of a song. This is true for all music ranging from Classical to Pop!
Second, the Voice Teacher has to be part psychologist to deal with the varied issues of the singer. Singing is 1% physical and 99% psychological, so a trainer has to develop great skills in this area to help singers succeed and sustain their success no matter what the circumstances.
Third, it goes without saying that one has to be trained and mentored by excellent musicians who understand the history and cultures of many lands and peoples and their music…since the singer sings in many languages about the human condition. It’s all about the human condition, folks, whether you are singing about it, acting about it, writing about it, painting about it…In the arts, as in life, it’s all about the human condition!
In college I majored in Piano (Ruth Slenczynska), Cello (Joseph Pival) and Voice (Dale Moore). Ultimately, I received two degrees in Vocal Performance with post-graduate studies in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences. My voice teacher encouraged me to start teaching voice at the ripe old age of twenty and I learned, as my experience grew, that I had the ability to help heal and advance the singer by changing faulty techniques used with new technologies I developed, which were much different from what I had been taught. More about that later…
I hope that over time I can shed a little light on various topics relating to the study of something you cannot see. I think this quote about the human voice is the truth:
“How wonderful is the human voice! It is indeed the organ of the soul. The intellect of man is enthroned visibly on his forehead and in his eye, and the heart of man is written on his countenance, but the soul, the soul reveals itself in the voice only.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow