Hold On For Dear Life

Hold On For Dear Life

Over and over I encounter the idea that someone can hold on for dear life to the muscles of the throat or to the larynx and sing well.

The person responsible for this idea gaining validity worldwide was herself an awful belter…..choked, strangled and shouty. She “investigated” her own throat and decided that everyone who belted should do what she did. When she investigated, she saw constriction, squeezing and rigidity. She wrote that down. She published her observations in peer-reviewed journals that did not at all take in the truly dreadful sound she was making. They did not take in it’s “non-marketability”. They judged only the data, correctly presented, and thus the work was given validity. After further investigation, and more research along the same lines, the woman organized her “approach” into a complicated methodology that, unique at the time, she proceeded to take all over the world.  Those who wouldn’t have known belting from a hole in the ground (mostly classical singers and speech language pathologists) drank her Kool-Aid. The only place this woman and her method did NOT do well was here in New York City where there were excellent teachers of belting (like Helena Monbo, mother of well-known vocal pedagogue, Robert Edwin), and David Sorin Collyer, another very successful teacher. There were others here that weren’t interested as they knew better that the sound itself was not a good one.

Listen to the “Old Timers”

Nevertheless, one of the disciples of the “woman who squeezed on purpose”  became very successful here in NYC and has had many many famous people come to her for training. This tight screech is now pervasive on Broadway and easily recognizable but not what you would have heard from Angela Lansbury or any other vocalist of her era. Lansbury  taught herself to belt, as you had to back then. Her sound, and the sound of many of her peers, was open and free, strong and expressive. It was certainly not deliberately constricted.

Those who believe that all training for singing is about deliberate movement of the larynx or muscles in the throat are flying in the face of 200 years of vocal pedagogy based upon FREEDOM as the primary goal of training. You cannot sing expressively while simultaneously squeezing or deliberately holding onto anything  in your throat. To do so will tie you in knots or inhibit what you can do with your voice. If you learn deliberate manipulation of your throat while you are young you will not even know what else is vocally possible.  Again, SAD.

In observing the various teachers of these methods demonstrate, inevitably they do not sing well. Why is it that the case?  Why do they have vocal problems? Are they aware that such squeezing and positioning is completely unnecessary? No, I don’t think they are.

Some very insecure people who don’t perform well and don’t sing well themselves want to pursue a method of vocal training that involves deliberate movement of the larynx or squeezing of the throat because it gives them a feeling of security. They LIKE holding onto the muscles of the throat. They like the idea that you can control the larynx directly. They want to feel “I am controlling my sound” but the kind of control they have (even if it wasn’t deliberate) isn’t ever going to be useful. If you want to MOVE someone with your artistry, you have to sing from a place of freedom and getting there requires courage and trust of the throat and body. And TIME.

Hold On For Dear Life

If you hold on for dear life to anything in your throat, instead of working with your body, and you think that holding on is a good thing, let me suggest to you that this is a very wrong concept.  Let me advise you that you are on the path to shallow singing (even if you make millions of dollars) and that your heart and spirit will be diminished, not enhanced, when the sounds you produce have to be forced. Hold on for dear life only if you don’t want a life that includes authentic, honest singing.



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3 thoughts on “Hold On For Dear Life”

  1. Jeannie this post says it all and makes me think back to the conversation we had about this issue as we were leaving Shenandoah.
    One cannot make a free, connected and communicative sound, be that spoken or singing, that serves the lyric or the text, if the fraction of a second before one opens their mouth they have to fix and hold the internal structures of the throat and then grip and hold down the back of the head and neck down thru the spine. And what happens when that artist in that fixed and held position has to cross the stage or tap dance across the stage? Yeesh.

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