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 most of my life.

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.