The host for the ninth International Congress of Voice Teachers (ICVT2017), the 30th Jubilee of ICVT, was the Association of Voice Teachers of Sweden. And they did a great job! Click here for the website.
At these conferences, several presentations and workshops are taking place at the same time. So you have to choose based on a title, a few sentences with explanation and the name of the presenter. I’m happy with the choices I have made!
We were served interesting talks and musical treats in the brand new Royal College of Music. I let the video do the talking…
Why is ugly ugly? – Johan Sundberg
The talk that stayed with me the most, was that of Johan Sundberg, THE voice scientist of today. If you would get a chance to go to his course The Science of the Singing Voice, GO! Johan is everything a presenter should be. He has the knowledge, the experience and the presenting skills. While making you laugh your ass off, he teaches you important insights. Things that every voice teacher should be aware of, in my opinion. He makes the heavy nerdy stuff light and understandable.
“Why is ugly ugly?” That was the central question of his talk. That’s very subjective, you say? It turns out that that’s not necessary the case! We were served examples of what he believed was ugly and beautiful singing. Johan wondered whether he was the only one that found these examples ugly or beautiful. But it turned out that he was not alone. So, he looked for objective parameters that define quality of the voice. He ended up with these:
- Exaggerated glottal adduction
- Wrong formant frequencies (cf. articular control and singers’ formant)
- Irregular vibrato & out of tune singing (failing pitch control)
It was amazing to hear the result of the manipulated ‘ugly singing’! It is possible to make ugly beautiful, in an objective way. Yes, you can make a cat sing with the computer. Let’s not start the discussion on the positive and negative sides of the fact that this is common practice, nowadays 😉
Warm up by Anna Högström
Oh, how happy it makes me, when we’re offered the opportunity to actually sing at these conferences! Talking and listening to presentations about the voice for days in a row, without enjoying our own voice would be kind of ridiculous, huh? 🙂
For me, the warm up of Anna felt like a warm bath of returning to what used to be my home. I don’t sing a lot of classical music anymore, nowadays, but I have a long past of daily classical warm up routines. Anna’s a vibrant, enthusiastic voice teacher that got us ready for the day.
Research on the female singing voice – Matthias Echternach
I really looked forward to this one. Matthias Echternach is a researcher at the Freiburger Institute for Musician’s Medicine, and responsible for the latest internet hype of the opera singer in the MRI scanner. This video actually comes from a DVD ‘The Voice, Insights into the Physiology of Singing and Speaking’. Every voice teacher should check it out. Finally, voice research that doesn’t focus mainly on the male classical voice, but also talks about the female voice AND contemporary styles. Oh, and overtone singing too 😉
Matthias explained us why vocal research tends to focus on the male voice. To put it bluntly, female voices are harder to measure.
– Vocal signals of male voices are clearer.
– The glottal cycle of a male voice produces 40 pictures per cycle, female voices only 5.
– Male vocal folds are longer and thicker.
– The male voice produces a bigger amplitude
– The male vocal tract is bigger
– But on the other hand, female exhalation is much more stable during phonation (support).
Little side note: Which made me want to jump around and have a party, is that voice scientists are finally abandoning the idea of registers. Check out these quotes!
My addition: Head and chest register are nothing more than synonyms for high pitched and low pitched singing. And you can do that in a gazillion kind of ways. There’s no need to apply rules on that.
Matthias talked about the female classical voice, and a bit about the musical theater voice and yodeling. He focused on the three passagio’s and the correlation with the lips, tongue, jaw protrusion, pharynx and uvula. A little explanation from my own background as a CVT teacher: Female classical singers don’t take the metallic modes up to the high notes. They change to neutral, and are supposed to do that without a vocal break and without the stylistic preferred dark sound color changing, which means very smoothly. And that’s difficult. Now, vocal breaks are not unhealthy or ‘bad technique’ at all, if you know how to do them correctly, but in classical singing, they are very much not wanted. So a lot of people would call them ‘bad technique’. I would just call it an unwanted vocal break. That means that you go from a metallic mode to neutral – which is non metallic, or the other way around, very suddenly. The auditory result is that you hear a kind of flip, a break, a snap on the note where you change the vocal mode.
The 2nd passagio is actually subject of discussions, nowadays. Is it a primary laryngeal event or an interaction of the vocal tract to the oscillatory system?
We also got information on different kind of classical vibrato’s & covering of the voice in lyrical singing vs. dramatic singing, and the correlation of the larynx position with loudness. To top it off, Matthias shared some insights on 3rd passagio (does it exist?) towards the high pitches and overtone singing… and a lovely artistic closure.
Pilates – A help or hindrance to singers – Larissa Kelloway
There are a lot of somatic movement practices (pilates, feldenkrais, alexander technique,…), and they are loved. We all know and feel that they are helping singers a great deal. But there is very little research on them. So, I was happy to finally see some numbers 🙂
Wiring the classical voice – Karen Cummings
Contemporary classical composers are working more and more with amplification, and classical singers have to use it often, as concert venues change. But microphones and the classical vocal spectrum… are not easily befriended. So, what can we do about that? This talk focused on new aesthetics and techniques.
As there were continuous technical issues at the beginning, I figured that this presentation would be cancelled, so I decided to go to another presentation. When I came back, it turned out that the presentation did go on. I was happy to catch the end of it, so I can share this overview with you.
From the inside out: Breathing for pop and jazz singers – Ineke van Doorn
2 years ago, I went to the presentation of Ineke’s book, and the conference that came with it. So I already knew that I was going to like this talk. Some teachers think that you shouldn’t teach inhalation, as it will come by itself. Ineke disagrees, and I do too 🙂
As the style specific characteristics from pop and jazz singing vary much from classical singing, obviously, breathing strategies also are different. We need flexible & strong breathing muscles, and a good coordination of them. And then there’s also the debate on belly in or out.
Ineke shared with us a lovely quote by Kristin Linklater: “Breath follows musical intention” Ow yeah! 🙂
She ended her great talk with an overview on several voice methods and on which aspect of breathing they focus the most.
Breath, balance and glow; Integrating yoga into choral and studio settings – Elizabeth Croy
*Yay* Yoga! Oh my, that felt good 🙂 This was a very practical workshop, so I didn’t get to take pictures or notes. But I remember that Elizabeth focused on breath, balancing and flow. I loved singing Shuberts ‘An die Musik’ while doing a warrior pose flow.
However, I’d like to share my personal thoughts on Ujai breathing. It is actually the only yoga exercise that I refuse to do myself and recommend my clients to avoid. Ujai means that you press your vocal folds together, and in- & exhale while holding them together, which creates a friction sound. I find that that creates a lot of excessive tensions in and around the larynx. I prefer to slow my breathing down by for example closing one nostril with my finger. Up till now, there has been no yoga teacher that could clearly explain the facts that make Ujai a better technique for slowing down the breath than just closing one nostril. As there were a lot of voice teachers in the room, I decided to open up the discussion. Elizabeth agreed on that “danger” and explained to me that she often makes the constriction with her tongue against her palate, instead of with the vocal folds pressed together. And then she gave the example with her mouth closed. But… it’s impossible to make the friction sound with the tongue against the palate with your mouth closed. The only way you can make that sound is by nearly closing your nose (as if you would want to clear it) or by pressing your vocal folds together. And she surely wasn’t clearing her nose 🙂 I really don’t want to critique Elizabeth here. I’m merely looking for an answer, as SO many yoga teachers appear to love Ujai. Please share your thoughts on this below my post, if you would have an answer or something to add 🙂
Exploring interactivity in lessons with voice and video – Catrina Seiffert
As budgets are being cut all over the world, also in Australia, singers are getting less and less contact hours at universities. Catrina proposes to make the most out of the budget, by integrating video lessons and online courses. If carried out well, I believe that this can work.
Her research shows that blended learning (combining IRL teaching with online lessons) produces the best result, as with only online learning, only 30% of the students completed the course. She showed us some examples of her own online lessons, that she uses in her own university. It turns out to be possible to create good quality lessons on a very low budget.
The evolving voice; Exploring a chronological perspective, facts, techniques and expectations for healthy singing at every age – Karen Brunssen & Julia Davids
WOW! This is a presentation that should travel the world. With Evta-Be, the Belgian Association of Voice Teachers, we have worked around the theme ‘Why does singing together make you happy?’ for a whole year, in 2016. We have talked about and worked around the importance of singing together at every age, from singing with babies, to singing with people with dementia.
Karen and Julia explained us how the voice and whole vocal apparatus evolve through the years, from newborn to elderly. They focused on the effects of hormonal changes, how cartilage becomes bone (larynx, rib cage,…), much more and how all that affects our singing. I personally did not know that our jaw protruded more and more as we age, and that that affects the mobility of it a huge deal. Opening your mouth in a relaxed way becomes much more difficult!
This is definitely something to delve into more thoroughly, if you work with a great variety of ages.
How do we know that our students are learning what we think we are teaching – Cindy Dewey
Wouldn’t every teacher / coach like to know the answer to this question? 🙂
Singers that start off with a nice technical base intuitively or genetically, may benefit from that in the beginning of their development. But they have to watch out that the singers that actually have to work for it don’t surpass them!
The more I heard Cindy talk, the more I was thinking “I agree 100% and this is how I try to work on a daily basis!” And then she mentioned the name Noa Kageyama. Of course! This guy has a blog called The Bulletproof Musician and I believe that every teacher / coach in every field should rigorously follow this blog. It’s stuffed with golden information on how to study / practice, how to teach / coach and how to prepare mentally and physically for a performance.
- Learning vs. a temporary performance shift
Permanent effect vs. 1st time success (= beginning of learning)
- The 3 stages of motor learning
Discovery (Cognitive) – Stabilization (Associative) – Autonomous
- The first attempt rule
If you want to practice A, don’t do A A A A A A A A, but A B A @ A – A * A # A …
- To Do lists (biomechanics) vs. The external locus of attention (sound & sensation)
- Find what’s right, don’t fix what’s wrong
- So much more!
This was just too much goodness to stuff in a report. I have asked Cindy to send me her slideshow. Let me know if you want me to send it to you! After asking Cindy’s permission, of course 🙂
Masterclass: George Shirley
I have only seen a little part of this masterclass, while George was working with one of the singers of the Young Professional Programme. These singers were selected from all over the world by EVTA and have received several masterclasses throughout the conference. We were also treated to a lovely concert on Saturday Evening.
The singer was struggling with the Italian language and George helped him out. It was mesmerizing to witness how the music came to life, once the singer managed to pronounce everything right. Prima la musica e poi le parole, or the other way around, right? 😉
Complete Vocal Technique – 15 years later – Annika Holmberg & Ville Laaksonen
As I’m an Authorised CVT Teacher myself, I was very curious for this presentation. Unfortunately, my colleagues were prepared for a 90 min. presentation, while only receiving 40 minutes. I was looking forward to discussing the method, but there was only time to give the people that didn’t know the method a nice introduction. In which they succeeded. Unfortunately, I was unable to go to their second presentation, where they went further into the subject.
Teaching Lucas: A transgender student’s vocal journey from soprano to tenor – Loraine Sims
Interesting! That was the first word that came to mind. I have worked with a transgender person (female to male) myself, but this singer didn’t want to make the voice more masculine. It was more an ambiguous person. I did, however, recognise a lot of the considerations that Loraine has shared with us.
Lucas started his vocal education as a soprano. During his education, he started testosterone therapy, which had a big effect on his vocal apparatus. Once testosterone effects the vocal folds, there’s no way back. It’s permanent. Loraine has guided Lucas and his voice through these changes for 18 months. He even auditioned at the same school as a tenor, only 2 months after starting the therapy, and succeeded!
The difference after 18 months is striking…
After this huge journey, Lucas decided to become a countertenor, as the tenor voice never felt 100% right. He was very successful, as he became 2nd in a big competition, after 2 years of training. After that, Lucas decided to become binary which means non gender specific. Some days, he feels masculine, some days, she feels feminine. Loraine concludes that it’s necessary to name the quality of the sound, instead of using gender specific terms.
What do singers and teachers really need to know about voice science? – Scott McCoy
Owwwwww… So many people wanting to see this presentation, and such a little room. Luckily, Scott repeated his talk the day after, and I was one of the lucky ones that got in the room 😀
Obviously, teaching voice with all the scientific knowledge we have would be ridiculous. Asking a singer to reinforce the singers’ formant, lower the subglottal pressure, engage the latissimus dorsi a bit more,… would not result in the singer creating the desired sound. It would only result in confusion and funny faces 😀
For example, instead of asking the singer to raise the first formant, we ask the singer to open the mouth, which will result in the first formant to be raised.
The problem is… It’s easy to say something stupid. A lot of very good voice teachers teach some things as facts, but those facts turn out to be alternative facts. Nevertheless, they attain good results. There’s too much other stuff and knowledge evolves. So it’s important to keep this question in mind: “What is going to be the most helpful for me?”.
Scott wondered whether it would be sufficient to know only big picture facts about for example respiration, phonation and articulation, or whether we all need to know the tiny little details. After all, there are things we can control (e.g. the contraction of pelvic muscles), but there are also a lot of things that are very hard or even impossible to control (e.g. the action of intrinsic laryngeal muscles). And it happens to be that the muscles that are the most important for vocal control, are the ones that are the most difficult to control directly.
Scott suggested that we hide this detailed knowledge from our students, but I don’t agree on this one. In my opinion, it depends on the singer that we’re working with. Sometimes, people have very logical minds and understand techniques much quicker if we give them all the nerdy information we have. I believe that it is our responsibility to analyse the learning types we are working with and decide which singers will benefit from the knowledge and which won’t.
Of course, we can’t know everything. Let’s avoid being a Jack of all trades. We have to focus on mastering what is possible, muddling on with current knowledge and most importantly (in my opinion): Let’s be open for what’s coming.
Practical voice pedagogy and voice behavior: A proposal for using psychology of singing in pursuit of artistic excellence – Serdar Ilban
Singing must be taught empirically, you can’t learn it by reading a book. So, Serdar presented some of his thoughts on the psychologic side of learning how to sing. I have already talked about the presentation of Cindy Dewey, which covered this also, and I must admit, more thoroughly. I’m not going to repeat all this, but instead, I’ll share some nice quotes as an addition.
“You need a strong ego in order to protect yourself from all the critic. But grow skill first.”
“The best advice I have ever received or given: You are an experiment of one.”
He ended his talk with a nice video of Joyce Di Donato giving some advice.
Teaching – Facts – Future – Johan Sundberg
Oh my, how happy I was, entering the beautiful Kungasalen, for this talk of Johan Sundberg. 5 minutes before, I had just posted a personal rant about the fact that anybody can call himself a voice teacher or vocal coach on my blog, and then Johan Sundberg himself advocated for a solution for it. Yes indeed, it is time that we do something about it.
In his very own hilarious style, as I already have described, he studied some persistent alternative vocal facts about subglottal pressure and the diaphragm that originated from personal experiences from voice teachers, and proved them wrong. Luckily, there were also some facts proving the experience of for example inhalare la voce and chiaro-oscuro 🙂
In the meanwhile, he educated us on the singers’ formant, while playing around with Madde, a computer program that allows you to fiddle with the properties of sounds. It makes the science of formants and other vocal properties very understandable. It must be his favorite computer program, as 90% of his presentations that I have seen, contained some playtime with it 😉 If you want to learn more on the subject of formants and the likes, read my report on a conference I went to in 2012.
For me, these final slides of Johan’s presentation are the most important ones of the whole conference. In fact, I believe Johan and Scott McCoy could give great presentations together 🙂
Fatigue resistance training: Application to the singing voice – Matthew Hoch & Mary J. Sandage
I have been convinced of the fact that we, voice teachers and vocal coaches, can compare our job to that of sport coaches. I personally have delved in for example the psychological side of it and the aspects of motor learning, but the aspect of fatigue resistance training is one that I hadn’t looked into yet. Having attended this lecture, I now know that incorporating it into the coaching routine might help our singers a great deal.
First, we got an introduction into the mechanisms of fatigue and how training resistance to it actually works.
Wow, I needed all my concentration in order to keep up. Not my habitat! 🙂
For centuries, singers and their teachers have been focusing on skill acquisition. Matthew and Mary suggest to add fatigue resistance training, while keeping these considerations in mind.
Round table: How to coach pop & rock singers for the rigors of the road – Kim Chandler, Lisa Popeil & Daniel Zangger Borch
*** REPORT COMING SOON ***
Voting on the location of ICVT 2021
At ICVT, I have represented Belgium in the function of vice president of Evta-Be, the Belgian association of voice teachers. This automatically gives us a vote at every edition, to decide where the next edition will take place. This time, there was only one country applying – Austria, so a real voting procedure was not necessary. Instead, we were served a nice presentation of the preparatory work already done by the Austrian association of voice teachers. We were all happy to support their application and are looking forward to meeting each other again at ICVT 2021.
********** TO BE CONTINUED *************
Singing roadshow – European vocal mobile academy: A creative toolbox experimentation to spread good singing across Europe – Susan Yarnall Monks & Stéphane Grosclaude
Fitness & singing: Training for success – Chuck Chandler
Tomatis-based listening – Susan Hurley
The mental edge: Wellness for performers – Kristine Hurst-Wajszczuk
Sex hormones’ influence on female singing voice – Vindhya Khare
Gala concert and mingle