Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道) and Once More With Feeling: Paradoxical Dramatic Voices

A reminder to keep our sister, celebrated pedagogue, Susan Eichorn Young (SEY) and her husband, the celebrated tenor, Thomas Young in our prayers. They are both progressing toward what we all want to be a speedy and complete recovery, but there will be some challenges ahead I suspect.  I welcome you to express your positive energy on their prayer wall on Facebook. These posts will carry Susan's blog title, Once More With Feeling as long as she is recovering. Keep reading her blog.  There is so much wisdom there!

Kashu-do (歌手道) and Once More With Feeling: Do Opposites Really Attract?

A reminder to keep our sister, celebrated pedagogue, Susan Eichorn Young (SEY) and her husband, the celebrated tenor, Thomas Young in our prayers. They are both progressing toward what we all want to be a speedy and complete recovery, but there will be some challenges ahead I suspect.  I welcome you to express your positive energy on their prayer wall on Facebook. These posts will carry Susan's blog title, Once More With Feeling as long as she is recovering. Keep reading her blog.  There is so much wisdom there!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道) and Once More With Feeling: Prayers For My Sister and Fellow Pedagogue/Blogger Susan Eichorn Young

In the vocal forums and voice blogosphere, most people think that Susan Eichorn Young and I are really brother and sister.  We call each other thus!  We have each other as brother and sister on Facebook too.  We are not related by blood, but even though we have rarely met each other live, when we did it was instant love of a beautiful kind.  We already had great respect for each other's teaching and have sent each other students. When we did meet face to face after many collegially supportive blogposts and forum posts and emails, we understood why we felt such a strong connection.  We do not teach the same things necessarily but our philosophy about what this art form called singing means to us is close to identical.  There are not many teachers out there with her knowledge and thirst for knowledge, with her compassion and striving for excellence, who supports and demands more from her students. We feel strongly that our world can be changed through singing and we try to do our part.  She is my sister in the battle to restore honor to the history of our art form by demanding the highest level of excellence of our students.

Last night, I learned that she and her husband, the celebrated tenor, Thomas Young were involved in a serious accident.  I also learned that she had been airlifted to the Operating Room and just learned that she is stable.  I do not have more details than that at the moment.  I know that many of those who follow Kashu-do (歌手道) also follow Susan's Blog, Once More With Feeling.  Until Susan is back and active on her inspiring blog, all my posts with have the prefix:  Kashu-do (歌手道) and Once More With Feeling.

I believe in the fundamental power of meditative prayer.  The Universe is shaped by our faithful desires. If the thousands who read this blog and Susan's blog concentrate on Thomas' and her speedy recoveries, I believe it will happen.  Susan and Thomas are innovators in our field and tireless and warm-hearted pedagogues.  We need them back in action quickly!

We love you, Sis and we love you Thomas!  Now get back on your feet! We have work to do!


Monday, June 20, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): Recognizing and Affirming Your Inner Success Story

Nothing is more defeating than doubt!  I sometimes deal with it!  But those who know me can attest that I become more optimistic when things start to go wrong!  Pessimists might think I am crazy, for they chose to see the world as an evil place that presents challenges.  Their job is to survive those challenges.  I do not mind the functional pessimist. S/he will sometimes be so invigorated by the perception of an antagonistic Universe that s/he will recognize an inner force that permits her/him to combat and win against such a nemesis.  In such a way the pessimist becomes an optimist by recognizing their inner capacity to deal with what seems a contrarian environment.  Indeed a pessimist can also become overwhelmed by the perception of a Universe bent on destroying him/her.

I do not care for realists!  I find them cowardly!  A so-called realist perceives themselves often as powerless against what simply is.  Don Quixote's nemesis, the Duke, in the broadway play Man of La Mancha, based on Cervantes' literary masterpiece Don Quixote, opines that we must accept the world for what it is, to which Quixote replies that we must make the world what it ought to be.  Quantum physics and many spiritual disciplines conclude that we have it within us by sheer will to shape the Universe the way we envision it.  Indeed, the Universe works differently depending on how we perceive it.  If we expect the Universe to be one of opportunity, then we expect to find such opportunity.  A math student who believes fundamentally that there is a solution to every problem will tend to persist until s/he finds the solution.  The student who believes that s/he is not able to find the solution will tend to give up early.

I am an optimist and love optimists.  Optimists are not plagued by illusions and mirages but rather are bold enough to be responsible for having a vision and to make such vision a reality.  They are committed to a future they envision and will work incessantly to give it form.

I have met an optimist who calls herself a realist, but every action she takes seems to me that of an optimist.  She believes altruism is the greatest virtue and she seeks to change the world in a major way.  She looks for the ways to make this happen, and sometimes she faces discouraging obstacles.  Nevertheless, she still searches.  But to desire is not enough!  Even to work toward the fruition of the objective is not enough!  It is crucial to believe that it is within our power to make the opportunities we seek.  This fundamental belief helps us see opportunity where others see obstacles.

I begin my day with the fundamental belief that my objectives are not only possible but ultimately realized.  I only have to walk the path to self-realization.  How is that different from Michelangelo who sees a sculpture in its final form when he looks at a block of marble?

Your life is a masterpiece!  Just chip away the excess marble that covers it! Or do you prefer to just see a piece of rock in front of you?  Success is a choice!

© 06/20/2011

Friday, June 17, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): Balanced Onset: In Honor of Lloyd Hanson

I had planned to name this post: The Simultaneous, Paradoxical, Physical Experience of Pressure and Flow.  Long titles often look funny on the blog and furthermore, I might not have had space to recognize my long-time cyber-colleague, Lloyd Hanson in the title.  

The question of a balanced onset is one that a singer has to continually address.  The voice changes with age, with use, with training, with good and bad experiences, and certainly with health.  It is therefore crucial that a singer has some principles that guide through these changes.  My dear colleague, Lloyd Hanson, who I consider one of the great, perhaps unsung pedagogues of our time, once wrote the following on a forum discussion.  It is somewhat difficult to find the exact quote but the principle stuck to my mind: (not exact quote)

After so many years of teaching, it has become clear to me that no issue is more important to vocal function than onset. In fact most problems of vocal function can be addressed through achieving a well-timed, balanced onset of phonation.

It was also Lloyd who made another comment that, though obvious to those of us who understand the anatomy of phonation, is often ignored.   This too has become one of the fundamental principles of my teaching:

It is not worthwhile to discuss support without discussing phonation!

As I work more and more with top-level singers, fundamental principles must be constantly on my mind.  Unlike a beginning student or even a mid-level professional aspirant who I may give one-sided exercises to correct a significant imbalance, when dealing with top-level singers and those who are already fundamentally well-coordinated, the directives I give must promote balance at every level, long-term and short-term.  One such directive is that of a balanced onset.  But what does that mean precisely?

The mechanics that are crucial to a balanced onset are the following:  

1) The closure and opening phases of the vibratory cycle occur one after the other.  However, they occur with such extreme frequency (hundreds of times in one second even in the lower voice--Bass low G2 is approximately 100 cycles per second; middle voice G for the female voice is about 400 cycles per second) that we experience them as if they occurred simultaneously.

2) Clarity of tone and vowel cannot happen when phonation is breathy. However a sense of trans-glottal flow can be experienced (and must be experienced) even when the vocal folds meet completely for every cycle.

3) Pressed phonation can sound very dull!

4) Stridency is not squillo!

Consequently, one of the greatest errors that singers make is to aim for a bright sound at all cost.  At the risk of confusing the student in the beginning, I will often discuss brightness and flow at the same time.  Once I explain that fold closure and opening (the flow phase) occur so quickly that we cannot experience them separately, a wonderful light comes to the student's eyes.  Suddenly the paradox makes sense.  I submit that in a healthy voice, clarity is possible without a squeeze, at least in the middle range.

Pressed phonation can stop airflow so much that it causes a number of tension-filled reactions in the mechanism including tongue-depression that muffles the sound and take a way the high overtones that are necessary to brilliance.  Many singers/teachers will experience this dullness and conclude that the folds are not in complete contact and seek to force them together further, resulting in even less brilliance.

Language is so often confusing, which is why it is so important to be anatomically correct in our use of language.  Sensations are not always adequately descriptive of anatomical function when it comes to the voice.  Example:

Do not take the chest voice too high!

But what is chest voice?  Even the scientists are not clear enough about this.  Is chest voice essentially tantamount to vocalis activity?  I say not.  An excellent vibratory pattern depends on a certain amount of vocalis activity such that the folds accomplish an appropriately deep posture and it is possible to go too far with this.  The problem is usually a difficulty accessing the high range.  But sometimes a singer may have a difficulty accessing the high range not because the vocalis is hyperactive but rather because the CT is not strong enough to stretch the folds when the vocalis is appropriately active.  Training of this aspect of phonation must be dynamic.  In the present case, it would be necessary to decrease vocalis activity to a level that is commensurate to the strength of the CT such that the vocalis remains relatively acquiescent to CT as pitch rises.

Yet the experience of chest voice content is not limited to vocalis-CT dynamic, but in my way of thinking more fundamentally connected to fold closure.  The resistance that some singers feel when attempting to access the high range has more to do with a lack of airflow than to vocalis hyperactivity.  Paradoxically, inadequate closure particularly in the high range could lead to compensatory closure by the false folds causing a supra-glottal squeeze.

The danger therefore is in dealing with either element (flow or closure) separately.  A gentle, rapid onset
that yields clarity and flow is essential to accomplishing a self-sustaining phonation pattern.  It must be gentle to avoid excessive medial squeeze, but it must yield clarity.  Flow and clarity provide the brain with specific directives such that the vocal folds meet completely at the mucosal edge without pressing of the folds.  Gentle and rapid teach the singer the fundamental habits that prevent violence to the folds and avoid the kind of muscular interference that is tendential when the singer tries to micro-manage via a slow onset.

This of course brings us to coup de glotte.  A recent article in the N.A.T.S. Journal of Voice (unfortunately I cannot find the issue among my magazines) revisits the issue, suggesting that perhaps a glottal plosive was what Manuel Garcia meant in his treatises.  As a native French speaker, I never interpreted the word coup by its primary translation, a blow or a strike but by its secondary translation, a stroke or rapid movement.  A glottal plosive requires a glottal squeeze followed by a burst of extremely pressurized air and encourages a sustained vibratory pattern of squeeze-and-push.  Granted, there are degrees of plosives.  Slight plosives may occur in the attempt to induce a flow-phonation onset.  But because the intent is to flow, the temporary fault is corrected upon release of the breath.  I can understand the use of a glottal plosive as a temporary measure in the case of extreme breathiness, but I will avoid using it unless there is no other way to help the student experience glottal closure.  Only as a last resource.

As I rehabilitate after my gluten intolerance, which caused me a three-year night-mare, even as I made my transition from baritone to tenor, the concept of a balanced onset is helping me find clarity.  At the end of a long teaching day yesterday, I warmed my voice down, as I usually do.  I felt relatively fresh during the warm-down and decided to sing a couple of arias through.  Ch'ella mi creda from Puccini's Fanciulla was one.  The approach to the two Bbs require daring!  One cannot micro-manage those notes.  The onset on the Db and Eb respectively that leads to the top notes must be immediate, smooth.  The ribcage must be suspended in the open position after inhalation to prevent over-pressurization.  I judge it respectable.  It is nice to have my voice behaving more or less as expected now that I am beginning to free myself from the evil gluten infestation. I am working for greater flow of course. But this is a good beginning.

In our times, relationships are made online and sometimes these relationships have a lasting impact.  The truth is I have befriended Lloyd Hanson online and he became an unsuspected mentor who has in many ways guided my profound entrée into vocal science.  I have had it in mind to visit him in Arizona someday.  Perhaps I will have that opportunity.  According to his N.A.T.S. profile, Lloyd is still very active as a voice teacher after retiring from Northern Arizona State.  I would recommend him to any singer who finds himself/herself in the neighborhood of Flagstaff, Arizona.  Thank you Lloyd, for your sharp scientific mind, your musical spirit and your love for the art of singing!

© 06/17/2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): Detox Diet Week 2: 8-14 June 2011 (X-post from Kashu-do Detox Diet)

I took a little time to check a few things the second week.  I confirmed that fish is friendly to my body and in fact so is chicken.  But I have decided that it takes my body too long to process chicken and that then causes mild reflux symptoms.  I will remain mostly vegetarian, with the option to eat fish occasionally.  In truth, nothing feels more pleasant than eating fruits and vegetables and non-wheat grain. It is good that I love rice, corn and oatmeal.  

The effect on my voice is exciting.  My students noticed it right away.  Every day gets better and I am itching to post something, but I am being patient and allowing the voice to heal totally. It is in fact getting quite easy to sing, but I perceive it is not yet beautiful enough for my taste.

My abstinence from wheat (gluten) and dairy is producing more than vocal benefits (I perceive gluten to be the main issue, but avoiding dairy seems prudent as well).  I used to have razor bumps and altogether chronic dry skin.  That is no longer the case.  My students both in Europe and New York notice a visible difference in my general appearance.  I have also noticed the disappearance of other toxins.

I wrote in an early post on the main blog (can't seem to find it at the moment) at the beginning of my blogging, some three years ago, that great technique begins with great health.  I believe this more than ever.  To be able to wake up in the morning and know that I could sing if I had to is very encouraging.  I am beginning to truly feel the level of my technical achievements now that my folds are no longer so swollen and thickened with mucous on a daily basis.  The awful part is that I had been suffering from this for so long that I did not recognize it as so awful.  I kept assuming there was something else.  Indeed my chronically swollen folds is what gave the impression I was a bass-baritone.  

I anticipate it will require more than two weeks for the effects of a lifetime of gluten poisoning to be completely eradicated.  I hope it will not be a lifetime.  It is also fun to demonstrate for my tenors especially in a way that gives them further confidence in what we are working on.

More to come!  I beg your patience with the clips! I have recorded one today that I felt wanted to post, but I do not want to give any disclaimers.  I want to put something out, preferably with piano accompaniment that is in performance mode.  

© 06/14/2011

Monday, June 6, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): The Road Least Traveled

I had wanted to write a blogpost honoring a dear student of mine who has made real what I always believed.  About 18 months ago, I was introduced to an excellent soprano, with such a soulful outlook on life, that it was destined that we would become very good friends.  She and her family make up an important part of my Germany-family and it is with great joy that I am able to see her make her final steps into the higher levels of our field.  I will not name her only because I wish to keep her process private.

It has always been my contention that despite all we are told by agents and intendants that age truly does not matter.  To tell people that they have "aged out" of a anything is baseless and just a cowardly euphemism for "I don't know what to do with you!"  It is one thing to state this philosophically.  It is another thing altogether to see the philosophy made real by someone's persistence and pure optimism.

After years working in a small East German opera house, my excellent student who was a fantastic soprano before ever meeting me has begun conquering important opera houses throughout Europe with a series of flawless auditions.  I revel in receiving her constant updates after every audition and it tickles me that this extraordinary artist should gain the recognition she so richly deserves.

Our 18 months together consisted of a steady diet of lip-trills and other occlusives to 1) alter the CT/Vocalis balance to yield a deeper fold posture 2) induce air-flow along a vibration pattern dominated by the superficial mucosal layer of the vocal folds.  In essence have her sing her fullest voice!  A deeper posture makes pressing unnecessary, whereas a shallow fold posture necessitates medial pressure to make up for the loss of time during the vibration cycle.  This is my approach with most singers I teach (not all) because most singers sing what I would refer to as a "shallow sound" that necessitates a glottal squeeze (at least in parts of the range).  Not every such voice sounds squeezed because some very sensitive musicians are able to keep the squeezed adduction along the folds and release pressure by relaxing the arytenoids--a kind of exaggerated falsetto production (only it does not sound like what anyone would refer to as falsetto).

That this soprano is exciting a bunch of people with her extraordinary talent has to do first and foremost with a tireless work ethic that saw her instrument become its best in the last 18 months.  She was already excellent, but she personally felt that there was more to her talent than merely being able to do what was required.  There was a voice made for the dramatic roles but had been treated as an overgrown lyric up to our time together.  A thinner production might have made certain things easier, but it robbed her of fullness in her upper range and made it difficult to access her sopracuti (her upper extension).  Yes a soprano who sings Turandot and Fidelio Leonora, etc can warm up regularly to  F6 and should.  To trust the many high Bs and Cs in the spinto/dramatic repertoire, a full voiced soprano must have those notes.  It used to be normal that spintos and dramatics sing F6 and sometimes beyond.  Coloraturas should sing beyond that.  This too used to be normal!

This soprano so thoroughly exemplifies the Road Less Traveled because she achieved complete technical development at a time in her life when the average singer accepts that their lack of progress is due to natural limitations of their native talent.  The words, "natural limitations of their native talent," are insidious because of the plausibility and logic that seems inherent in their cold combination.  Sounds curiously academic, in the worst of senses!  Insidious because limitations are only self-imposed even if influenced from without.  What I applaud is the valor of this wonderful woman for envisioning better.  I can certify that during the last 18 months I did not hear from her that she wanted to sing in big houses, although I am sure she wanted to.  What I heard was a desire to sing her best.  Once that was achieved, it was as if the Universe needed to put such talent to work.  I often say Be the light, not the moth! The light attracts, the moth burns out because it is attracted to a light that it cannot endure! By achieving excellence, this soprano attracted an excellent agent who then put her in contact with those who would value her superior talent.  It is indeed that simple!

But this is not about one student, although I feel her achievements should be celebrated in particular.  Today, while sleepless in Gothenburg, I received a touching email from a Canadian student who besides expressing commiseration with my new diet also wrote the following:

...Second, I would like to give you a vocal update that really speaks to your success as a teacher- feel free to use it as an example of your success on your blog or however you like.  Now that I have graduated from my Artist Diploma at the Royal Conservatory and have time to work on technique again, I have been working diligently every day applying the techniques you taught me.  In addition to weekly yoga, I have been doing the chromatic scales on 'i', 'e' and 'a' through and over the passagio and have seen a stunning impact.  6 months ago I could not hold a C5 for more than a second before it cracked and died.  The file I am attaching of my practice today shows a C5 held for NINE seconds.  I also have other sound files if you are interested from today where I warm up to F5, but the notes above C5 are not 100% yet.  They will be, though, thanks to your help...
I love the assertion of the last sentence: "They will be, though..." This student travels many miles for his lessons and by his perseverance honors the process.  He is not alone.  My host in Gothenburg is another source of great pride for our studio.  He in some ways, more than most, exemplifies the principles of faith in one's talent, courage to have a vision, and patience to see it through. Hard work is a given! I often have to encourage students as they face the difficulties of the process.  This tenor seems to  not need the encouragement.  When the top C does not come out, he will say before I have a chance to: "It's a matter of time and practice!" Hearing the confidence in his singing this time and the consistency and strength of his top is downright inspiring.  The progress is also notable in his four colleagues (all tenors) that I worked with this time and the young coloratura with the C7 who travels to Gothenburg despite financial difficulties to have her lesson. And so it is with the growing studio in Berlin.  Seeing the joy of achievement in the faces of my students there is such that if I died today, I would feel that I had contributed something to this field that has occupied my attention for the last 30 years.

This is not narcissistic chest-beating!  It is in fact deep humility that I should have the honor to work with such courageous and visionary people, such patient and faithful people, such soulful and loving people.  They give me a means of making a living and furthermore they inspire me on my own less-travelled road that began with choosing singing over engineering, a three-year technical journey and a fach-change to my dedication to Kung Fu and Yoga, and now to a drastic diet change, all in keeping with a vision that will not die as long as I draw breath!  The Way of the Singer is a road less traveled.  That of most of the singers I work with is The Road Least Travelled because it asks so very much of them in terms of personal integrity and faith in a vision that may have begun with thoughts of a career in music, but that goes so far beyond that to the realm of developing as an artist for art's sake.

With a loving shout-out to the continental American studio, from which I have been absent for a month, I thank you all, my studio-family, for sustaining a Quixotic vision that is greater than our individual dreams and inhabits a collective consciousness that constantly changes us and those around us.  I am so very blessed to be called your teacher.

© 06/06/2011

Friday, June 3, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): Detox Day 3: Diet 4 June 2011

I wish to bring your attention to the Kashu-do (歌手道) Detox Diet Blog.  I am blogging daily about my vegetarian diet, which I feel will resolve the health issues that have hindered my technical achievement. I am already seeing changes as shared in the latest post.  Feel free to follow that blog!

I created the new blog to avoid cluttering the regular blog with this special issue!  I will continue to address technical issues and other profession-related issues on the regular blog!

© 06/04/2011

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): New Blog, Kashu-do Detox Diet

Dear Friends,

Most of you have been through my change to tenor with me and have been (just as I am) very ready to sing: "Vittoria, Vittoria!!!!" (That is from Act 2 of Tosca for you non-tenors). 

It has been just over three years since I started the transition to my real voice and everything I know says that I have accomplished what I need to technically.  But I have also said that great technique begins with great health.  For this reason I took up Kung Fu one year ago, and it has been the most wonderful new element in my life.  I have gone through various periods of giving up certain things, which I thought were the cause of my health issues but it has become very clear that I am dealing with something systemic, as probably a great number of people in the world are dealing with.

Gluten: For those who are sensitive to gluten, digestion can become totally compromised.  And I think mine has been.  It takes such a long time for this to become a problem that we do not allow ourselves to consider that the foods we eat every day can be a problem.

Dairy:  Many singers have issues with dairy and so do I.  This was identifiable in my young singing days before anything became so systemically problematic.  But it was not a big issue.

Alcohol and Caffeine:  Those things affect every singer I know.  Some less than others.  But the issue is irrefutable. 

Peanuts and eggs:  Cause many people allergies.  

Sugar and Salt:  Refined sugar can be problematic.  I went to a homeopath who felt I should avoid sugar cane products altogether.  Salt content in package foods are extreme, particularly in the two countries I live (USA and Germany).

I will be avoiding these common problem-causers, so I can give my body a chance to recover from 40 years of unconscious eating.  The truth is I do not eat that badly.  I eat rather well.  But these elements in our food sources cause problems, which hinder my progress as a singer.  If I were not a singer, I doubt this would be a big issue.  However, for better or worse, I am very sensitive to something.  I cannot figure it out without doing a total cleanse of all these products that could have progressively hindered normal digestion, causing ultimately a leakage of undigested proteins into the blood stream causing the body to send out anti-bodies like histamines, etc.

I have suffered from what feels like a mild case of acid reflux, and I believe that this problem which has become so present in our society is a a symptom of generally poor nutrition.

I do not thing that everyone needs to go on a vegetable, vegan or raw food diet.  I am doing this to 1) eliminate the undigested foods that have accumulated in my system and thereby return my digestive tract to proper functionality.  Once I feel I am back to a normal state, I can then add certain foods gradually so I can figure out what my body is unable to process.  

This will be an adventure.  I will document the process here, so as not to interfere with the normal flow of the original Kashu-do (歌手道) blog.  This is also a way of keeping myself on task with this new adventure that is bound to present challenges.

I welcome your participation and commentary.