Vocal Master Class #7 The Feet Have It


As Ida Rolf, the renowned bodyworker and founder of Structural Integration (aka Rolfing), pointed out, “A man’s tracks tell quite a true story. They inform quietly about ankles and knees, but they shout the news about hips and pelvis. If one foot is consistently everted [tilted onto its inner edge], the ankle, the knee, or, perhaps more likely, the entire pelvic basin is rotated.”

Melanie is a 35  year-old classical singer who earned her masters’ degree in vocal pedagogy from a good midwestern university. After her graduate work she went on to study herbal medicine and cranial sacral therapy, and has put together a wellness services business that combines voice teaching and wellness services. She is a mezzo-soprano who has a church job and does solo and choral oratorio gigs around her home city of Philadelphia. We met through a mutual friend while she was on an extended visit to DC, and she asked to have some lessons while she was here. We have continued to work by Facetime and in person when she travels to DC.

Somatic Education

Melanie’s voice is in good shape. It is a warm timbre and very resonant. She can sing dynamics without losing core sound, has a beautiful legato in English and Italian, and can make vocal tract adjustments with skill and ease. But she fatigues easily–not so much vocally as her ability to stand for any length of time. She said she had “always been that way,” even though she walks, jogs and bikes regularly for exercise.

On a hunch, I asked her if her feet hurt her. She told me that they were hard as boards and she felt like she always wanted to “crack them.” This is significant for anyone who wants to sing. Our feet provide grounding and stability to our whole system, and I would go as far as to say they contribute to rhythmic stability. Melanie showed me some basic foot stretches that she occasionally did, but I felt she needed to take it much further. For the first few lessons I started her with the five-minute yoga challenge greet your feet

and had her look up feet exercises. by Ruth Hennessy of Whole Body Voice.

Then I suggested that she make room in her schedule and budget for Reflexology.  After about a month where she worked on her feet, she was able to stand for most of her lessons.  She had sort of a perpetual worry on her face which has eased considerably.

Functional Training

Melanie had never experienced functional training before, although her throat was in basic good working order. However, she was very surprised to hear my opinion that she had a weak chest voice, as she had always thought it was strong. In addition to a weak chest registration, vocal fold closure was suboptimal. I use specific combinations of vowel, pitch, intensity and rhythm, to coax muscle fiber and neurological changes in the vocal folds and muscles of the larynx.

Here is a good article on the origins of using the “coup de glotte” in voice training. It is my suggestion that if you are interested in learning to use this as a truly useful tool, you seek out someone who has not only used it successfully in their own singing, but ask to hear their students. Then you will need to learn how it feels and sounds, over a period of time, before you are ready to use it with students. Do not learn this from listening to videos–that’s just nuts.

Vital Singing

Melanie is very excited about how much more energized her singing feels and sounds. We have both noticed that there is more movement and direction in her sound which makes it connect more with the listener.  It is what some teachers call “spinning the tone forward,” but I never used that phrase as a directive. It has been the result of other kinds of work.

We currently are reworking Messiah solos.  Her voice and body feel quite differently to her now than they did 5 months ago. I shared with her some of what I learned from David Gordon of the Carmel Bach Festival– that Handel used rests quite creatively, filling even the most tiny rest with creative drama, which can change how one breathes or pauses. She also found that she could be more expressive in the middle of a sustained pitch, playing with dynamics and direction.

She made the connection between her feet, now feeling more flexible and wide, and singing the florid passages of “O Thou That Tellest…” with less rigidity in the muscles of the epigastrium.  She even feels that it is easier to sustain the “o” vowel in the florid passages with less effort in the band of muscle around the mouth.

Everything connects to everything else!


Image: Julian Jackson, “Galaxy”

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