You’ve had a very successful career as a voice teacher. Can you give us an overview of your work?
Over the 38 years since graduate school, I’ve maintained a large private studio alongside other teaching, such as adjunct college faculty positions and as a member of the senior voice/choral faculty at a large community music school.
I founded three arts education organizations, 1) The Washington Vocal Consortium, the United States’ first collegial voice teaching and mentoring team, 2) a 501-C-3 singing school for girls ages 11-18 called Singer’s Centre for Girls, and 3) a large women’s chorus which combined a voice class for elder singers with choral singing. I sustained two out of three of those organizations for almost 25 years.
Later on I began working as a singing voice specialist (and somehow understood a great deal about vocology before vocology was a common word,) for venues hosting professional musical theater touring companies, including the Broadway tour of The Color Purpleas it came through the Baltimore Hippodrome, and with the Arena Stage, Signature Theater, and Ford Theater. I began working as a voice teacher with recording artists from NYC, DC and Nashville in about 1997, which has been a whole education in itself! Sometimes teachers ask me how I got this work. Honestly, it came about by building relationships with people and groups in my community, and then showing up, doing good work and not being an egotistical or defensive thorn.
While working with me I’ve had students cast in Broadway roles, sign contracts with Cirque du Soleil, Disney Tokyo and The Washington Opera Chorus, and have worked with children touring with Bella Thorne and Disney in feature films. I’ve also worked with those who cannot match pitch and with elder singers who felt their singing days were finished.
In addition to my private studio, I develop and teach online webinars, such as the recent “Reframing Menopause for Singers,” sponsored by Total Vocal Freedom. I am writing a book with Nancy Bos, a current VP of NATS, on the same topic. If you’d like to be on my mailing list for news about the book, blog posts, etc. sign up for my Museletter at CateFNStudios.com
You’ve had a successful career. What advice do you have for aspiring performers?
Each individual must decide what being successful means, otherwise they are going to constantly be feeling empty and attemptingto fill up with others’ definitions of success.
- You must believe that you deserve to be heard and have something to communicate or share.
- Develop a work ethic and mental focus that adjusts along the way to allow for life balance and your own changing needs and values.
- Develop the capacity to break goals down into small steps and accomplish those small steps steadily.
- Sir Lawrence Olivier said, “talent turned into craft is only 25% of what is needed to be successful.” The other components he listed were personal will, stamina/health and luck. For me, luck was being prepared when the opportunities came. It was learning to let go of things I had planned in order to allow unexpected outcomes that ended up being in perfect alignment with what I really wanted and needed.
- Develop a great sense of humor, love and willingness to be vulnerable in your art because that is where the magic happens.
- When people complimented me on having a world-class voice, I ignored them. When they criticized me and told me I was “sincere” but I would not win the Met competition, I ignored them. Who cares? I have a fulltime job just being me and that’sthe same for any artist/educator. Actually, it’s two fulltime jobs. Add in children and relationships and you really don’t have time to use your energy dwelling on either criticism or praise.
You have a keen interest and wealth of knowledge in bodywork. Where did this interest come from?
This is a perfect example of how your weakness can become your greatest strength. An unusually severe health history forced me into seeking healing options outside the western medical community and the way medicine is practiced in the US. That included investigating a whole slew of alternative health care and somatic re-education practices, sometimes including them alongside western medicine when appropriate. “The Inner Game of Music,” was required reading in grad school and helped further my journey on how to focus mentally and cultivate kinaesthetic awareness. I started practicing yoga in 1985 and immediately felt its connections to physical health, spirituality and singing. Then I spent two years on tour performing in contemporary music and opera (lots of weird music with extended vocal techniques) and I adopted a routine using exercise bands for upper body strength. That, plus the yoga, walking and dancing for fun kept things running smoothly for a time.
After the first of the 8 abdominal surgeries, I “accidently” discovered “Maggie’s Woman’s Book” by Margaret Lettvin which I used for many years. It was a life-saving resource for abdominal recovery. I was one of the first NATS chapter presidents to bring in an Alexander Technique® teacher and Jeanie LoVetri to teach for our chapter back in 1993. Few were teaching anything about somatic awareness in singing, sports or physical therapy at that time. The “web” was also not a resource time since it didn’t yet exist.
So because of personal experience over the years, I developed, studied, assimilated and went on to use all sorts of tools for somatic re-education. Although I am not certified in any of them, I’ve studied Alexander Technique®, Andover Education, Liz Koch’s Psoas Work, Feldenkrais Method and a whole host of other mind-body techniques. I experimented with them on my own body first, and then adapted them to meet the needs of each individual or group I worked with. About 10 years ago I began working with the concept that one’s unconscious beliefs and attitudes are energy that manifest in the body as emotional, mental or physical illness. For me, there’s been lot to uncover and heal in this lifetime!
When did you first meet Jeanie LoVetri and what has her work done for you?
I first met Jeanie at her Voice Foundation workshop in 1989. I resonated very deeply with her work and thought, ‘”thank god. She is somehow working like I work, only differently. I need to know more.”
I had a few telephone conversations with her but was busy with parenting, teaching, performing and continuing my own health research. Almost 25 years after I started teaching, I completed my Somatic Voicework™ teacher training. Somatic Voicework™ organized many things I had been trying to synthesize on my own for a long time, and her manner of working mirrored back to me the best of myself. But I also learned to hear differently, which was huge.
I’ve been pretty transparent about my situation with bi-lateral vocal fold paresis but have not been able to present the full story yet because I still find it overwhelming. Jeanie has been my chosen singing voice specialist since 2013 when I began working privately with her. The medical options presented to me at the time were unacceptable and the doctors and SLPs could not answer my questions which were very reasonable.
When you have lost your voice due to a mysterious neurological illness that medicine and endless testing cannot identify, and the vocal folds are pristine—no bowing, no atrophy, no cysts, no nodules or burst blood vessels, etc.–when you have lost your power source from the pelvic bowl, and rebuilt it over and over, you learn what rehabilitation really is at all levels –what it entails, and the pacing of how things need to unfold. There is no degree or certification or clinical working experience that can teach this. I consider it foundational to any effectiveness I have had as a teacher and healer. I am currently gingerly stepping out to discover what singing is now, even after a lifetime as a singer.
Please check out more from Cate Frazier-Neely:
Book: “Meditations to Feed Christmas”
Journal of Singing Article: “Live vs. Recorded: Comparing Apples Oranges to Get Fruit Salad”
Other Social Media: Etsy, Instagram
Please also check out Adam Neely’s YouTube channel about various music related topics.