Journal: Somatic Voicework™, The LoVetri Method & My Voice Story

August 13, 2014

Many of you know that last month I spent some time in Virginia at Shenandoah University completing my training in Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. After a month of processing, I now feel I am able to write and try to share about the experience and it’s significant impact on my life. Sound big? I’ll try and explain.

Let me first reiterate what I mentioned in June. Methodologies of teaching? They kind of freak me out. People who subscribe to specific methodologies of teaching and advertise themselves as such also kind of freak me out. Why? Well, there is a lot of information in the world and to declare yourself specific to one set seems risky behavior. I’m weary of such boundary setting definitions. Shouldn’t we be open to where learning and experience meet? Yes. Can a methodology support that? I’m learning the answer is also YES!

While in Virginia, I came across some of the most kind and openhearted people, who happen to sing and teach singing. I kept joking that it felt like we were at adult singing camp where we stayed in hotels (my kind of camp!) That being said, it is not always the case that you meet singers and (especially) singing teachers who are willing to put ego aside to learn and grow with others. Why? Well, a lot of reasons, but probably the biggest being fear. Our voices are uniquely ours and the need to protect ourselves can be strong. Further, if you’ve studied about this thing that is uniquely yours and you feel you have some authority on it, it can be difficult to listen to others… especially if it seems different from what you know. The funny thing is, there is nothing proprietary about voice science. In light of that, this space was full of sharing and as a result, relationship building. My life is fuller for it.

As a teacher, I believe I walked away from VA with new ears. The more education you have around singing, the more advanced your ears become in listening to the voice and what it tells us. Many students can attest to hearing a favorite singer much differently after learning about their own voice. As a teacher, voice lessons have been educating my ears for that last ten years. But, after completing my training in this methodology, I not only hear the voice differently, I hear solutions for how to make it better. See, at its core, Somatic Voicework™ is functional training. If you’re like me, that might seem like a strange concept as it relates to the voice, so let me try and break it down.

When you and I sing, our throat has functions or ways in which it works. If we understand the specifics of function, then we can ask it to do different exercises that will help it work better. This gets tricky for many, many reasons. Most obviously, I can’t see inside your throat without the help of a doctor. Even if I do, it can be difficult to see exactly what’s going on, so I have learn to watch for physical cues and listen for what’s happening inside. Further, the sound can be affected by many other things … our health, history of singing, emotions… the weather! It’s complicated stuff, and as a teacher I have to help you wade through all of that, and give you exercises to help free up that which is inhibited. Really, that’s my goal… to help you, be freer and sound more like you, by encouraging everything to function well.

But what about me and my singing?  That whole function thing? In January, thanks to Jeanie LoVetri, I started to understand that my voice wasn’t functioning quite the way in which I thought it was. If I’m being completely honest, I knew something was off but despite the great education I’d had and the years of experience teaching others, and probably some pride, I didn’t know what exactly was off or how to fix it. Further, I could make a sound that people generally found pleasing and even sometimes paid me money to use. Hmm! So what changes could I need to make?

If you’ve spent much time singing, you know that the experience can be one of true self-expression. There are times in which it can feel spiritual, which is a good clue as to why it is used in most religious traditions. We can dig into the metaphysics of that another time, but think on those two ideas for a minute. A pure expression of self and connecting to something greater than yourself. That’s deep! For many of us, the reason we want to become better at it is to become more of who we are in an effort to connect to that which is greater than us. I, my friends am keenly aware of these principles and can trace my awareness back to a very early age.

I basically exited the womb singing, with my first performance at the age of 2! I grew up leading others in singing at church and remember early on feeling the gravity of the event. I always loved it, but simultaneously felt fearful… and not in a stage fright kind of way. It seemed like so much responsibility. The energy of our voices seemed almost dangerous.

Fast-forward to when teachers began to teach me to sing. It was then I realized I could take a big breath and make a big sound. This sound generated applause and was vaguely operatic, even at the age of 11. It seemed like a good fit and so I really dug in, using it fervently with aspirations of a profession. I learned everything I could (pre-internet!) about opera and declared myself a classical singer, all the while singing in different styles at church, in musicals and in my bedroom. That big operatic sound landed me in some fun competitions and opportunities to hang out with much older and more advanced singers than I. Eventually I ended up in a bachelors program at a conservatory of music where people exclusively sang opera, exactly what I thought I wanted to do. But it was there that things started to get weird for me. There were days when that big sound didn’t feel very good and didn’t feel like my true self. Couple that with the other ways in which I wasn’t being honest about who I was, I often found myself feeling a bit lost. I remember sitting in the practice rooms and singing the one Radiohead song I could play on the piano, sounding all too much like Josh Groban. No offense to Josh, but with that tune, that was not the sound I was hoping for.

The summer of my junior year, I was accepted to the Chautauqua summer institute. A great privilege, but quite honestly, I just didn’t want to go. I had to find some other way to feel validated because the whole singing opera thing wasn’t doing it for me. I made a very strange change and came to Chicago to work for an organization that facilitated service groups in the city. Suddenly I was thrust into homeless shelters and housing projects developing a different understanding of where I fit into this complicated world. It changed me for the better as a person but left me even more confused about how to use my voice. So, I didn’t.

I graduated from school and worked in an office, doing arts admin… for ten years. I worked great places – The Ravinia Festival, Urban Gateways, DePaul School of Music and yes, I sang on the side. Professional choir gigs, weddings, funerals, teaching using my voice but always feeling confused about WHAT I was supposed to sing. At times I felt almost embarrassed of what my voice was. I even took a few years and dedicated significant energy toward photography because that seemed a more concrete artistic expression to participate in. I could tell about myself, but I didn’t have to be myself. I had a few shows and got some images published but still knew that I had this nagging talent that I wasn’t really using. I kept trying to ignore it and got a Masters Degree that focused on non-profit admin. Zzzzzz for me.

Then about three years ago, something happened with my little side business of teaching singing. It started to take off and because I wasn’t happy doing all of the other things I was doing I started to follow it. I knew it accentuated my strengths: communication, people, music, and education. It was the first real fit and through some hard work and divine intervention, I was able to make it my full-time career.  I began to see real change take place in people’s lives as result of using their voices. Additionally, I started to have the space to explore the change that I wanted to take place in my own life. I was helping others improve their singing, but I wasn’t happy with my own. How could my voice be more me?

In February I wrote about my time at Oberlin where I started to understand all that I didn’t understand. After my Somatic Voicework™ level I training in May, I expressed to you a bit more about what this exploration meant for me as a teacher. Simultaneously I was employing the principles to my own singing and in July, I began to make truly different sounds. It was through these sounds that I began to grasp the ways in which I had spent 15+ years singing with physical constriction.  The first few times I felt the constriction dissipate (constriction I hadn’t known I had!), there was a flood of emotion.  It occurs to me that some of which may have been emotion I had not been able to express through my own singing for so long. Even further, I started to feel more myself and less like Josh Groban singing Radiohead in the practice room of a conservatory. If that all seems dramatic, it has been! I am so grateful to be at a place in my life where I have access to this information at a time when I am able to receive it. There are no accidents my friends.

Now what does that mean for my own singing? Oh man, I dunno! I wish I did. I came back to Chicago feeling more confused than ever… still not knowing what to sing, but understanding more thoroughly the opportunity I have to use my voice in different ways. I’m not even sure you would notice the difference but I can feel it, hitting notes with ease that I never could before. In general, the sound feels more authentic. More true. I’m hoping to find instrumental partners to explore more and see what comes up. Overall, I’m wonderfully frustrated and I’m trying to live fully in every minute of it.

How does that frustration impact my teaching? Well, I would say it fuels my teaching! I can’t wait to teach. We are learning together and I’ve got so much good stuff to share. If you as a student are in a place in your life where you can be open to the process, then I have the tools that will help both of us become better singers. I will learn from you as you learn from me and if we stick to it, we’re going to be able to more fully express who we are as singers and people. Oh, I bet we’ll sound pretty good, too.

Are you ready for change? I am.

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Journal: Somatic Voicework™, The LoVetri Method & My Voice Story