Saturday, December 27, 2014

Vocal Buffet Part 2: All You Can Eat? Maybe, But Very So Carefully As Well...

I hope that you have enjoyed reading the “Vocal Buffet, blog. "Part 1”

There, we were talking mainly about the amateur singers who were trying to sing anything and everything under the sun with no proper training, knowledge or even talent. In this blog, we will talk about the diet, nutrition and exercise for those who want to choose, or have already chosen singing and/or performing, as their career.

There is a saying: “We are what we eat”. I would also say: “Because of what we eat, we are what we sing also”. How so, you may ask? The person who is at least reasonably fit and well nourished would definitely sound much healthier i.e. much clearer and much stronger.

There is also a saying that: “in a healthy body, is a healthy spirit”.

My regular readers probably remember that in some blogs written in the past, I stated that the voice is a spirit, which has to be discovered, uncovered and than flown away and on top of the physical body. If the spirit is healthy and pure, it will soar that much higher and its trajectory will be that much longer.

If the singers throat is full of mucus and the vocal cords are burnt by gastric acids, the lift of the voice (the spirit) will not be as high; and thus the high, (and low range for that matter), will be greatly diminished.

The Vocal Science technique, and the standards of professional singing for that matter, suggest that even the lower range approach cannot be achieved without lifting the voice off of the vocal box (off of the vocal cords) and settling the sound in the upper vocal chambers (sinus cavities).

Let’s now imagine a ballerina trying to jump to the arms of her partner off of the thick carpet instead of the hard flat surface (special floor). How high could she jump, not having a proper, clean resistance under her feet?

My guess would be, not high enough.

The figure skaters like Elvis Stojko, or Patrick Chan for that matter would never be able to perform their quads or even triple combination jumps if they were taking off ‘with’ the ice instead of ‘off’ the ice.

The fact is that in that instance, they would need to do triple or quadruple revolutions with not enough height off the ice, which would make it completely and utterly impossible. So, if the singer were to eat a lot of spicy foods and consume a lot of dairy, he/she, most likely, would possess a lot of mucus in their bodies and up their throats.

If they ingest a lot of acidic foods (like tomatoes and oranges for example), no doubt that they will also acquire what is called an “acid reflux”.

In 1999, I had an article written about me by the Toronto Start newspaper named “coach me if you can”, where the journalist, after experiencing 5 hours of my instruction, exclaimed:
“It is definitely not for the faint of heart”. Indeed. It is not.

The person who wants to become a singer/performer has to be physically, emotionally, mentally and vocally fit.

Sometime ago, I caught a part of the movie which was called Mirrors, which was about the life of a ballet dancers. The episode that became very memorable to me was about the 2 dancers who came to the theater management to discuss their contract to perform as a duet “pas de deux”.

They were handed a contract, which after reading it, the male dancer outright returned it back to the manager’s hands.

Then he looked at his female partner to be, who looked quite fragile, in my opinion, and asked her: “how much do you weigh?” She looked at him with fear in her eyes and said: “100 pounds”.

The male dancer looked at the manager and said: “I have to lift her 6 times. That is 600 pounds!” The manager smiled and handed them an appropriate contract, which they accepted.

That is a clear example how the professional artist (be it ballet, figure skating or singing for that matter), think. Could you imagine if the female ballet dancer, weighing 100 pounds (as we just learned), decided to go out and eat a meat-heavy dinner, pizza or cake? If she did, she could have come back on stage weighing 101, or even 102 pounds!

Remember that her partner, for a certain amount of money, was prepared only to lift 600 pounds of her in total. Also, he could have just simply dropped her and thus cause an accident, God forbid. I personally witnessed a pretty heavy (by any standards) dancer attempted to be lifted and be nearly dropped.

Believe it or not, it has occurred on our Canadian stage during The Phantom of the Opera Musical Production. Thank God the accident did not happen and, to my delight and comfort, that it was not a classical ballet performance.

So the weight and height and the overall health and fitness, will play a crucial role in an artist’s (amateur or professional) performance. The physical body is the internal and external instrument, which if played correctly, will sound like a million bucks…

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Vocal Buffett; All You Can Sing? Maybe, But Very So Carefully…

To my knowledge, at least 90 percent of the population loves to sing.

Some of them are doing it for the recreational purposes; others say that they do it for recreational purposes, but secretly hope that one day, someday, they will become singing stars. And lastly, the other category simply consider themselves to be already professional singers, as they occasionally perform in different venues and sometimes, they even get some remuneration.

In this blog, I will refrain from talking about the real professionals with names and reputations, however, even they could stand some extra mentoring and instruction and not only vocal instruction per say.

However, out of 90% of song lovers, only 3 to 5% make it to the big stage.

Why is that, you may ask?

There is a bouquet of reasons, which pertain to that occurrence.

First of all, before reaching any heights at all, the majority of those wannabe singers end up with a variety of vocal problems.

Some of them are trying to become Opera singers, while having no prerequisite for it whatsoever.

Why only do we have a handful of Opera singers known to the world?

Because, in my opinion, you have to be born with more than an extra-large vocal box, long, thick and strong vocal cords, healthy larynx, highly arched upper pallet and a big mouth opening, to say the least.

It’s like a classical Ballerina requires to have their arms and legs at a certain length and very ‘good feet’ i.e. with a very high instep, so they could hold their weight on their toes.

Usually, in both fields, those components are given with birth, and then, combined with the proper training. That is how the star is born.

It is simply a combination of naturally given talent and excellent training. The lack of either of those prerequisites, especially the ladder, may finish one’s singing career, for example, before it takes off.

So, evidently, not everybody could become an Opera or Rock Star, and if they are trying to do so without the given components and with no training, the vocal injury will most likely take place.

Any given singer should have a check with reality before they start singing “escapades”. They need to assess their abilities and not to jump right away to the very hard tunes with the very high notes.

The size and proportions of one’s body, the size of the mouth opening (inside and out), the facial structure, the size of the lips – all have to do with the proper, full and nicely toned sound.

The voice is the muscle and it has to be trained correctly.

If the size of the vocal box is not adequate, the wannabe opera singer most likely cannot be trained to reach a highly professional level.

However, some pop styles and country styles could be achievable with a, not exactly, perfect vocal anatomy.

So know your limits and work on their expansion, but so very carefully and not without professional supervision.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Vocal Damage - Vocal Rehab: Calling All Vocally Injured Speakers and Singers…

Please Have Patience For A Complete Vocal Recovery!!!

Over the years I have dealt with many vocal disorders and injuries, be it possessed by ordinary people with speech problems or by amateur or professional singers

Almost all have had one thing in common, the absolute lack of patience with respect of their voice restoration and vocal recovery.

The minute they felt better about their voice and in general, they were ready “to run marathons”, so to speak. 

Those with the speaking voice, who have not heard their normal voice for some time, could literally not stop speaking (fast and loud) the minute they regained their voice. 

No matter how much and how long I have been persuading them not to start speaking too soon, too much, and too loud at all, none of them had listened. 

The minute they came back home, they called all their friends and relatives and some of them even created coming home parties; and once again, some returned to yelling and screaming at their children and their spouses, which in the first place, by doing so, is what brought them to the voice strain and voice loss

Go figure! 

Now about singers:

Needless to say, that some singers, even during the voice restoration process, also were experiencing frustration from time to time, as right after the voice repair was complete, they still were not exactly “jumping the triple axles” right away. 

It is boggling my mind, as those otherwise sensible adults do not appreciate the process which requires some time to gradually go back to the same and definitely much higher grounds! 

Now, my point of view:

I personally like to watch television shows concerning the hospitals and medical care. 

One of the episodes from the TV show “Saving Hope” I just watched, where the car racer was admitted in the emergency room, with very brutal injuries. 

His feet were, literally, separated from his legs, his arms were broken, and in general he was in a very bad shape. 

The minute he regained consciousness, after at least a twelve hour surgery, where the doctors were literally putting him back together, the very first thing he asked when he opened his eyes, “Doctor, when will I be able to race again?” 

It’s understandable, but how realistic is this? 

The doctors suggested that it would be at least a couple of years of recovery… 

The other case from the same show, profiled a woman in her mid-thirties, who was a racehorse jockey. 

She had a very bad leg injury which also required at least six months of healing and rehab, thereafter. 

She was begging the orthopedic doctor to do some kind of surgery which will speed up her recovery and put her right back on a horse. 

The doctor explained to her that there was one experimental option which would put her back on her feet much faster, but if unsuccessful, it may leave her paralyzed from the waist down. 

What do you think she had chosen? 

Take a wild guess – the experimental surgery, nonetheless. 

Unfortunately, the outcome was very tragic, and she, indeed, was left paralyzed. 

The question is, is it worth it to go to extreme measures in hopes of the fast recovery or, maybe, just maybe, the person should have the understanding that whichever injury took place is neither a joke, nor a fast fix. 

But rather, on the contrary, it requires the absolute patience, understanding, and willingness and lovingness to go through the process to completely fix whatever has been broken, and needless to say, approach the rehabilitation with absolute caution and safety, in mind. 

I’d like to note that the voice/vocal injuries are not any different, and in fact, maybe even more difficult to attend to, as the voice is a deeply hidden “internal instrument…” if you will.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Vocally Speaking: Inner Bomb Detonation, So to Speak… How Dangerous or how Beneficial could that be?

Vocal damage hurts, but you don’t have to.


It could be devastating when the vocal injury occurs for both speakers and singers. Interestingly enough, for speakers, it appears to be even more tragic, as they absolutely unaware about that occurrence.

While overusing and abusing their voice, they have no idea that one day, it can burst on them. They continue pushing and pulling until their voice literally “pops” (by description of one of my voice repair clients) and then becomes hardly usable. 

Clearly it does not happen at that moment; the, so to speak, ‘stage’ (the precedent) was pre-set for some time. They were ‘building a bomb’ in a manner of speaking, and it was only as a matter of time when the ‘bomb’ would eventually detonate.  Of course, those amateur, or even professional speakers, felt and sensed the change in the delivery of their voice. 

But the majority of them chose to ignore it and, sometimes, for prolonged periods of time. So they continued pushing it to the max until they could not push it anymore. The singers are evidently much more aware about the condition of their voices.

The symptoms of hoarseness, loss of tone and loss of range are much more obvious and pronounced then to people who use their voices just for speaking. Both categories, however, have that ‘vocal bomb’ set on ‘timer’, which, if not ‘detonated’ rather sooner than later, may just ‘explode’.

For speakers, it could turn to muscle tension dysphonia, or worst of all, spasmodic dysphonia which, is in a manner of speaking, resembles epilepsy.  I have a term for it and I call it, colloquially, vocal epilepsy. 

The voice begins to spasm involuntarily; and to treat this condition is extremely difficult, however not impossible, if it is still in the mild stage. Peculiar enough, the singers are more rarely succumbed to the dysphonia, especially the spasmodic kind. 

They are more susceptible to the growth on their vocal cords and throat. They very often acquire vocal cord lesions, vocal cord and throat cysts, polyps and nodules and of course the acid reflux.

The latter is caused by the singer’s voice to be drawn in the lower than normal position; and thus it easily meets the gastric acid, which begins to burn the one’s vocal cords, and sometimes quite severely. All of those conditions for speakers and singers must be addressed as soon as noticed.

Remember, the bomb on timer is ticking. 

And the longer you wait to “detonate” it, the more probable, when it finally explodes, the voice condition might become beyond repair – Surgical or Non-Surgical. 

However, the process of, so to speak, “detonation”, could be quite detrimental.

The surgical interference may leave scar tissue, just like in the case of Julie Andrews, who was never able to regain her singing career and who, for a while, after the surgery, also had difficulties even with speech for some time.

Not to mention Joan Rivers who just lost her life during a vocal operation. The Non-Surgical endeavor is also very tasking, as it involves a lot of effort on both ends – The recipient and the voice specialist. 

There are a lot of emotions – (frustrations and happiness) present during the Non-Surgical process.

I said many times that the voice is the identification and a reflection of the state of one’s being. Naturally, all the feelings like fear, frustration and overall depression, come on the surface during the restoration of the person’s voice.

So, while holistically approaching it, the voice specialist, like myself, has to take all of those feelings into consideration, and act accordingly and with absolute confidence. 

In fact, my recent US Voice Repair client said that my confidence in what I am doing is clearly unbeatable, and that helped him a great deal.

Therefore, as I also said many times before, the approach should be completely holistic, without which, the success of Non-Surgical voice restoration is virtually impossible and could be, the least to say harmful, if approached otherwise.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Vocal “Junkie”, in the manner of speaking... Addicted to the sound of your voice? How Dangerous could that be?

The Non-Surgical Voice Repair has been my forte for well over 3 decades.

I’ve worked with both - regular people with speaking voiceproblems, ‘wannabes’ and, of course, professional singers. This blog is mostly about the professional singers who have done nothing but sang and performed most of their lives.

Understandably, the voice is their prime ‘instrument’ and, nevertheless, those artists’ livelihoods would very well depend on it. When, down the road, their voices would experience natural wear and tear, they would become alarmed and rightfully so.

Usually, it starts in the later stage of their professional lives, as their voice cannot withstand the same workability and sound pressure as it could in their younger years.

Not to mention that most of those artists are just simply talented, but they never had an exposure to the right vocal technique which would save and protect their voice for life.

So before they know, the symptoms of overworked voice begin to surface. Some of them are coming with per-nodule conditions or already with full-blown polyps or nodules on their vocal cords.

For many years, deep inside, they knew that something had dramatically changed with respect to their vocal performance. They realized it, but it usually takes some time to admit it, even to themselves.

As they go along, the condition keeps persisting and then they begin their internet search for a vocal cure. Some of them, out of desperation, jumping straight onto the operating table in hopes that when they will come out of the O.R., they will be as good as new and will sing as good as before and better.

The others are looking for a ‘magic pill’ and the conventional vocal instruction, not realizing that to deal with any vocal problem is a big task and it definitely requires a highly qualified voice specialist. It also requires them to be in cooperation with the instruction and treatment. 

The majority of people are naturally very frustrated, extremely scared and totally obsessed with the sound of their voice. My recent US client, through the process of his per-nodule treatment, was literally coming on and off what I call a ‘vocal orgasm’.

When we have overcome his vocal injury and started the actual vocal instruction, not only was he flying off the handle from the excitement, but continuously kept listening to his own voice, forgetting that the next segment of the song was coming.

When I pointed it out, he said to me: 

“But Diana, I am addicted; it is like a drug to me. I guess I am a vocal Junkie, as I am completely addicted to my voice now. I never herd my voice sounding this way for many years!”

With these words, he knelled down and touched my feet.  That gesture suggests a great respect and admiration for a Teacher, Mentor or a Guru. I first had learned that from my former voice repair client, who came to me from India many years ago

He too did the same gesture to my enormous surprise then, and after I recovered from the shock of the unknown, he gave me the full blown explanation of that ritual.  

Needless to say, to teach “an old dog new tricks” is not very easy.

We all know that bad habits die hard.

Due to that process, I have to free the artist from any ‘addictions’ he/she may possess:  

  • Misalignment of the physical body
  • Poor connection between mental clarity and motor skills
  • “Dropped down the floor” jaw
  • Stuck out (as a pregnant ballerina), stomach (lol)
  • Fears and insecurities of accepting the new modality of the certain proper vocal and overall behavior
  • Elimination of what I call “vocal narcissism” behavior (me, myself and I, and…my voice)      
The name of this game is to find a balance which has to be achieved by a performer on every level: mental, physical, emotional and vocal. Once the above is acquired, no addictions or bad behavior could take place, and not only vocally, but, as well, on an everyday basis.