I wrote, for my August 2009 Tip, about my wonderful friend and Radiologist Chuck Schatz, who one day had asked me to teach him how to sing-at the age of 66, one Thursday, at noon-time-although he had never sung in his life ... and walked out two hours later singing “O What Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma, in key! He had a full operatic voice lying dormant all those years, because of its size; it required a more robust support concept he was lacking. Fifteen minutes into the lesson, he virtually matched my sound ... the first time he tried! When I played back recording of the two of us with our fully comparable sounds, he was stunned at how good his voice was, never before having heard it produced like that.
It was he who suggested, two years later-after a chest xray, to perhaps find the cause of a persistent cough-that I come back for a CT Scan ... that exposed the huge squamous cell cancer in my upper left lobe, that was subsequently removed eight days later by the eminent thoracic surgeon from Cedars Sinai Hospital, Dr. Robert McKenna.
Imagine my surprise when the phone rang last Saturday and it was Dr. Karen Sibert, my wonderful Anesthesiologist for that operation! I say wonderful because, she took such care in the intubation (the placing of the plastic tube between my cords) for the four and a half hour operation and two more times, subsequently. So good was she, that I was able to sing the very next day after the two bronchoscopies! Karen was almost surprised I had answered, confiding that she feared I might have succumbed to the disease.
I had given her my card, those four years before and she had thought of me when she realized she needed help with a problem she had; throughout her adult life, she had trouble with her voice when she had a lot of talking to do, scratchy throat, hoarseness, etc.
I asked her if she had ever sung and she replied than she had not!
My reponse was, “Hallelujah ... a vocal virgin!” ... one who has never had a voice lesson, where potentially, someone might have taken her down the wrong path and I would have had to bring her back.
Karen told me that she will be going to the Mayo Clinic for a couple of weeks, lecturing and giving some interns and residents the benefit of her vast experience. A great honor for her, I might add ...
She asked if she could come in that afternoon and we made it happen.
I began by teaching her my “flexible breath-pressure on demand” technique and she was terrific, well coordinated and responded beautifully to every nuance. In fifteen minutes, her concept was up and running. Now, the hard part was getting her to open her throat and keep it open ... thus revealing her problem; she wasn’t used to keeping any room back there for the air to move freely upward and outward, mostly speaking with a tight throat.
The work began by my starting her first singing sound by connecting a shot of impulse breath-pressure for the initial tone, and following through with the belly coming in to maintain it. In but a few minutes, I was able to get her used to making sound “on demand” by kicking the belly button in, which translated to an upper motion of her diaphragm and her first open sound issuing forth ... kinda surprising her. ;-)
Oh, did I mention, Karen is a pianist? She’s very musical which made that part of the process easy. She sang her first notes and five-note scale after only twenty minutes or so. Then, sustained notes in the soprano tessitura ... where she probably hadn’t been since junior high school. Then higher notes ... an octave jump or ten ... and then “violŕ” ... her first high A flat!
Long (FUN) story short ... she is a budding lyric soprano who was already singing the chorus of “Look to the Rainbow” and the first strains of “O mio babbino caro!”
Oh yeah ... we went back and worked a half hour or so with a supported speaking voice, making her realize that she had been in a bad habit of cutting off the vowels of her spoken words with tight, crisp consonants and anticipating the diphthongs! Soooo ... I made her elongate the vowels and tie them together (legato) and just “indicate the consonants” and ... there was this warm, lovely speaking voice that had begun to emerge.
Yesterday, she came in for session #2, having had three days of practicing on her own- the scratching is gone-and the voice had become fuller, both in the singing and the speaking. She sang her first dozen high A flats of the day, in “O mio babbino ...” taking each Italian phrase from me, one phrase at a time-I purposely didn’t show her the music-so she had to watch my lips and listen ... which took her mind off the technique, except for what she could glean from my vis-a-vis presentation ... and had effectively sung every note on pitch, for the first sixteen bars of the aria. (This vis-a-vis technique is to allow her to feed off my energy and give her “permission” and the confidence to try to match my energy, my support! It also allows the newbie singer to “hide” a tad within the scope of our singing together! This is a BIG DEAL, this is!!! Don’t forget ... I make a full, strong sound, and the students will impulsively sing loud enough to hear themselves!)
To top it off, I gave Karen the first verse of “Look to the Rainbow” to go with the chorus, Irish dialect and all, courtesy of my lovely departed Irish mother, Charlotte! A good day, nay a GREAT day was had by all! As she left, she said, “You have changed my life!”
Not a bad days work ...