I spent all of last week in the beautiful sunshine of Southern California, participating in the annual conference for the Institute for Vocal Advancement, also known as IVACON.
It was four days PACKED with singing, voice science, fantastic guest speakers, stimulating breakout sessions, and lively conversations and MUCH laughter.
The Institute for Vocal Advancement (IVA) is an international organization that offers exceptional vocal education and a certification program for professional singing instructors worldwide. IVA seeks to train singers and teachers of singing how to use their voices to their full potential in the healthiest and most efficient way. They also seek to educate and produce the finest voice instructors in the world, by developing, promoting and maintaining the highest standards for the teaching of singing.
One of the reasons that I enjoy being a member of the organization is that I am able to continually educate myself, as well as being annually TESTED in my teaching. This allows me to constantly improve. Being tested also shows me where I may have blind spots in what I’m doing. Being observed in this way allows me to develop more quickly, instead of losing valuable time. I’m also able to assess more quickly and hear functionally what is going on in ANY voice.
I make no secret that I am a functionally oriented teacher. My influences are drawn from the great writers on singing: Tosi, Mancini, Manfredini, Manuel Garcia II, and on through such writers as Frederick Husler and Yvonne Rodd-Marling, Cornelius Reid, and Peter T. Harrison.
These pedagogies share a common link through their aim to build the human instrument to its fullest capacity. Technical limitation of the voice or ‘specialization’ was not the aim of these writers, but FREEDOM through movement and an even scale from the bottom of the voice to the top.
Kenneth Bozeman, Voice Faculty at Lawrence University, presented his work on voice acoustics. His research is outlined in his book Practical Vocal Acoustics, and covers the particular acoustic phenomenon of the different voice types. This was fascinating learning, and for me the most stimulating were his slides on “Yell” and “Whoop” timbres of the voice. These two common timbres of the voice reflect the action of specific muscles: the arytenoid and cricothyroid muscles. For me, these are the two registers of the voice – the chest register, and the falsetto. We don’t necessarily SING in these registers, but they form the muscular scaffolding upon which all vocal tones are built.
Bozeman was a fantastic presenter and exhibited all the properties of a great teacher: fantastic research, and an open curious mind. He was there to learn from us as much as we were there to learn from him.
Professor Scott McCoy‘s lecture on breathing at first caused me some trepidation, as many voice teachers attribute powers of vocal transformation to breathing beyond its power.
Luckily, McCoy was there to “myth bust” many misconceptions and false notions of breathing pedagogy that have gone unquestioned. At many points throughout the lecture, the audience burst into applause and laughter at the ridiculous things that have been taught and ascribed to the breath. The great thesis of his lecture was that singers should not be taught any ONE correct way of breathing, but should allow the body, voice, and style of music to develop breath management accordingly. In other words, FOLLOWING Nature. My favorite slide from his presentation was from research that showed that singers did NOT breathe in a manner that reflected what they THOUGHT they were doing. What singers SAY they do, and what they ACTUALLY do are vastly different.
Speech Language Pathologist Barbara Worth, MS, CCC-SLP led a stimulating presentation on vocal health, giving us a comprehensive view of her work with singers and what we should know with regard to vocal health. In her breakout session, she live scoped several teachers so we could see the working of the vocal folds in real time. It was pretty awesome to call out different vocal exercises and see them demonstrated in real time!
The greatest lesson I saw visualzed was that VOWELS AFFECT THE CONFIGURATION of the vocal folds. In one of the demonstrations, we asked a teacher to sing a single note and change the vowel – so she sang “Ah” to “Ee” on a single pitch. From one vowel to the next, the vocal folds stretched and thinned out. For me, it gave credence to the idea that close vowels such as “ee” or “oo” affect the action of the cricothyroid muscles, the stretchers of the folds.
Another highlight of the week was to hear discussions and interviews with Dan Reynolds of the band Imagine Dragons, as well as Brandon Flowers of The Killers. These two artists talked about their vocal training, and how working with a teacher helps to keep their voices balanced. The misconception that rock or pop singers don’t need voice teachers was exposed when these two artists acknowledged that they would not be able to sustain their careers if they didn’t train their voices. Reynolds, in particular, talked about his daily vocal routine, and how important it is for him to keep his voice exercised and hydrated. If he can’t sing, 20,000 concert fans lose out on the opportunity to hear him, and it can cost into the THOUSANDS for lost sales. These artists proved that TRAINING for all singers and all styles is mandatory, in the same way that athletes must train to build and maintain strength.
There was so much great training and education – I know I’ll continue to reflect on what I’ve learned, but I’m very glad to have been a part of a very successful and stimulating week in California, and can’t wait to return for next year’s conference.