Welcome to our decorated guest, Jeanie Lovetri. Jeanie had an insatiable desire to find out why singers couldn’t sing more than one style successfully. This led to her creating a program to help singers go from a gutsy belt to a classical piece, one after the other. Here’s a summary of a few questions that we asked Jeanie, but DEFINITELY watch the podcast for the entire interview. It’s brimming with advice!
With all of your knowledge, how does your approach differ to other approaches in helping people sing better?
“There are lots of muscles inside the mouth and throat and they all have an impact on the sound that we hear when someone sings. Therefore, these muscles need to be responsive, meaning that they must be very movable and also resiliently strong. Since a lot of those muscles aren’t directly controlled by us (like we would control our arm, for example), we learn to indirectly control them through vocal exercises. When the body is encouraged to operate within it’s optimum freedom and health, you get the biggest amount of responsiveness in the vocal muscles.
‘Fight or flight’ mechanism in the body cannot be overridden by deliberate will power; you can’t commit suicide by holding your breath! My work is in concert with the bodies need to breath in air and breath out carbon dioxide as freely as possible, working to eliminate constriction where possible. Any time you force the throat to be a certain shape, you work against a very deep biological program and it often turns out badly. You might be able to sing like that for a while, but it’s not as beneficial for the long haul. When you allow the vocal mechanism to do all the things it can do, you’re then guiding it by mental choice. If you understand the aesthetics of a classical style you can choose to sing that way. Equally you could do the same in jazz right afterwards.
Cross training in singing styles allows the body to do more than you’d think, however one might not reach the optimal level in any of them. That’s not realistic. Nevertheless, you can reach a good level in several styles and produce them efficiently if you cross train.”
Occam’s razor (or Ockham’s razor)
A principle from philosophy.
Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence. In this case, the simpler one is usually better.
Another way of saying it is that the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation is.
Jeanie tries to keep her work inline with Occam’s Razor by keeping it very simple. There are only three register components, two vowel sound configurations, posture alignment and a deliberate breathing strategy. Everything else is a variation on those areas.
How realistic is it for a coloratura soprano to expect to be able to belt on demand? Is there more calibration needed to switch between those styles or can it just be chosen?
“You cannot be a professional lyric coloratura singing Bellini and sing a high rock belt at the same time. However, you can be a soprano and sing in another style provided that you do not only do one thing with your voice when you’re not singing, in terms of exercise. More specifically, you need to do functional exercise.”
The practice of training the body for the activities performed in daily life
Despite the fact the Jeanie is a graceful 68 years old, suffers a left vocal fold paresis, hadn’t warmed up and hadn’t sung in days she demonstrated high classic singing and a belt voice, one after the other, easily! See the episode for full demonstration.
“I don’t have a special larynx that allows me to do that. I just refused to give up one for the other over the years I’ve been singing. However, if I was doing just one of those styles predominantly, on-stage each night, switching to another polar style would not be so easy. In essence, the limitations have to do with the realities of work rather than the limitations of the human throat.”
The somatic element of her vocal work is centred around cultivating high levels of auditory and kinaesthetic feedback whilst singing. It’s like being on a surfboard where you’re dealing with your body, your balance and the wave, constantly readjusting as your surf. In singers, how can we develop that level of feedback and how can it be used to control the voice? With that feedback, how can we make adjustments to the vocal tract that don’t directly inhibit flexibility but occur to help us spontaneously create the sounds we desire? Those questions, and more, are all addresses in Jeanie’s Somatic Voice Work training program.
What can singers to do to help themselves when dipping their toes into a technique and researching voice training programs?
“You have to understand vocal registration, because a registration change is a vocal fold change. Registration is the primary difference between classical styles and other styles of singing. Resonance is a by-product of sound production, whereas register change IS sound production. If you don’t understand the mechanics of registers, nothing else works really well. Registration controls the airflow parameters, it controls open and closed quotient (fold closure) and it has a profound effect on the vertical laryngeal position in the throat.
In order to dip your toes in to technique, you have to be able to detect the basic audible differences in the sound relating to register. In order to that, I just need to know what pressure I’m putting on my throat and the muscle of my throat.
Most of the people who teach belting by manipulation ran out of options, so they had to do something to make the belt work. Subsequently, they would squeeze or push or constrict or retract which would get a result that was like a belt sound. Or, indeed, a classical sound. But by making the throat move, instead of letting it move, they shut off the mechanisms ability to respond to emotional difference.”
How do we avoid young or fledgling singers suffering unnecessary tension from trying to copy their idols?
“You must honour the body, respect the body and treat the body with high regard. You need to take time, you need to go slowly and you need to wait for your body to get there. It’s like planting a seed and waiting for it to grow. You might want that tree to be 10 feet tall by next week, so you give it lots of food, water and sunshine. But that isn’t going to make it get there.
In the oldest school of classical singing you develop the voice over five to ten years worth of training. The idea, in pop music, that you just flip a switch and make the sound is based on ignorance. That’s never how it’s been and it’s not how it is now.
Young artists will find it hard to find out who they are, as a voice, until they have worked hard on voice for a minimum of two years. It’s for the teacher to support a serious singer over a long period of time.”
How would you deal with a singer who needs to backtrack in terms of their technique, and risk them getting worse, whilst they’re in the middle of a very important tour or show schedule?
“If I’m working with someone in a broadway show I can’t suddenly make them stop singing what they’re singing. They have eight shows a week to sing! There are compensatory gestures which you can provoke through exercises to allow the mechanism to recalibrate itself. It’s similar to the work of Feldenkrais which involves very repetitive movements over a long period of time. When I was working with the cast of Rent and there were singers who would be suffering with muscle tension dysphonia or fatigue. Each day they would notice that singing would become easier and easier with the exercises but they didn’t stop appearing in the show! It’s very rare to genuinely need to take six weeks off to recalibrate.”
Ingo Titze once mentioned that you recommended he sing with a raised chin to improve his high notes. Why was that?
“Use of the constrictor muscles, of which there are three sets in the throat, should be avoided in most singing situations, where possible. Lots of pop/rock singers unnecessarily use the pharyngeal constrictors when creating sound. In healthy pop/rock singing, you can find an optimal sound configuration by allowing the larynx to rise instead. Don’t make it rise or force it up. It will rise on it’s own because of the vocal quality you want. However, you may need to raise the chin to give the larynx room to do that, especially if what you want to do is ‘belty’. Most of the time though, the chin can be straight forward. Saying that, you have to keep your neck out of it, your jaw has to be loose, your face has to be alive and the muscles in the throat need to be responsive.
There are old schools of classical singing that teach to sing with the mouth almost closed but you can’t do that when belting. It’s not possible. There needs to be an open mouth, most often at the corners, but there is more than one way to do it. None of the ways to belt involve being deliberately nasal. They don’t involve pulling, squeezing or retracting anything in the throat. The idea that you have to retract the false folds, constrict the aryepiglottic sphincter or hold the larynx down or up is nuts. Nobody needs to do that, but that is a methodology created by someone who didn’t sing well in the first place.
I have a respect for my instrument. I ask it to do what it can and don’t force it to do what it can’t”
If you’d like to find out more about Somatic Voice Work as a teacher, or would like to know more about Jeanie LoVetri’s long history as a teacher and trainer, you can find it on these two websites:
There are also extensive blogs and research papers available on each site for anyone who likes to dig into the ‘nitty gritty’. For now, take in the information and contact us if you have any questions!
Latest posts by Naked Web Monkey (see all)
- MFDR – Four letters that help explain vocal power! - July 6, 2017
- Voice Metaphors – Why They Work & Why They Don’t! - April 21, 2017
- The Bottom End – Training Chest Voice & The Low Range - December 22, 2016