Singing, Teaching and the Healing Arts

IMG_0450 Recently I looked up “Ancient Roots of Singing.”

The first article listed in the Search Engine was a 2013 article about the Grammy-award winning work of an oncologist who uses music to help heal his patients.

Science is catching up to what musicians have known for 10,000 years. So now that science is catching up, music as a healing modality, is suddenly worthy of an article on

And the first person featured is a scientist, not a musician.

Even though the ways that music heals are countless, and many healers, musicians, teachers and other professionals have applied music in intentional healing ways for millenia, it is a first for healing-based music to attain the high-profile status of this Manhattan-based oncologist. The article completely glosses over the Grammy-award nomination of Steven Halpern for his healing/meditation album several years earlier.

But more importantly, what is “healing-based music?” This has been foremost in my mind as a teacher of singing and musician, for the past 35 years.

I think the answer lies in the intent of the musician and in the intent of the teacher. If either is full of Ego, music may impress, or amuse, or flatten back the ears, but it won’t heal. Healing-based music stitches together the body, mind, heart and soul into a more complete tapestry for both the singer and the listener. The web is chock-full of videos of teachers and their students showing off unmusical belting, whistle tones and screaming, as if that is what singing is about.

And by the way, as some of you know, I am in a long recovery for the condition of severe vocal fold paralysis, and it is interesting that I can now “belt”, use whistle tones and even scream, but I can not yet SING. One is not the other.

Belting, whistle tones and healthy screams can be tools for expression, but are not a way to sing through a song or show or role. (classical singers, I include you in this–I am appalled at the number of videos on the web of singers heaving and pushing their way through opera arias. While sometimes impressive, I, as the listener, am caught wondering how it will end–will you crash and burn, or will we all be left standing at the end…not a great musical experience for either of us, although I am sure you have reasons for forcing yourself into Queen of the Night or Violetta…and by the way, the great Beverly Sills did not publicly perform the Queen until she was 35 years old.)

But I digress.

Some music expresses for us what we can not express, but that does not automatically mean it heals. Perhaps it expresses anger or violation or injustice, but the qualities of the music keep us stuck in those feeling states. That does not lead to healing, either. In order to heal, there has to be some sort of alchemical process, catharsis, transformation or change of the physical structure of our bodies at a profound level. This is the stuff of great theater and great music and great teaching. To transform, transport and help us to imagine ourselves as part of Something Greater.

And when you, as a singer or teacher, become transformed or healed through your work, you automatically transform others around you. It has become a daily practice for me to silently state this intent, before every lesson I teach or every choir or group workshop I lead, to be an instrument of healing and positive change. Both for the singers and for myself.

Then I use specific and very practical tools and exercises, plus my manner of working, to coax physical, mental and emotional change slowly, at the student’s pace, over time. This is the heart of Somatic ReEducation, and it must happen before a singer is completely free to release the music in them and communicate with an audience.

Now what is interesting about this is that you might light a healing change in a listener or a student which causes them to face things in themselves they can not face. That is not your issue. Do not accept their projections of their issues onto you. The process of change is often not easy and requires time and energy to work with an effective healer/teacher/musician.

Singers and singing teachers work with transforming breath into sound. While we take this alchemy for granted, it is the stuff of miracles.

Be on your way to transforming–yourself, your listener or your student–that is the ancient understanding of the arts that translates to today. The ways and methods we alchemically heal may change, but the basic premise of singing and music as healing arts never will.

Creating Singing Work for Museums and Art Galleries

Creating a market for singing as a professional singer often requires thinking outside the box and seeing opportunities where others see nothing.

From 1985-2005 I was successful in creating programs and performing opportunities which were brought into many museums and art galleries in the Washington, DC area.

Combining art and music has always been a passionate interest. When I studied Latin and Greek in high school (hey, I wanted to, so there) I found out about the Greek work “ekphrasis,” which originally referred to the various perspectives of an object that a visual artist was painting or sculpting. It has come to mean poetry and prose written to describe visual art, and by extension, song and music written to describe visual art. For an opera history project in graduate school, I chose Paul Hindemith’s “Mathis der Mahler” to survey and was completely blown away by the story of the painter Mathias Grunwald told through the music of Hindemith.

Pavarotti, Joni Mitchell and Jerry Garcia are just a few musicians who all painted. Many singers I know are jewelry designers and artisan craftspeople. And it is most interesting for me to see this passed down to our adult son, Adam Neely, who has twice won the national young jazz composers’ ASCAP award as well as a grant from The Jerome Foundation.  He hears in color. (synesthesia.)

Anyway, I went into all that so you would see why pursuing work in museums and art galleries was a major love for me. I did it because it was an expression of my core self.

Here are some questions about this topic posed by singer Tiffany Thorpe on the New Forum for Classical Singers on Facebook. I asked Tiffany if I could use her questions as a jumping off point for this post and she agreed.

Tiffany: How would I go about proposing something like this to a gallery owner? How do I start the conversation?

Moi: I realize that things are quite different from even five years ago, but I think some things are the same. All my programs were built around what was being exhibited, and sometimes included poetry about the art or the subject of the exhibition. (I just got a Facebook message from Victoria Kirsch out in L.A. who has programmed in a similar manner!) This means that before you approach the museum programs’ director or gallery owner, do your homework. Find out what exhibits are planned for the next two years. Some exhibits are easier to plan music around than others.

(There is a great deal of research and imagination that goes into planning music around an exhibit but I love that kind of thing.)

Then you email the contact person, with their name spelled correctly, and introduce yourself. If you are not associated with an organization, say that you are a professional singer who specializes in integrating visual art with music. Even if you’ve done this only with children as a teacher or parent, that counts. Ask if they would be interested in collaborating with you on a program of music related to xyz exhibition. Always mention that it would be beneficial to the gallery/museum to combine audiences and that you would be able to bring in people to a program that might not visit the exhibit otherwise.

Along the way, sometimes I found out about a concert series that I did not know about—this was partially before the Internet. I actually cold-called a few program directors and got immediate positive results. Do not mention money or funding at this point unless they bring it up. Usually, if they are interested, they will respond to your email asking for a proposal or ask you what you have in mind.

Tiffany: What’s in it for them? What’s the normal percentage of ticket sales for the gallery owner or small venue to take?

Me: 1) You will be bringing more people into their space who would normally not be there and 2) help them to connect into the greater arts’ community via any publicity you generate. Think of your friends, work associates, students, church or temple connections, gym, child’s play group, book club, etc.and estimate how many people you might be able to draw in personally.

Financial or Other Compensation was different for each of my experiences. Each concert was negotiated differently, and each time I got smarter. Here are seven selected experiences to give you some ideas.

1984—Bethune Museum Archives, Washington, DC. (first meeting place for the National Council of Negro Women. ) Back then, The Washington Post had two arts’ reviewers who were known to be sympathetic to up-and-coming musicians. I contacted one of them, Calvin Le Compte, and let him know I had created a program of classical songs by African-American female composers (lots of time spent in the Library of Congress—pre-Google,) and he introduced me to the museum’s curator. She managed to come up with a tiny honorarium from The National Parks’ Service, but Le Compte wrote a wonderful review that appeared in the Post. The museum did a fair amount of publicity in their materials, which got my name out.

1986—My former chamber ensemble, The Amoroso Chamber Consort, performed for an afternoon Tea at Strathmore Mansion in North Bethesda, Maryland. This is a venue that has a small art gallery and concert hall. All the songs had to do with food or drink, including the soprano aria from the Bach Coffee Cantata. Their first financial offer was just tea and crumpets in exchange for our services. I said no. The negotiation went back and forth several times, but we eventually settled on–they would do their usual publicity, and pay us through another source other than the Tea IF we agreed to perform two sets back to back, and if we filled 3 tables with ticket-buying customers. I also reduced the ensemble from 5 to 3 people, and we made a decent wage.

1989–This same venue sponsored a John Cage Retrospective with him in attendance– both his art and music. I called the director of the John Cage Festival to pitch my wares and she asked for my resume and cassette demo. I did not get invited to do a program alongside Cage’s art installation, but I was invited to be the soprano in the John Cage Festival Orchestra! Note: I was the soprano IN the orchestra, not WITH the orchestra….and that score was very strange. And I got paid. And met John Cage.

1990—I approached a small art gallery in Kensington, MD, (now defunct) about bringing Hebrew and Sephardic songs to their gallery, as the gallery owner was Jewish and the art was very Chagall-like. She told me she already had a music series and put me in touch with their coordinator, who happened to be her husband. I auditioned for him and ended up singing 4 concerts with him and some fine instrumentalists. We shared ticket sales. Even though this wasn’t a big money-maker, the venue was 5 minutes from my home—I had a toddler then–and I didn’t have the responsibility of singing an entire new program. I got to perform some awesome chamber music. I did bring in many people to the gallery to hear me sing who would not have gone in normally.

2005—I noticed that the National Museum of Women in the Arts was sponsoring an exhibit called “Nordic Cool: Hot Female Designers,” and I cold-called their program director to offer a noon-time program featuring Nordic composers. I arranged a collaboration among them, me and Levine Music, where I received a faculty grant to execute this project. I typed up the program and Levine printed them for me. The museum contributed wonderful publicity and set up, including a tuned grand piano. The central rotunda, where the concert took place, was full. Later I would sing an evening program on their concert stage, with advance ticket sales of $20.00 a piece. We split the proceeds 50/50. That wasn’t as successful financially or in the way logistics were handled.

2007–This story is a good one. The Smithsonian Resident Associates program contacted me to do the Nordic program I had sung for the NMWA. They were having a Swedish festival and wanted the concert performed at the New House of Sweden, by the Potomac River, that had a new art exhibit of Nordic multi-media artists. Their financial offer was insultingly low and they would not budge. AND, get this–they actually asked me to bring a piano.

After I got over THAT, I said, seriously, “well, I have a portable Yamaha digital but you will have to pay ten times what you are offering. If you do that, I not only will get the piano to the venue, but you will have solved the piano situation and the musicians with this one phone call. I never dreamed they would accept it.

2008—I cold-called the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC, when I noticed that they had an upcoming exhibit of American quilts. I offered them a program I had written about quilts and quilting several years before for a women’s chorus which I conducted. This is how I was paid: I formed another women’s chorus that met every week for 5 months to learn the program, and the women paid me a preset fee which was handled by a former student who acted as business manager. From that fee I paid my accompanist, paid for a good recording and the rental on the church room where we rehearsed. The second floor recital hall of the Renwick Gallery was packed with standing room only, and it was a wonderful experience for everyone. I am still in afterglow 6 years later! The museum printed the program for us and created beautiful posters and publicity.

General thoughts

1. Each situation is different and needs to be handled creatively, but I went into each conversation with information. I also knew what I could and could not live with in terms of pay and extra responsibilities. The Smithsonian was a weird one. If I didn’t have an athlete for a husband that piano would never have made it…

2. Be specific about what publicity they will do and what you will do. You will be responsible for creating copy and making sure it reads well. Don’t leave it up to them or your name will appear as Adele Dazeem.

3. Some places have a set fee and percentage for ticket sales, and some are open to negotiation. Do your homework, and above all, practice what you are going to say to just say it. Often your confident, relaxed delivery speaks volumes about what you are willing to accept.

4. Yes, it is a huge amount of work. That’s the business. Like I said, decide what you can and can not do.

5. If there are ticket sales involved, always have the museum or gallery handle that. You have more than enough to do, let alone the craft, artistry and maintaining physical health for singing.

Happy Singing and I hope this helps spear head some great collaborations!

Youtube Voice Lessons–Pros and Cons

Thanks to the wonders of the Web, there are millions of people in all businesses peddling their expertise, including voice teachers. Since I’ve been teaching singing privately and in workshops for a long time, I’ve watched this form of education and advertising mushroom over the years. Part of me is fascinated by the ease that many people have in front of the camera, and part of me hears what’s being said and watches anyway, like someone who is not able to look away from a horrible train wreck.

Recently I began contacting some video voice teachers who have many subscribers to their Youtube channels to ask questions. This is consistent with my history–if many people in my field are doing something, and I seem to be missing “why,” I ask “what do you get out of this?” Most of them were gracious with their time and honest in their answers, but some reminded me of “the olden days,” when voice teachers closely guarded their trade secrets.

There are some good voice teachers on the web, but in my opinion, they are few and far between. It is a great deal of work to make and produce a video voice lesson series, and most of the teachers I interviewed admitted that they have not seen much financial return for that work. They spend a great deal of time answering questions in the comments’ section, or get a Skype lesson or two out of it, but regular recurring students are a rarity. It seems to take about two to five years of making video lessons part of their regular work day, to start to get regular private students on Skype. My impression was that the number of students seeking Skype lessons does increase, which keeps income steady, although the retention rate is dismal.

For some teachers, possibly the advertising revenues from Google can be greater than income from teaching. One mid-20’s instrumental musician/teacher I interviewed says that he has made about $600–$700 from Google in the ten years he has sporadically posted video teaching lessons. He reminded me of something I have read consistently–that the key for getting students or increasing advertising income is to post regular and inspiring video content. More experienced video lesson teachers taper off making the videos after they have the work they want, and let their old video lessons continue to pull in students.

There are those who are making video lessons because they have a burning need to be famous or have true narcissistic issues, which can usually be spotted a mile away.

From what I have observed, creating video lessons makes great sense if you are trying to sell a book, educational material or fill a webinar, but it may not translate to more regular students unless they are Skype lessons.

There are two issues I have with many video voice teachers. And the fact that I have not made videos (yet) is not wasted on me….I get it. Those who have not done something easily cast stones. I know that things are different than when I began teaching singing 35 years ago and know that it is harder to navigate the market place. Or is it? After talking with video lesson teachers, I think that the same skill sets of ingenuity, creativity and hard work were necessary a generation ago as they are today. The difference is that academia is graduating many more musicians whose inbred qualities do not include those three attributes. Read Colvin’s Talent is Overrated.

Yet there are two things that are often missing in most video voice teachers that I feel are the foundation of being a good teacher of singing.

1. Knowledge of how the voice is supposed to work is only a PREREQUISITE for all good teachers of singing. And now, thanks to voice science and the evolution of the species called “the voice teacher,” we have voice teachers who know the science of how the body is supposed to work in the production of sound. Just because you have explained the science does not mean you know how to work with an individual over time.

YET in spite of this progress we still have voice teachers talking about doing something with nasal resonance, nasal cavities, the vague directive to “support from the diaphragm” and forward placement, all of which are SENSATIONS due to something happening efficiently elsewhere in the body, larynx, throat and mouth. I hear many video voice teachers talking science but sometimes it is not accurate. (Kind of like using “facts” in a political debate–you never know what is accurate and what is not. Thankfully, voice science is pretty straight forward.) But the unsuspecting public gets pulled in.

And, I repeat–if you happen to get your scientific facts straight, just because you know the accurate science behind how the larynx works, or just because you have figured out how it works in your own body and come up with your own terminology, it does not mean you know how to work with others because singing is such an individual act. You also need to be able to observe, sense and diagnose how and what is not working in another singer, much like a body worker or physical therapist. You need to understand a basic physics’ principal that where a tension is released, it must be picked up somewhere else in the body. Which means you need to observe and hear fine muscle movements with an eagle eye and ear. You need to understand how emotion (fear, anger, sadness, just to name a few emotions,) can be stored in the body and affect singing. And then know how to work with muscle groupings and the mind to help slowly release dysfunction and build up vocal function. And on top of all that, you must be, or have been, a good musician and/or singer yourself.

2. The greatest musicians and teachers are HUMBLE in the face of their art and the traditions from which they come. No voice teacher or musician or entertainer ever exists in a vacuum, however much they think they do. Many video voice teachers as a whole are not communicating anything other than that they have the answers and learned the answers themselves so they are the experts.

We live in a culture of Personality Worship. The problem is our cultural understanding of Humility. Sometimes the word is synonymous with being a door mat or mild-mannered. Humility, as an expert, comes from understanding you are where you are because of the work of others. It comes from knowing that the things you have “discovered” are indeed, worthy, but not because you have originated the idea. You might be the One to take an idea to the next level, but we are part of a web that reaches further than the internet, further than we can fathom. Becoming humble means you are in service to something Greater than Yourself and you are there to serve the student. How can one teacher be of service to everyone on the Web? It doesn’t work that way.

Video voice lessons are a great way for people to find out more about their own singing but the truth is, you learn to sing by singing. Which means that just about any video voice “tip” will be of help if it gets you singing or starting to practice more consciously.

I’ve found a few web voice teachers who are accurate, knowledgable, great singers, humble and have a great sense of humor. But let the buyer beware….they are few and far between.

Chamber Music for Soprano

cfn_82506_DSC6033In the 27 years I worked as a classical singer, I was incredibly lucky to sing a great deal of chamber music.

Chamber music fed my heart as a musician and collaborator.  In addition to performing standard chamber music repertoire such as “The Shepherd on the Rock” of Franz Schubert at the Goethe Institute in DC, and Bach’s solo arias with obligato instruments with The Washington Bach Consort, I worked for many years for the former American Women Composers, premiering numerous American works in 8 languages throughout the Mid-Atlantic and on the West Coast of the US. Eventually AWC absorbed into The International Alliance of Women in Music.

If you are looking for chamber music repertoire, here’s a partial list from those performing years. Back in the day, I had to go into downtown Washington,DC and the Library of Congress to research this stuff. Some of it may be hard to find, but it is worth a little sleuthing.

G.F. Handel–“No se emendera jamais,” Spanish Cantata, soprano, continuo (keyboard and cello)

Albert Rouseel–“Deux Poems de Ronsard,” soprano and flute

Johann Christian Bach–“Semplicetto, an cor…” (from the opera Endimoione) soprano, flute and piano

Arnold Cooke–“Three Songs of Innocence,” soprano, clarinet and piano

Aaron Copland–“As it Fell Upon the Day,” soprano, flute and clarinet

Gustav Holst–“Four Songs for Voice and Violin”

Virgil Thompson–“Five Phrases from the Song of Solomon,” soprano and percussion

Lynn Steele–“Breviario,” soprano and harp

Clare Shore–“Four Vocalises” for soprano and mandolin

Nancy Carrol–“Songs from the Heart of a Child,” Soprano, mandolin and guitar

W.A. Mozart–“Komm, Liebe Zither, Komm,” K 351 soprano and mandolin
“Die Zufriedenheit,K 349 soprano and mandolin (this makes a nice mini-set)

Herman Berlinski–“Psalm 23” Soprano and Flute

Clara Lyle Boone–“Slumber Song” voice and mandolin

Winifred Hyson–“Love and Beyond” for soprano, flute and Japanese koto (I sang this with Lori Laitman, flute, before she became a well-known American composer!)

H. Villa-Lobos–“Suite for Voice and Violin” for voice and violin, and
“Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5,” for soprano and 8 celli

Franz Lachner–“Frauenlieben und Leben” soprano, french horn and piano. Franz Lachner had two brothers, Ignaz and Vinzenz, who also wrote chamber music for high voice.

Granados–“La Majo Doloroso” soprano, english horn and piano (I’ve also done this with a french horn playing the english horn part.)

Chamber Operas:

A Game of Chance by Seymour Barab

A Hand of Bridge by Samual Barber

Green Eggs and Ham, by Robert Kapilow (listen to an excerpt here, although this performance used a piano reduction of the chamber music score.)

Birthday of the Infanta by Ron Nelson

There’s so much out there! If you are planning a recital or program, explore some chamber music.

The Business of Music for College Arts’ Majors

moneyThere’s a great deal of talk these days about how college music and arts’ programs need to include more matter-of-fact courses in marketing and the music business. I may be a lone voice in the world of career singers and singing teachers, but it seems to me that it is not so much a question of learning business skills as it is of developing 1) Creative Entrepreneurship and 2) Learning to Manage Money.  These skills are necessary even before you learn about music as business.  And those two things must be cultivated when you are growing up, BEFORE you get to college. I don’t think it is the college’s responsibility to teach these things. It is the parents’ responsibility to encourage an environment where a creative person starts to think in these ways and begins to acquire the skills.

So once again, we are blaming teachers and curriculums for things parents should be doing.

That being said, my parents did encourage my creative projects and interests, but didn’t do so well with teaching my brothers and me about money management. I can not blame them for two reasons. The first is that they were both musicians and very spiritual and religious souls in a certain era of American history who still managed to raise three kids on a church musician’s salary.  They had mom’s supplemental income but no outside help or family inheritances. They had many mixed feelings about money because of their ingrained belief that Christianity and financial security could not exist within the same life. They also had swallowed the belief that musicians needed to work as a service to the Lord, which is not a bad idea, but their beliefs translated to working their asses off for little financial return. Children will inherit attitudes modeled by their caregivers.

The second is due to my nature.  I fall in the category of creative dreamer-souls who have had to learn the hard way that learning about money is in my own best interests. It’s like I couldn’t leave the part of my life when my parents’ took care of everything, like some people insist on the notion that love is nothing but romance. I couldn’t seem to grow up for a long time.

I had the Creative entrepreneurship thing down, though, and my website outlines some of what I’ve done.

But in this post, I offer you my version of Handling Money as an Artist when I was in my 20’s here. Fortunately, time and wisdom (and getting my butt kicked a few times,) have helped me grow up.

Tax Forms
1.  al+x_________ _________ squilgy lines wack-a-doo ___________________
2. form c sized to which never (silence in brain)              ___________________
3. we will kill you unless you put a number here              ___________________
4. (this spot for doodling with cool pen)                               ___________________
TOTAL EARNED INCOME                                                         hahahahahahaha

Credit Card Debt Credit cards mean I have money and can pay for things even though I have not actually earned or obtained the money to pay. The balance due is a reflection of how much the creditor trusts me. They really trust me a lot.

Itemized Item Deductions for Self-Employment Tax

I actually have receipts by the Miracle of Lourdes but it took me over 25 years to learn to do this in a systematic way.

Sheet Music………………………….                                $ 310.45
Piano Tuning…………………………                               $ 220.00
Private Lessons and Coaching…………..              $1,000.00
Students Who Suck Life Out of Me……              $7,000.00
Psycho Parents of High School Students        $9,000.00
Corporate Administration Mindset in
the non-profit arts’ educational
institution where I work……………………….             $503,006.82
Self-Doubt as an Artist/ Educator……….             priceless

Put gas in and go

Paying Bills On Time to acquire good credit score
Wait for collection agency letter, then pay. Pay for all books, recordings and craft supplies BEFORE rent and food.

No number of college courses in marketing or business could have helped me with what are basic adult skills in a contemporary society. Those skills were (and still are) so BORING compared to the music and visions in my head and heart that I could not bear to focus on financial common sense.   Suzie Ormon herself couldn’t have persuaded me otherwise in college.

Money management starts before you go to college, and if you are not the type of person who will learn, it will catch up with you later. So learn what you can now.

I hope my little list has been of help….

Is Your Child Ready for Private Voice Lessons?

Making a Joyful Noise: Is Your Child Ready for Private Voice Lessons?

Does your child love to sing? Is she interested in private voice lessons? This article will help you find a good voice teacher and smooth out the wrinkles often associated with formal music study.

Q: When can my child start voice lessons?

Many voice teachers say that a girl should be at least 14 years old or past puberty before starting voice lessons, and a boy should wait until after his voice changes. Until these hormonal changes occur, the larynx and vocal cords are growing rapidly and they feel that voice lessons will pressure these muscles. In the meantime, these teachers advise students to sing in an ensemble, listen to good singing and/or study an instrument.

However, since these hormonal changes now occur much earlier than in previous generations, many children are ready for private lessons much earlier. With the right teacher, students can establish good vocal and musical habits and also foster an awareness of personal interpretation and beauty.

An adolescent’s rate of physical and emotional growth, and her interests and talents, determine when she is ready to start lessons. It is important that the voice teacher working with your child understand the physiology and psychology of young singers. They need experience and interest in working with this age group. Adolescents are not small adults. Males and females differ in vocal development as much as they differ in physical and emotional development. I recommend steering clear of any coach or teacher who manipulates an overly-mature or adult sound from a young singer. Without fail, child sensation singers who are encouraged to sound like adults often end up with severe vocal problems that are hard to heal when they are in their 20s. And you should know that often the business practices associated with promoting child stars don’t always have the interests of the young singer at heart. But by then, the next child-sensation has made the rounds on Youtube and the young adult singer is left with a barely functioning voice.

Consult with two or three recommended private teachers (it is worth paying their consulting fee to save money in the long run) or ask to visit voice classes with your child to make an informed decision together. You can also ask to observe another student’s lessons, with permission from the student, her parent and the teacher.

Look for a teacher who joyfully encourages regular healthy vocal production and musicianship. That teacher should also hear your child as an individual and not try to make every voice sound the same. Ask the teacher or coach if she enjoys working with your child’s age group and gender.

Q: What is the difference between a voice teacher and a voice coach?

A voice coach helps students learn new music, plays the keyboard and guides the singer in musical selections and style. A voice teacher can function as a coach, but is responsible for developing the physical, mental and emotional aspects of singing called “vocal technique.” Both voice teachers and coaches need to be excellent musicians, although a good voice teacher does not necessarily play the piano, and a good coach does not always know the best ways to develop skill.

Q: What is considered “healthy singing?”

Healthy singing does not make the student’s throat hurt, leave her hoarse or cause her to cry at the end of a lesson. Healthy singing normally does not make neck veins strain, the jaw thrust toward the ceiling or breath come in gasps. Healthy singing means that the student’s body is working in a well-coordinated and natural fashion. Natural does not mean habitual. It makes her feel good and possibility a little tired, like working hard at something you love can do. It gives her the capacity to relate to beauty and to express many emotions. Healthy singing is a tool for expression, not a means to an end in itself.

Q: What is meant by “chest/low voice” and “head/high voice?” My daughter sounds great on the low notes but gets wispy when she sings higher notes.

There is a 300-year old difference in opinion among voice teachers about the proper use of “chest voice” and “head voice.” Ideally they come together in a “middle voice” that is expressive, flexible and reliable.

Adolescents use one of these registrations naturally in singing, depending on a host of variables, such as the child’s basic personality, shape of her torso and head, the music and language she’s heard growing up and even the religious tradition from which she comes. (Compare the African-American gospel music tradition to the boy choir sounds of the Anglican church, for example.)

Chest voice or “chest registration” incorrectly produced is either forced or the voice “bottoms out” in a whisper. Head voice or “head registration” in its underdeveloped stage can be breathy and weak. Some teachers insist that singers use one or the other of the registrations exclusively which results in disturbing differences and “breaks” in the voice as it moves up and down the scale. Neither is complete, healthy or beautiful singing UNLESS it is a DELIBERATE choice such as in yodeling.

Learning to “sell” a song and sing well involves a sustained, coordinated activity of both registrations. This process involves physical, mental and emotional coordination that require time, patience and the “P” word—practice.  The years between 14-16 can be especially frustrating for young singers because they will no longer be able to sing as they did as children and are having to learn to use their natural gifts more consciously.  They have the emotions to understand a song and feel the music deeply, but the voice is not ready to handle the physical demands of adult expression.

A good teacher makes it fun and interesting and knows when to develop this coordination and when to leave it alone. Singers can systematically build “one voice” which combines the best qualities of both chest and head resonances AND gives them the flexibility to chose what they need to sing in the musical styles they prefer. Each registration is meant to assist the other in developing tone, range and consistency.

However, it a appropriate for your child to feel a little frustrated occasionally. Remember the old adage, “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.” A good teacher can recognize when your child is feeling frustrated and communicate with her and you about the whys.

Q: My child sings along with the radio and CD’s all the time and sounds great to me. Any comments?

Imitating favorite singers is a great way for children to develop musical style, but it is not the best way to develop their own vocal instrument. Parents, students and educators should realize that:

Recordings now days are the result of sound engineers and producers electronically manipulating perfection. Even live performance these days often features an immediate electronic manipulation of sound, which is what the audience hears.

Many of your child’s favorite popular or classical singers have studied and coached singing and continue to do so throughout their careers. Some famous singers boast that they’ve never had a voice lesson, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t learned how to use their instrument or haven’t been coached along the way.

Most famous teachers of pop, musical theater and classical music insist that students master basic fundamentals of healthy singing before branching off into differences of vocal style and technique that are required for those crafts.  This does not happen in a few lessons or months, but develops as the child matures, practices and has the guidance of good teachers.

There is a connection between children who are pushed to fulfill their parents’ creative aspirations and adults whose voices cannot fulfill the promise of their youth. Trained and experienced teachers can hear when the voice is stressed, no matter how much acclaim a singer is getting on TV or in contests or in school. A child singer is not an adult. You can always find voice teachers and coaches who will take your money to fulfill YOUR dreams, not is what in the best interest of the child.

Q: What is my role as a parent in helping with practice?

Be realistic about your child’s time before you commit to lessons! Practicing efficiently is a skill. It is reasonable to expect that the teacher will help your child learn to practice. Here are some hints from my dual roles a professional voice teacher and the parent of two children who studied music.

Record lessons. My children and I used to listen to practice tapes in the car, before CD players and phone recorders came along. Teachers need to jot down practice hints weekly in a student notebook or some other device. Beginning voice students might practice only 10-15 minutes, three or four days a week, gradually increasing practice time. Feel free to ask questions of the teacher, but please do not ask right after a lesson. Ask either at the beginning of the lesson (where is will count as part of the lesson), or send an email.

As a parent, I have learned that children view us as part of the “practice problem.” If you are a musician or have performing experience, PLEASE resist the urge to correct or comment unless your child asks for help, and, even then, start by asking, “what would your teacher say about this?” Of course, you still must insist that practice does occur! Singers may be sensitive to practicing when the family is around, so make sure there is some privacy where they work. I used to set a timer for 10 minutes and then help my children say focused on the lesson plan their teachers wrote out. There were power struggles with my own children that I do not have with my students.

My mother, now 80, who raised three professional musicians, recently told me that she used to sit with each of us for 10 minutes as we started to practice. She viewed it as a way to sit down and relax with a cup of tea. Occasionally she would say “check your fingering on that,” or “now how can you play or sing that more musically?” She told me she never paid any attention to what we were doing but we thought she was laser-focused on us….She maintains that no child in their right mind wants to practice lesson material, and that this 10 minutes was crucial to progressing in lessons. All I remember is that I liked her company.

Even though your child may be talented and love lessons, children do not normally practice on their own. You will hear them singing away, which is awesome, but it probably is not lesson material. Keep in touch with the teacher about what you are hearing. Occasionally ask your child what a certain exercise does for her or how a piece of music makes her feel when she is singing. Ultimately, practicing is up to the student, but there are interim years where your guidance is necessary.

Your adolescent can blossom before your eyes and ears in the hands of a good voice teacher. Singing involves the whole person, which is why parents need to stay tuned. Happily, it’s a task that can bring joy, health and beauty to your child, to you and to many others. What a great way to live!!!!!!


Child singers who are students of Cate Frazier-Neely have sung in Broadway roles appropriate for children: Kurt in The Sound of Music, Chip the Teacup in Beauty and the Beast, and in regional theaters and national touring companies: Oliver in Oliver!, Young Cosette in Les Miserable and Tootie in Meet Me in St. Louis. Children’s roles in opera include The Cunning Little Vixen in Washington National Opera’s The Cunning Little Vixen, and singers in the Washington National Opera’s Children’s’ Chorus. She is the East Coast voice teacher for several Los Angeles-based child singers touring with Disney, Bella Thorne and the Kennedy Center touring cast of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. She has ushered several high school gospel singers to first place in the Maryland Distinguished Scholars’ Talent-in-the-Arts’ Award and helped thousands of high school singers place in vocal music competitions, music schools or to just plain increase their love of singing.

Clairsentience as a Teaching Tool, Part III

These posts are an introduction to a topic that is never discussed in academia or professional organizations, yet can be a crucial part of vocal pedagogy for 1 in 20 teachers. Please see the first two posts in this 3-part series HERE.

One possible definition of an Empath and/or Clairsentient is one who gathers information in ways other than with the five senses, usually experiencing the “energy” of others as physical sensations within their own bodies.

In the first two posts, I discussed these intuitive types in general. But here are some practical tools for Empaths and Clairsentients who are teaching music and voice privately, in groups or classes, or who conduct rehearsals.

For private teachers during lessons:

1. This first idea is from Dr. Sarah Adams Hoover. Take 4 small stones and place them on one side of your keyboard or in a pocket. You are to move each stone from one side of the piano (or change pockets) to the other, at 4 different times during the lesson. Take about 7-10 seconds to move the stone over, feeling each fully with your hand and fingers. Use this time and the physical sensations of feeling the stones to return to your own consciousness and your own body.

Become mindful about your own breathing patterns while teaching. Mindfully exhale–write post ’em notes and paste them everywhere–BREATHE! EXHALE FULLY! There is a reason meditation using breathing to create mindfulness and focus on the present.

2. When you take a drink of water, take a full 5-10 seconds to feel the water move down your throat before you return to fully listening or speaking. Take a moment in gratitude that you are ingesting clean water as you need it.

3. Place a tennis ball or other small therapeutic ball by your feet. Remove your shoe and roll the ball under your foot, massaging as you bring awareness into your feet.

Each of these tools brings you back to your own self, as opposed to reaching to merge energetically with the other person. These are ways to begin to learn to turn your Empath gifts OFF at will, rather than unknowingly being a drive-through for each student’s emotional state. Clairsentience will remain but recede momentarily to give your body a chance to center. This also gives you the option to test whether or not you are truly picking up another’s issues or, if in fact, you are projecting your own stuff onto them.

4. Begin every lesson with a few seconds with your empathy turned OFF, and set your intent to be of help to the student as well as honor your own body.

People without these gifts, or who have rolled their eyes at them for whatever reason, can not begin to know the depth of your experience. My own husband and children could not accept these gifts in me until I accepted them in myself. I was always thinking THEIR way was better and constantly trying to emulate them. You can not imitate others. You have to accept yourself. We hear this over and over and it can be so long in coming!

For leading groups:

1. Being well-organized with a group plan in place every single class or rehearsal keeps you on track. When you have been doing this for years and years, it becomes easy to coast, but then the tendency to become diffuse through endless merging with the crowd energy easily takes over.

I would not be able to lead with what business schools are calling ‘Resonant Leadership’ if I did not take the time to be organized. This includes regular moderate exercise, meditation/prayer, nutritionally sound meals and regular “play.”

2. In order to stay centered and lead effectively, I set up my room early and then usually leave and do not return until a few minutes before rehearsal starts. I do not visit with students or singers before a rehearsal/masterclass/class because I will automatically start to merge with their energy and it pulls my focus from the task at hand. I gently ask choir members NOT to speak with me before rehearsals, and need to remind them of this from time to time. There are always those who need your attention to feel good about themselves and I have learned to draw limits. They will continue to come at you until they learn. Sort of like parenting…

3. I have learned to treat myself seriously and lovingly as someone who needs to gather energy from inside myself before leading effectively. (Introverted personality.) Absolutely no one else will do this for me–I have to do it for myself. Remember, only 1% of the world’s population are true Empaths and no one will truly understand what you need.

3. I am vocally warmed-up. (see posts on Healing Vocal Fold Paralysis.)

4. I use a microphone, not only as I recover from paralysis, but because I have come to value the energy it takes to project continually. This is especially true for rooms full of people, or rooms that have noisy fans blowing or old air conditioners. Most singers take pride in their ability to project as speakers, and I know several classroom teachers who boast of their ability to be heard. Good for them. But as an Empath, Clairsentient, AND recovering vocal paralysis patient, a microphone helps me focus on the sound of my own voice while I am helping others find their voice. It returns me to myself in the midst of what used to feel like a chaotic ocean of propelling through others’ auras and energies.

The results are well worth it, for the group as well as me. Music, Joy and Learning fill every second of rehearsal or class. Personality conflicts and special needs’ students don’t suck up as much of my time and energy.

I have had to learn to accept and hone my particular gifts as well as let go of ego defenses that I built up over a lifetime to protect the gifts in the first place.

When you teach, you are teaching who you ARE even more than what techniques you use or what you have learned.