Ever-Increasing Circles

Such a lot happening at the moment, and so little time to write about it!

First, I must mention that I’m presently on the Critical Mass blogging team for the Queensland Music Festival. I’ve managed to catch 3 shows so far, with 2 to come next week. Read all about it here. I’m delighted to be back in the swing of reviewing, which means I not only get to see stuff for free, but I get to see stuff I probably wouldn’t choose to go to, even if I could afford it, because it’s just not my taste.  The Randy Newman concert was a case in point, and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity, and the push to go.

Meantime, I’m still recovering from my tumble downstairs a week or so ago, when I cracked my face off the tiled floor and tore a muscle or two in my rib-cage. The latter had the side bonus of forcing me to focus on deep breathing, which meant I was able to continue my current project of singing along with Arthur Samuel Joseph, a rather fine singing teacher I discovered online. Arthur’s philosophy is “love, and let go” and what a powerful teaching tool it is. I bought his cd set as a wee treat for myself, and I’m having a blast working with my new coach.

I keep telling my students that I never cease to be amazed at how my voice keeps on surprising me – even at my great age.  It’s simply true.  Singing along with Arthur, just doing one simple exercise that I’ve been doing for years, but his way, I’ve discovered a whole new sound I did not know I was capable of producing.

Here he is talking the talk, saying all those things I keep saying, but in his own way, clearly and delightfully.

Interview with Arthur Samuel Joseph

Another toy has just come into my life – Google+.  I was going to resist, I’m too easily distracted from the thesis writing by Facebook and Twitter as it is, let alone email. But I’ve been invited to join a Theatre-Makers Circle by a colleague based in Austin Texas. How could I refuse?

See you around…


Forum – a place to engage in discussion

My last few posts have elicited quite a few generous responses via email, which I’ve then asked permission to post here on the blog.  To make things easier, I’ve just set up a new page, you will see the link on the navigation row at the top of the blog website or click here “Forum – Join the Discussion”.

The aim is to make it easier to respond to posts, and to develop a discussion around the various topics. If it works out, perhaps I will make it the home page.

In the meantime, let me direct to over the Forum page, where I have just posted “Shakespeare our Teacher”, a story of serendipity involving last year’s Shakespeare Globe NZ National Schools Production Week, the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, the documentary Shakespeare High and me.  Please take a look, let me know what you think. You can comment directly on the Forum, or begin a new topic.

With all good wishes


Giving Voice to Children – The Next Question?

My last post struck a chord with some of my voice teaching colleagues, who contacted me directly. I have asked their permission to post their remarks here, so that we may open out the discussion to a wider readership.

Elizabeth Montoya-Stemann lives and works in Jamaica, WI.  Here is what she had to say:

“I agree 100% with your idea of giving voice to children from early age at the schools.

“I am an acting and voice and speech teacher living and working in Jamaica, W.I. at a Arts College. I have a 5 y.o son and I am suffering the struggle of free expression for kids. I mean the school where my son goes to is so centered in behaviour and learning numbers and letters which is important but I feel that they are wasting all the creativity and imagination that the kids have. They do not have an outlet to express themselves with their little voices.

“Seeing this I decided to volunteer some time in the week and come to teach them songs in Spanish.( I am from Colombia and my mother language is Spanish).

“I decided not just to teach the song in a repetitive way but to use my drama and voice and speech skills to teach the songs in a creative way. So I use games with sounds and different emotions. The kids love it they feel free and learn the songs very quick. I notice that my son feels very happy to be able to express himself and to see his classmates using their voices as well, it’s like they are knowing each other in a different way.

“Learning to explore and use their voices will help not only to increase self esteem but also to develop a love for words. In the future this can help to create adults aware of the use of language in a positive way, solving conflicts and learning to communicate effectively.

“I think the government won’t start any program like voice and speech as a class but teachers have to learn voice and speech skills to use it in the classroom.

“There is so much to talk about this topic I think your PhD is going to be an eye opener for lots of people in the academia.

“My idea is that all over the world the use of the voice is neglected and qualified voice and speech teachers should start developing more programs to teach primary, secondary, etc teacher to give freedom to people’s voice. “

I then asked Elizabeth if she would share some of her games and exercises. She replied:

“What I do is as follows:

– I go there once a week for 15-20 minutes with each group and work with kids in PreK, K, and grade 1.
-The only thing that does not work is when I use traditional teaching techniques like standing in front talking and trying to get everybody’s attention. I can only engage them when I present them with a different game or emotion, I even pretend to be the grumpy teacher and I ask them to repeat silly things like cucu (ribbit in english). hahaha!
– I teach them a song in Spanish. This song becomes the theme of the class e.g.  the sounds, words, the story that the song tells, and the moods of the song.
– When the kids get tired of doing something or become too crazy then we play doing physical actions at a given order like: sit, go down, jump, go around. My drama skills allow me to play different characters like for instance if the song is about a hen and the chicks they will become those by using  their bodies or course I do suggestions with my body and my voice, they like it very much.
– As well they play asking each other questions so this gives them the opportunity to communicate to each other in a different way. For instance the last class they were asking: como te llamas? (what is your name). I also have a song about a sailor selling vases with flowers and they have to sell the flowers.
– Toys and objects are important because if for instance the song talks about a hat I will bring one and they will play to say the word sound by sound and they will hear it.
– I play with sounds vowels, consonants and complete words in different ways ‘with the children- individually, the whole group, girls and boys separately.
“I think that what the kids enjoy most is the informal setting of my class and knowing what it is like to have fun through singing.’
“I think that will be challenging to do all of these activities without understanding the needs of the kids. Having my son and reading a lot about 4,5,6 y.o kids psychology helps me to understand more their needs to communicate.
“Please let me know if you have more questions.”
I’d like to thank Elizabeth for sharing her thoughts, and her process so generously.  So here are some follow up questions for the rest of us:
If you spend time with young children, how do you care for their voices, and how do you encourage them to care for their own?
I know my son and daughter-in-law have taught their small children to clean their teeth carefully, day and night. Is there something we could all be doing, as parents or grandparents, let alone as teachers or day-carers, to instill healthy care of the voice in our small charges?
Perhaps you can suggest some more questions.  I’m not searching for the ultimate answer, but always for the next question.

Giving a Voice to Everyone: Where Would You Start?

Here’s something that has been bugging me for many years – in fact, it’s the reason I undertook to do a PhD on the subject of a theory of the voice.

Given that most people have no idea how much their voices contribute to how they feel about themselves, and how they are perceived by others, where do we start to get ‘the word’ out there, and change this situation?

Should we start in kindergarten, getting small children to play with sound creatively, and safely, in much the same way that they are encouraged to explore their developing bodies in the playground, and in sporting activities? That would require teachers who know how to do it.

So do we start by educating teachers – not just kindergarten, or play school attendants, but primary and secondary teachers – to understand how the voice functions, what is good healthy vocal practice and what is to be avoided? Because it is no use just getting small children to think about their voices, it has to be consistently reinforced throughout their school lives. But who would train the trainers? How would we persuade those who set the syllabus for training teachers that this is a necessary thing to do?

Or, to follow another track, should we start with babies, and that means with parents? But how to get the parents to realise that they should be paying attention to their babies’ vocal health, as well as other aspects of their physical lives?

I suspect that parents who were educated from an early age (say, kindergarden) to respect their voices, to own them as the very sound of themselves, to use them creatively and yet healthily, would indeed be inclined to care about what their children were doing with their voices. There would be much more attention paid to kids screaming if their parents and teachers knew how many screamers would develop vocal nodules, and therefore limit their vocal power, range and flexibility before they even hit their teens.

One of my students will be travelling to South America in a few months to spend some time volunteering her services as an extra pair of hands in an orphanage. It fills me with joy, not only to think of the phenomenal experience she will have, but also because we are now exploring how she can pass on what she is learning about her voice to a bunch of kids on the other side of the world. This means giving them a voice, not in a metaphorical sense, but in the very real sense of empowering them to speak for themselves creatively and healthily.

I can’t get into the heads of the politicians and the bureaucrats who think that training teachers to care for their own vocal health is a waste of time (and there have been many instances of programs to do just that being cut back and eliminated). I am hoping that by writing this PhD I will get the word out to one or two academics who might be in a position to spread the word further.

In the meantime, it’s one student at a time.

And it’s one step at a time, as I continue this week with the Walk In Her Shoes Challenge, to raise money for women and young girls in poverty who spend so much time walking just to survive that they cannot enjoy an education, or develop their communities. You can support the cause by donating here, or just cheer me on!

Back in Brisbane, Back in Action

It’s been quite a journey, from Phoenix to New Jersey to Seattle and thence back to Brisbane. I had a wonderful time with my family, getting to know the grandchildren all over again, meeting up with colleagues in New York, Seattle and LA.

Two Naughty Kids

Now, it’s back to the beautiful sunshine of soon to be wintry Brisbane. Private lessons begin again next week, and I’ll be offering some workshops very soon for those of you who appreciate the opportunity to work in a group.

Meantime, I’ve just set a discussion topic on my Facebook page, sparked off by an article by Christopher Hitchens here. Perhaps you’d prefer to add your comments right here, so here’s what I said:

“He speaks openly and very movingly about his experience of losing his speaking voice through throat cancer, and how he discovered its connection to his writing voice.

“When I began writing my thesis on the performing voice several years ago, one of the first observations I made was that we needed to make a distinction between the various ways we use the word “voice”, in order to promote discussion about the speaking voice. Hitchens makes the distinction, but also demonstrates the connection between the ‘actual’ (as in speaking aloud) and the ‘metaphorical’ voice.

“How do you feel about this distinction/connection?”Read More