Vocal Anatomy without Aesthetic Bias

As I start writing this, it’s Friday night on October 30th, 2020. The part of the world I’m based in is softening into the darker season, cobwebs are being displayed in gardens nearby (both spider-made and human imitations), and Winter looks to be a chilly time ahead of distanced outdoor meet-ups, lockdowns and losses, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Out of the darkness of this terrible time of pandemic, have sprung some wonderful human adaptations. One of these has been increased access to online learning, and online-adapted leisure and cultural activities; making a variety of things more/differently accessible.

I’ve recently finished a dense week undertaking an Estill Voice Training Course via zoom, with people from all over the world. Being engaged and present 9-6 every day for a whole week is not something very available to many spoonies with chronic health issues to manage. Being able to learn from home and cut out the travelling element, has made it possible for me to engage fully with vocal studies that I’m passionate about, and wouldn’t otherwise have access to at this time in my life.

The course I took, Estill Voice Training, Levels 1&2, is a course I have taken once before in person. It contains such densely detailed and vocally practical content, that it suited very well taking it a second time round. I deepened my learning about the human voice so much, including in ways I can clearly see being helpful in my vocal teaching and performance practices in the near and far future.

Delivered with anatomical clarity and practical accessibility, this course presented a very helpful model for understanding what is most likely to be happening in the anatomy of the human voice when different types of sounds are produced. It also offered various imaginative and kin-aesthetic ‘ways in’ to developing conscious control over detailed anatomical aspects of voice production.

The course teachers were careful to emphasise that collective human learning is continuous, and that the most detailed things we currently know about human vocal anatomy and usage (obtained in part through the excellent work of Jo Estill in her lifetime), may well be updated and improved upon over time.

The teachers were also encouraging, clear, and curious to keep learning whilst delivering their teaching. They did not present themselves as gurus (phew), but as people with excellent training and skills, and helpful embodied and theoretical information to impart. Their approaches, and their clarity about their own biases and how they bring those to their teaching of the Estill Model, were very appealing to me as a Natural Voice Practitioner, and as a human who seeks to empower other humans in the work that I do.

The Estill Model of vocal training can help people to increase vocal control, freedom and understanding, without being nudged towards any particular aesthetic bias. It goes hand in hand very well with the Natural Voice Network’s approach, that every human voice is valuable and worth hearing, and that singing and giving voice is a human birthright.

This is something I firmly believe – that every human voice is valuable and worth hearing, and that singing and giving voice is a human birthright. I have been doing what I can to celebrate, explore and encourage human voices as a life’s work, and have done so professionally since completing Natural Voice Teacher Training with Frankie Armstrong and Darien Pritchard in 2007.

I was lucky enough to undertake apprenticeship with Frankie Armstrong for some time after I qualified as a Natural Voice Practitioner. The experiences I have had at Frankie’s side, as well as the experiences I’ve had leading singing groups since then and learning as I go, have inspired and confirmed a passionate love of the human voice, and taught me a lot about group facilitation and human nature.

My experiences have instilled in me the importance of empowering and encouraging people’s voices. People’s experiences of working with their voices in a safe environment can have wide reaching positive impacts on their lives, in many ways. But that’s a topic for another blog post altogether. Have a look at my Tedx Talk on The Power of Group Singing if you’re interested.

Back to my recent learning on the Estill course: The Estill Model offers helpful, practical ‘ways-in’ to empowering people to give voice in the ways they find preferable / exciting / comfortable / expressive / pleasing / suitable to purpose etc. It takes away from a sense of some people having “better” or “worse” voices than others, and instead offers the question, “what is this person doing with their vocal anatomy to create this sound?” This can lead on to the question, “what type of sound does this person want to make?” And offer helpful, reliable (depending on the teacher and the student) ‘ways-in’ to help somebody give voice / speak / sing in the ways that they want to. This is congruent with the way in which I work with Vocal Students individually. It was wonderful to be in a learning environment that supports the ethos I live and work with.

The Estill course and model also looks at the science of sound, and explores spectral analysis (I think this is the correct phrase) of vocal sound via a software called ‘VoicePrint‘. This offers a perspective on how particular vocal sounds are perceived by humans and why, and also gives objective information about how different vocal sounds look on a spectral analysis image (spectrogram is the term I believe). This is useful information, outside of and in addition to the aesthetic bias and aural perception of any individual listener.

I thoroughly approve of and am lucky to have been studying the Estill model of voice training and exploration, and am excited to incorporate my learning into upcoming singing lessons, workshops and choir sessions. When time, finances and pandemic life allow, I would love to continue formal study and practice in the Estill model, as it’s a wonderful compliment to the various vocal modalities I’m already familiar with. In the meantime, I’m very excited to incorporate my additional learning into my work as a singing teacher and vocalist.

My vocal background includes vocal study and choral concert tours with world music choirs Village Harmony and Northern Harmony regularly since childhood. This has given me insights into and embodied experience with vocal musics from around the globe. These experiences helped me develop critical curiosity about and deep respect for the cultural contexts that music types sit within; and most deeply they ignited in me a fiery passion for the power and variety of the human voice.

Especially, a passion for the human voice when singing in together with other human voices – something which is very much compromised in these times of pandemic. I’m doing my best with zoom features, creativity and continual learning, to emulate and keep alive the many experiential aspects of singing together that humans need and crave, at a time when we cannot safely gather to sing. It’s an ongoing journey of creative adaptation!

My background experience also includes Actor Musicianship Training from Rose Bruford College, and a wide range of musical, vocal and embodied learning and experience. These include singing with Packpins Madrigal Group, creating music for and performing in a wide range of Theatre productions including at The Watermill Theatre and Chichester Festival & Minerva Theatres, self taught Accordion skills, Grade 8 Flute, many years of experience teaching and doing group singing, and a BA Hons 1st in Music and Dance from Kingston University.

The offerings I make within a portfolio career, currently mostly operated via zoom due to Covd-19, are enhanced and influenced by a variety of skills, qualifications and experiences which complement my musical and vocal studies, in ways that can be of benefit to vocal students and people I work with in other capacities. Things learned in these other contexts can sometimes be very helpful to vocal students and enhance the way I work.

These include training, qualifications and/or experience in mindful movement based practices such as Kripalu Yoga, Partner Yoga, Pregnancy Yoga, 5 Rhythms, Physical Theatre and Dance; and various practices and CPD such as NVC Compassionate Communication (Foundation & Deepening, undertaken March to June 2008). I have been grateful to learn from these and other practices and trainings, and I enjoy weaving my understandings together creatively in both personal explorations and in professional and creative offerings.

I aim to bring together the different strands of learning that I have, to create meaningful ways for humans to connect with themselves and each other, and with shared humanity.

In recent pandemic-affected times, I’ve been making some offerings via zoom. These include community choir sessions for LGBTQ+ people and Allies, Yoga For M.E. classes, and one-to-one Singing Lessons and Yoga Sessions. See below for details of GLOW Choir and Yoga For M.E classes. Contact me to inquire about getting involved!

Making meaningful work happen during pandemic life can be challenging, and I’d love to find creative ways to collaborate with more artists, teachers, facilitators and performers, as well as also offering my work to a wider audience of people via zoom. Here’s wishing, thinking, reflecting and creating!

Contact me to inquire or to book your session!

Many thanks to all the amazing people I’ve learned from (including participants at my groups) and been inspired by (ditto), mentioned here or not.

You all rock and I’m amazed by you all. The ripples of your actions are still rolling outward in beauty.

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