Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why Speech Level Singing?

I have decided to teach Speech Level Singing. I have signed up and am in my per-certification stage. It will take me a year to 18 months to reach my level 1 and officially be called an SLS Teacher. This Blog will be dedicated to my journey in this amazing program. Some people may be thinking, "What?! You sing so well, just teach voice. You'll know what to do after all of the training you've had." But this method is special and much more structured and to be completely honest: "This method of singing has pretty much saved my vocal career." (You can quote me on that) Here is why I want to teach this particular method:

When I was ten years old I was cast as Annie. Here I am at the start of my career. I had raw vocal talent and could sing very well. The director of this show taught me some vocal tips to help me sing more consistently and correctly. Things like "support" (with your diaphragm) and how to really "push" those high notes out there. I was young and could do what he asked with no worries. As I grew up and reached my later teen years, I started running into problems when I was cast in roles that sang above the C above Middle C. But I was given help from the music directors on how to "push" through all that, and we made it work.

In college I took on a more classical approach to the voice and studied with teachers who helped me develop my upper register. Things were good! I could sing up high in my head voice....I could sing down low in chest voice....but there was a problem....it is a place in the voice called the "passaggio".

We all have "bridges" in our voices that take us to the higher registers. The most obvious for women is the passagio from the chest voice into the mix or the "first register". Some of us can mix this bridge smoothly, without strain and to an audience it sounds like just "one voice". There is no obvious break in the tone. It is balanced and coordinated. With my voice I would sing in this loud chest voice to that C above Middle C, or sometimes I could get up to a D above Middle C and then I couldn't go any higher without breaking into an obvious head voice. Once I got into that head voice I could go on up to high C and above, no problem. So, that passaggio into my first bridge was not connected and it was a real issue for me.

I went to many different vocal teachers, coaches and friends to try and smooth things out and nothing was really working for me. So for YEARS I dealt with this and just made due. To make matters even worse, while I was trying to start up my professional career on the East Coast a tragedy in our family occurred. My brother, just 3 years older than me, died suddenly of a drug overdose. His death and the events surrounding it were so traumatic to me that I lost my singing voice for a time. When I was finally able to sing again, my voice was very fragile and I had this "cracking/yodel" type thing that would happen spontaneously. It created much anxiety and was a huge blow to my vocal confidence. But, singing was so much a part of me that I just pressed on and tried to make the best of things.

I will say that my acting ability and how I was able to interpret a song became a strong point. I had to make up for my vocal imperfections so I would just act the crap out of a song to compensate. As a result I was always told, "you are such an amazing actress". Which was wonderful, but deep down I wanted to hear just one person say, "You have an amazing voice". Audiences may not know technique but they know a connected, well balanced sound when they hear it and I did not have that.

Fast forward to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, a production I did at St. George Musical Theater in 2006. My voice was having major issues. It sounded "sickly".

At the same time I was in production for Seven Brides, I was in rehearsals for Beauty and the Beast. My director, Ryan Norton, could tell something wasn't right with my voice. He introduced me to Speech Level Singing and told me I needed to go get my vocal chords scoped.

After getting scoped my doctor informed me that I had vocal chord damage due to Acid Reflux. I was sent to a speech therapist and we talked about the shows I was in and the new Speech Level vocal exercises that my director gave me. She was surprised and said that the exercises he gave me were the very ones she would have given me to help me recover. I was vigilant about taking my medication and doing these vocal exercises every day. I wanted my voice back!

Then in 2008 I was cast at Tuacahn. My voice was improving and I found a teacher that claimed she taught SLS. I asked her about my voice cracking and she really seemed to skirt the issue. I knew she wasn't equipped to help me and I was frustrated. I worked on my own and then I got a call one afternoon from Kerry Perry. She is the wife and business partner of Brodie Perry who was also in the cast of Tuacahn with me. She explained that the teacher that I had taken from that claimed to be an SLS Certified Teacher was NOT certified anymore. She had been asked to step down as a teacher in the organization but was still toting herself as an SLS Teacher. They were dealing with her on this matter. Kerry then went on to say that Brodie was certified if I wanted to take a lesson and see how things went. I was a bit skeptical after my experience with the previous teacher but I agreed.

Three years later Brodie is still my vocal trainer, teacher and mentor. Here we are in Les Miz that first summer I started taking lessons from him. My voice was literally "saved" by this method of singing. I still have much to overcome but my voice is getting stronger, more balanced and connected, I am able to sing in my chest voice, then into the mix on up to my head voice. I am more confident and I am starting to hear, "Wow! You are an amazing singer!" And I just jump for joy inside. I still have old habits that need to be conquered and that weird cracking still happens on occasion, but now I know why and I have the tools I need to correct it. I want to give to others what this method has given me. I believe in it and I am so blessed to have found it.