James is a musical and musically-literate 26-year old tenor with a Theater Degree and college voice lessons. He is currently on the roster of the Annapolis Shakespeare Company and interested in singing opera and legit musical theater. He arrived full of enthusiasm…and with a voice transitioning from baritone to tenor.
About 15 years ago, through personal circumstance, I realized that the ‘Psoas Muscles’ are a crazy important part of the body’s Core Muscles and Respiratory System. Somatic Educators are talking about them now, but they remain rarely discussed in the voice teaching community. They are also primary muscles involved in standing up and moving the legs.
James postural habits were to stand with his pelvis thrust forward and his thoracic and cervical vertebrae collapsed. He stood and walked with his knees turned out and feet splayed. Vocal pedagogue, Marybeth Dayme, (Dynamics of the Singing Voice and other vocal pedagogy books), advocates that singers stand with their feet pointing straight out, knees unlocked, to help biodynamic energy flow. I use this idea with most students and for most, it stabilizes the hips and pelvic structure so breath management and general grounding work more efficiently. But James could not stand this way comfortably, and it made his alignment even worse, so I knew I needed to teach him how to first release, then strengthen, his psoas muscles if we were going to free up his alignment in order to have his functional voice training really take root.
For the first two months of weekly lessons, we worked on psoas lengthening, releasing, and strengthening. This took about five to ten minutes of every lesson, and he did the exercises at home. His body alignment used to make him look like a “Curmudgeon,” and now reads “Leading Man!” But more importantly, he has adapted for himself what he needs to do physically for a curmudgeon-y character that will not interfere with what he wants to do vocally. Good if you need to sing Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame!
Here are some good sources for learning about the Psoas Muscles and how to release and strengthen them for free and flexible alignment.
articles from Align Integration and Movement
Always start with a psoas release–which is easy. Lie on your back with your feet on the floor, knees bent. Just relax and breathe for a minute, and you will feel the small of your back release to the floor. This is a basic release, and it depends on the person how long it will take.
Functional Voice Training
We spend a great deal of time working through the tenor first passaggio. (D# through F# or so) He is developing a new way to move through this transition point, which involves registration isolation, registration blending, and vowel work on traditional vocalise.
Functional training helps a great deal with breathing and breath management, without mentioning breathing. However, with this student I do work awareness of the “back breath,” and awareness that the muscles of the epigastrium can not get big and hard on inhalation, or the “appoggio” can not engage in singing.
We also work on not over-opening the mouth while developing ease in his temporalis and masseter muscles. (the mouth is a primary resonating cavity for registration used in classical singing, and if it is to far open in the middle, vocal focus is lost.) This is a tenor’s mid range, and volumes have been written about negotiating this passage. Often high notes are not an issue. But the quality of the top and longevity in singing are dependent on the way this area is sung, for both classical and pop singers.
This requires self-massage of these muscles as he sings slowly from pitch to pitch, vowel to vowel. The great vocal pedagogue, Richard Miller, said that vowel migration happens as the jaw releases and the mouth begins to open. (As a soprano, though, I have found that slow deliberate vowel migration–for example, ee to ih to ah– helped me identify what my jaw needed to allow. This was what Todd Duncan taught.)
James is so musical that as his mind, throat and body coordinate, his heart takes over and he is beginning to sing beautifully consistently. It remains astonishing to me how functional work frees a musical soul. He placed second in a two-state vocal competition, is an employed actor and tenor section leader in a church job, and has sung unpaid roles with local opera and operetta companies. Recently he was offered scholarship into a summer Acting for Singers program.
Note: I have not added the particulars of working with languages and specific repertoire–I am able to accompany him in most selections–but this post has gone on long enough!
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