“Sing Like a Dying Dinosaur”

I was nineteen years old when this photo was taken and no, I was not going to military school. I was a member of my college choral group and we were required to wear this outfit, which I think looks sort of like a cross between a military uniform and mâitre d’s outfit! I guess I would have been ready to serve the audience some food, after we finished singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic!

At nineteen I changed my major to Voice Performance from Piano and Cello Performance. I went on to obtain two degrees in Voice Performance and added Post-Graduate studies in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences to round out that period of my education.

At nineteen, I also won a full scholarship to study at a prestigious music training ground called The Meadow Brook Music Festival. There I studied with some of the greatest and most famous musicians in the world in areas of solo vocal and choral performance style and repertoire. My assigned voice teacher there was a best friend of my regular university Voice professor, who was thrilled that I would have the opportunity to work with his friend.

The main gift for me from studying with this man, was being able to objectively review his skills as a trainer and therefore be able to choose to NEVER teach a student in the future (if I ever taught Voice) with such an amazing lack of clarity and insulting ego-laden detachment.

Not every trainer can be a “warm and fuzzy” type of person, and I don’t think that teachers should be required to be! I also think that “warm and fuzzy” can be a possible hiding place when you are not entirely sure about how something you cannot see, works. My rule is that the Client deserves correct information—-not just what the accepted, usual slogans are.

This guy looked right through me and not at me with any recognition of the fact that I was just another human being on the planet trying to figure it all out. He was a teacher who was patently unclear in his instructions, so I was at a loss to grow the entire time I worked with him. What he had in his favor was the fact that I was open and willing to ingest any pearls of wisdom he could share about how to sing better.

His big moment came at the end of our last lesson together. As though he was bestowing the keys to the kingdom upon me, he threw up his right arm and hand, pointed them towards the ceiling, continued to hold them aloft while walking out of the room looking like a moving version of the famous statue of the first emperor of Rome, Augustus. As he strode out of the room he loudly declared:

“Sing Like a Dying Dinosaur!!”

Do you have any idea what that means?? Well, I certainly don’t. Unfortunately I have discovered over many long years of teaching literally hundreds of people how to sing and speak better, a lot of voice training is exactly like this! Generations of people have tried to “breathe from the diaphragm,” “lift the soft palate, and ”direct their breath down into the pelvic floor!” These are all statements which have been passed down for generations without investigation and with blind trust!

You cannot “sing from the diaphragm!” You cannot even “breathe from the diaphragm!” Both are physiologically impossible! The soft palate, normally coordinated, is lifted by the body in the act of swallowing or to prevent certain phonemes from being deflected into the sinuses during singing or speech. A person cannot just lift the soft palate… ever! They can coordinate the lowering of the back of the tongue, creating a particular sense of space in an extremely small area. This action truly alters the natural, default quality of the the singer—which I don’t always agree is a good thing. Why put your unique quality in a box that says “woofy and dark” when your natural quality is already rich or crystalline? And, there is no way in this life or the next, that breath can be
directed into the pelvic floor!!! Ever.

What I am saying is that the only way a person can solidly learn anything in a mentored field such as this one, is to be given clear, accurate instruction…instruction which is the truth and springs from what the body actually does as a machine. In this way, chosen adjustments can be replicated correctly over and over and over again, with clear understanding. As a student, I swore to myself—on that very day—that if I ever taught Voice, I would never make Clients feel as stupid as I was feeling in that moment and I would discover how the “moving parts” all work together so that I could make accurate statements about function and accomplishment to my students.
I read recently that what people say about you, is your Brand. This is the reason, I think, people mention in their testimonials that I know a lot about the science concerning how the voice really works!

Anyway, NEVER try to sing like a dying dinosaur. It will only annoy your neighbors. And pay attention! Are you receiving relatable and understandable instruction, or do you listen to what is being said, and then do something that might get you to “yes?” I understand this type of predicament because this is what I did as a student too!

Never be afraid to ask for clarification!! /;~}}

Restoring Voices is Truly a Pleasure!

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!

So What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

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

Welcome to SheilaDugan.com

This is the First Post for the new Sheila Dugan Voice and Speech Studio updated website! Welcome to my website! I hope you will easily find answers to many of your questions.

For the first post I would like to tell you about the Glider Bar on the Home Page and what it represents to me. When I look at the faces of my students in these photos, I remember the years of detailed work we enjoyed together…years full of accomplishments, all devoted to helping them move to their Next Level…years of big smiles, great friendships and valuable time well spent .

I look at the lively, joyful photos of these talented individuals and feel so proud of my collaboration with them and all of my students’ successes.  The students in the Glider Bar photos are: Tara Seisener Heal (starring on stage for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines), Ginna Doyle (starring as Magenta in the Yale University production of The Rocky Horror Show), Rob Gallagher (starring as Harold Hill in The Music Man at the John W. Engeman Theater), Eric Williams (starring as Elf in Elf the Musical), Michael Harp (starring as Kurt in The Sound of Music at the Lyric Opera of Chicago), Hannah Kiem (starring as Helene in Sweet Charity at NYU), Jordan Bollwerk (starring as Thomas Andrews Jr., in Titanic at Elon University), Angie Shadwick Keeton (I am sorry that I do not have the name of the opera in which she is performing in this photo) and last, Amanda Jerry (starring in The Ghost at Carnegie Mellon University).

I contacted many of my wonderful students for performance photos of themselves, and over time, in subsequent posts, I will display more of them. I thank all of these students for the their generosity, and more photos are welcomed through the years!

To end this post, I thought that now you have seen Tara Siesener Heal’s attractive back…you might like to see her equally lovely front!   /;~}}    Thanks for visiting my website!  SD

Tara Siesener Heal