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It's amazing how our voices define us...

As a child, while lying in bed with terrible earache, I would sing to myself for comfort. My parents were quite old school and I was not allowed to knock at their door if I felt unwell, so I would lie there singing and hoping that either the pain would stop or that my mum would hear and be allowed to come and see me. A subsequent tonsillectomy (performed by a doc known for clumsiness and a predilection for alcoholic refreshment) left my speaking voice much altered. My father, stung with remorse, let me know how much he felt sorry he had sanctioned the operation as my voice was now “pathetic sounding”. Every time I went to say something he would imitate me. It was, I have to say, a terrible shock. It’s amazing how our voices define us. I was too ashamed and too protective of myself to sing myself to sleep any more and I didn’t know what to do about my new status as a pathetic female.

As I grew up I was entered into singing competitions by piano teachers (says a lot about my piano playing!) and joined good choirs, doing well and loving singing. However, the concept that really I sounded pathetic was always there lurking. I understand so well these those who now come to me for lessons, suffering shame because of what someone has said many years ago when they were young. It’s also a truth that those who feel unconnected to their voices will be reluctant to speak their minds and their emotions. Incidentally, this also extends to accents. I have taught lots of people who initially wanted to lose their non London accents because they weren’t being taken seriously. I refused! I teach clear articulation and I think that is sufficient. Accents are beautiful and important. However, that said, it’s possible our politicians would get away with far less if they spoke with strong regional accents.

It wasn’t until I was in my early 30s that I decided to undertake full, classical and operatic vocal training. I was singing early music quite successfully but knew that things weren’t right. I didn’t really know enough about the physicality of singing, which muscles were crucial and which I should learn to relax and sad to say an awful lot of teachers didn’t seem to know much either! That all changed when a new teacher told me I had a very tight tongue root and that I should go to Jacob Lieberman for some laryngeal manipulation. Mr Lieberman is not only an osteopath but also a psychotherapist, working a lot with actors and singers. He was a pioneer of this laryngeal treatment.

When I visited him he explained how my tight tongue root had made it impossible for the larynx to drop to its comfortable position, but also that my life (which had been quite difficult) had not given me the space to shed tears. His one instruction to me was “never hold back tears”. I pass that on to all my students.

So as time has gone on, I have more and more wanted to help those with vocal problems and those recovering from traumas and physical injury. I am lucky in that I can hear both when something is fixable and when the student needs a medical intervention. Some come with the beginnings of nodules. Children in West End shows, traders, public speakers. It can happen to anyone who doesn’t support the voice with enough air and who has tension in the neck.

These days tension is king. Laptops, phones, dirty streets all require the head to droop forward and the neck to suffer. Depression can collapse the posture. I am fortunate enough to be recommended by psychiatrists and psychotherapists now as the physical work I can do with the student really helps the recovery process.

The warning I give though remains the same “once you start to loosen the tongue root you’ll speak your mind more easily – are you sure you want to do that?!”

1 comment

1 Comment

Gee, maybe re-think that last paragraph. You're making it sound like honesty in expression is a surging urge that must proceed regardless of the consequences. Honest expression is an ability, and can be regulated by one's approach, i.e. Asking oneself if what is being said is appropriate to the situation, and checking that there is a base of goodwill. Then proceed with respect and kindness. Teach that.

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