The Liberated Voice

Revolutionizing vocal technique with timeless wisdom

When You Pull Off All the Spider’s Legs…

CW: Animal cruelty

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I was recently reminded of a terrible joke I first heard as a child:

A scientist is performing research on a spider in his lab. He places the spider on a platform and commands, “Jump!”
The spider jumps. The scientist makes a note.
The scientist pulls off one of the spider’s legs, places it back on the platform, and commands, “Jump!”
The spider jumps. The scientist makes a note.
The scientist pulls off another one of the spider’s legs, places it back on the platform, commands “Jump!”… rinse and repeat, until finally the spider is completely legless.
The scientist makes a note: “When you pull off all the spider’s legs, it can no longer hear a damned thing.”

This comes to mind today because I feel that classical voice students often end up the unwitting study subjects of a psychological version of this experiment. Along the education and career paths they...

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What Did You Learn In School Today?

Pete Seeger wants to know
 

Singers, what did you learn in your most recent voice lesson? Teachers, what have you successfully imparted to your students so far this week?
 
I’m inviting you to reflect on these questions because the greater our clarity about what is successfully imparted and actually learned, the more valuable the lesson and the more likely the learning will be retained.
 
There is certainly an ineffable, je ne sais quoi component to the way artistic growth occurs, and good communication between teacher and student often seems to happen as much via osmosis as it does through any method.
 
However, learning to sing does involve the development and integration of codifiable skills, including breathing, phonation, registration, resonance, diction, and flexibility, as well as the ability to apply those skills to dramatic and musical interpretation of repertoire.
 
So, aside from the je ne sais quoi, what did you learn in school?
The...
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Opera: Suffering as Entertainment

Soprano Angel Blue


Here’s a story: A young black woman is kidnapped, held hostage, and humiliated. There’s a ray of hope when one of her captors’ employees betrays them in the hope of absconding with her. But he’s caught, and they both die.

This, of course, is the plot of Verdi’s Aida, considered by many to be the grandest of all grand operas. Outsized emotions are what make grand opera grand, so the greater the suffering and hope portrayed, the more cathartic the opera will be for the audience. Beginning with Aida’s premiere, opera companies have traditionally heightened the grandeur of the protagonist’s emotions with the most epic production values imaginable:

At “Aida’s” 1871 world premiere in Cairo, 12 elephants joined a double chorus in the scene welcoming a brave soldier’s return from battle. In Shanghai’s uber-performance of the Verdi classic in 2000, the elephants had even more company: camels,...

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Why You Hate Exercise

fitness practice wellness Jul 03, 2022

This blog post is dedicated to all of you who think you should be exercising more than you do. Or believe you should be enjoying it more than you do, or wish you were getting better results.

All of you are officially off the hook. I’ve been a certified fitness trainer for some twenty years, and I am here to tell you that we’ve all been duped.

 Fitness culture, at least here in the US, is largely premised on several fallacies:

  • Fallacy #1: The fitness and nutrition strategies developed for elite athletes are also the best strategies for average, comparatively sedentary people
  • Fallacy #2: Visible muscle definition indicates strength and wellness
  • Fallacy #3: Exercise requires discipline and sustained willpower, i.e. “no pain, no gain.”
  • Fallacy #4: There is one ideal set of health parameters that is relevant for bodies of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds, including (or especially) how much you weigh.

To be clear, I’m not saying...

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Sex, Consent, and True Power

Uncategorized May 09, 2022

There is a lot we don’t understand about how women experience sex.

We know a great deal about the role of sex in reproduction. We know a great deal about male sexual arousal and discharge. We even know a great deal about male performance issues—we have studied erectile dysfunction in depth, for example, and developed resources so that men can continue to enjoy sexual arousal and discharge throughout their lives.

But there is a lot we don’t know about sex where the experiences of women are concerned—where female sexual arousal and discharge are concerned. Aside from reproduction, a great deal remains to be understood about how women experience sex. Nearly half the abstract for a paper titled “Women’s Orgasm” is devoted to the difficulties women have experiencing orgasm and the potential causes, but while ”orgasm problems are the second most frequently reported sexual problems in women,” to date there are still “no...

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How to Hit the High Notes

 

It is not how high you get that matters—it’s how you get high.”
W. Stephen Smith

 

Imagine you’re watching the Olympics on television. It’s time for pole vaulting.

You observe this amazing feat and think, wow, that’s for me! You seek out a coach who is known for training elite pole vaulters, and you schedule a session. You meet up with them at a field that is already set up for pole vaulting. The coach greets you, hands you an enormous pole, points to the distant crossbar, and says, “Okay, show me what you’ve got! Then come back here and I’ll tell you what you did wrong.”

This would never happen, of course.

But it’s really not all that different from what many singers experience in a first voice lesson with a new teacher, even as a complete beginner. You meet up with the teacher at their studio. The teacher greets you, sits down at the piano, invites you to sing a song, and then critiques...

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How to Enjoy Practicing More Than You Currently Do

I have always loved to practice music. I have been obsessed with practicing from the moment Mrs. Pickens, my next-door neighbor, put an alto recorder in my hands. I was six years old.

It was the beginning of a lifelong passion. I had so much fun playing around with the instrument, figuring out the fingering, learning to navigate the register breaks, playing scales in different keys, and best of all, teaching myself to play songs I heard on the radio. I spent hours learning Simon & Garfunkel and Jim Croce songs by ear.

When my neighbor invited me to play in her [otherwise adult] recorder ensemble, I had to learn to read music. It was confusing and challenging, but it was also really fun. I enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of interpreting rhythm and pitch notation, and I really loved figuring out how the part I was playing fit into the overall musical design.

When I was eleven, I took up the clarinet and started playing in wind ensembles and orchestras. The clarinet opened up a...

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What Do You Need from Your Voice Teacher?

auditions pedagogy singing Mar 14, 2022
Some years ago I became aware that within our vast and varied constellation of voice teachers, I was regarded as a technique specialist.
 
When I asked a prospective student why they were interested in working with me, they often replied with something like, “I‘ve heard you're great at teaching technique, and I really need to get my technique together,” followed by a caveat along the lines of, “I learned so much from Professor Famoso at Conservatorio Stretto, I‘m incredibly grateful to them! but they didn't really teach technique.”
 
I would think, “if they aren‘t teaching technique, then what the hell are they teaching?”
 
I would also occasionally receive an SOS from a singer currently enrolled in a conservatory program who urgently needed help their Official Voice Teacher was unable to provide: to resolve habitual tongue tension, or even out their registration, or develop the breath coordination to navigate...
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What It Means to Be a Singing Body

fitness singing wellness Mar 07, 2022
Your voice is everything you are.
 
It encompasses your mind, your physical body, and your feelings. Its expression is informed by all your life experiences, aspirations, and fantasies.
 
From your voice’s point of view, it is impossible to separate the role your mind plays in singing from the role played by your physical body. Your brain is, after all, a component of your physical body. And if your imagination originates in your mind, aka your brain, it follows that your imagination is a component of a component of your physical body.
 
Consider for a moment that, rather than being a musician who makes music with your body, you are your body. A body that sings.
 
It is the body that breathes.
It is the body that feels.
It is the body that is vibrated by sound, when we listen to music.
It is the body that vibrates, when we sing.
 
You are the only one who knows what it is like to live as your body—how it feels, how it likes to move, the...
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The Liberated Voice Version 2.0

Welcome to The Liberated Voice, Version 2.0!

It’s time to transplant and reboot my blog. My reasons for the refresh are logistical as well as philosophical.

I dubbed my practice The Liberated Voice when I first launched my blog in 2010, and I appended the tagline, “Revolutionizing vocal technique with timeless wisdom.” What I was implying without making explicit, is that the “timeless wisdom” I draw upon is largely inspired by Buddhist philosophy and practice; by “Liberated,” I’m referring to not only unfettered vocal expression, but also the liberation to enjoy our lives free of unnecessary suffering and limitation.

So why not make my influences explicit? At the time, I personally found it too challenging to decouple Buddhist philosophy and practice, from the hierarchical thinking and the “woo” that characterizes every “spiritual” path I have yet encountered. I’m in the camp that doesn’t...

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