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The Singing Will Never Be Done...
A personal view of the British Voice Association's value to a singing teacher
By Janice Chapman AUA
It is now getting on for 18 years since an assorted group of people met up in the Harris family living room in South London and started talking to each other about their common interest - VOICE. At this meeting was born a strange and wonderful mongrel/hybrid, the Voice Research Society (now the British Voice Association). As I recall there were ENT surgeons, Speech and Language Therapists, Voice/drama coaches and Singer/Singing Teachers present, and once the talking started it was almost impossible to shut us up long enough to get the agenda underway.
As a Singer/Teacher, in those early days, being confronted with seminars and conferences on medical, surgical, and scientific matters made me feel very nervous and inadequate. Fortunately I was advised to just "sit there and take in everything I could" ...well, it seems I am still doing just that and am still learning more, and I have to admit that it has been a fascinating journey to date. Everyone was so keen to share their knowledge and didn't mind it when we asked "dumb" questions. The other side of the coin was that our colleagues from the other disciplines were anxious to learn about the performing animals they were expected to help or to treat and the professional in which they operated... I was surprised on many occasions at how little they seemed to know about singers, what they do, and how they cope with their professional lives. So the sharing of information was not one way only.
As singers and teachers, we "know how we do it" or we or think we do. The reality can be something altogether "else". Personally, it seemed that just when I thought I finally understood some aspect of voice production I would be confronted with the news that I had it wrong and had to backtrack and open my mind up to new information. This rather humbling experience was vital in the breaking down of my barriers to learning. Over the years, one of the great breakthroughs for me was the opportunity to take various courses which had as their basis vocal anatomy and physiology. I found great pleasure in being able to visualise the muscles involved in singing; (those in the torso, the vocal tract and the larynx itself) while both singing myself and teaching singing. Not all students want to be informed about the machinery, but when they do I feel it is appropriate to help educate them... sometimes my explanations are enough, or they may join the association and begin their own journey of discovery.
Understanding the mechanics of this most wonderful and complex of instruments is in itself a great pleasure but the real joy for me as a teacher is watching a student make their own adjustments and feeling empowered by the knowledge that they know more about what they are doing vocally. When you stand on stage and open your mouth to sing "to know what is going to come out" as they say is the key to maintaining a happy singer.
The chance to sit in with ENT surgeons when they were viewing a singer's larynx and on occasions be part of the team helping to unravel the problems has been a great education too. Sometimes I have been at conferences where the subject matter seemed unrelated to my speciality, and yet there was something new to learn which was very relevant. Some examples: Jacob Lieberman's wonderful work on the relief of muscle tension dysphonia, the Accent Method which we singing teachers "nabbed" from the Speech and Language Therapists' menu, Vocal Profile Analysis as taught by Christina Shewell, David Howard's great expositions on acoustics of voice, and the Estill voice-craft courses ...18 years back we had not sampled any of it.
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