Volume 8, Issue 1
Table of Contents:
When Julianne Moore stepped up to the microphone to accept her Emmy for her leading role in the movie Game Change, she thanked “Leigh Dillon, my dialect coach, who was so patient with me.” That set off a flurry of excitement on VASTAvox, our listserv, as a number of people sent well-deserved congratulations to Leigh as well as to express delight in public recognition of a dialect coach. I visited Leigh’s IMDb webpage out of curiosity, and found the most frequently occurring word was “uncredited.” Of the 52 listings under her Filmography, 45 were uncredited. For an episode of “The Good Wife,” of all the cast and crew, the dialect coach was the only position with the word “uncredited” next to it. Why do some television networks fail to credit the dialect coach? What can we do to change this?
This leads to the recent VASTAvox discussion of whether theatres were regularly giving credit and bios to their vocal coaches. Though not all theatres were consistent in this area, people reported a great number had made it a policy to do so—something that was not the case when our organization was formed. This is good news.
On the education front, we have made great progress as well, but there is still work to be done. I remember when VASTA’s “Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure” were first published in 1991. In a 1992 President’s Letter, Barbara Acker wrote, “These guidelines give us credibility and visibility. We face a challenge in the historical reluctance to regard the voice teacher as an academic worthy of promotion, retention or tenure, and in the growing pressure to phase the voice teacher out of departments as non-essential.” I believe our advocacy (as well as that of ATHE and other organizations) has made a difference, and many universities honor the work we do and the work of our colleagues in all arts disciplines.
However, some of our most esteemed members are in university jobs with no possibility of tenure. Some of our members struggle to get their creative work recognized and others confront obstacles going for promotion. Many have a hard time with university committees composed of faculty in the sciences, social sciences, and other disciplines understanding or valuing what we do because it is so different from their own research agendas.
There is strength in numbers, and VASTA can help advocate for the profession. We welcome your ideas for how to do so.
Respect and recognition. Fair and equal treatment. These are issues important to many of us.
Thanks for taking a few minutes (or longer!) to view the November newsletter. I know this is a busy season for many of us. For those of you in the Northeast, I hope that your lives are returning to normal after Hurricane Sandy.
Our Member News issue is just around the corner. Please look for emails from your respective regional editors with details and a deadline. Contributing a brief personal update can be a chance to brag a bit on yourself, keep in touch with friends and colleagues and share professional affiliations. It it exciting to hear about the professional growth of colleagues, and to read about discoveries or new projects. I have been energized lately by work I am doing on the role of listening in professional actor training. I hope for each of you that there is something that puts a lift in your step or a twinkle in your eye, be it on the professional or personal level. Please consider sharing with fellow VASTAns when your regional editor gets in touch.I hope that you are enjoying the fall season.
I want to pass along this note from VASTA member Diane Robinson:
Any VASTA member can participate in the Statement of Teaching Philosophy Support Group by emailing Diane Robinson at email@example.com. Diane will promptly add you to the VASTA Google Group created to support the group. In the group, VASTA members share drafts of various documents they are creating as part of their applications to university teaching jobs - statements of teaching philosophy, statements of research interest, CVs, letters of interest, etc. - and members provide feedback. Members also share resources, expertise and experiences about how to write such things, what the field looks for in these documents, and other topics around applying for university teaching jobs.
Happy New Year,
Editor, VASTA Voice
Assistant Professor of Theatre
University of New Mexico at Albuquerque
Voices of Wisdom: Spanning Generations
Call for Proposals
The Guthrie Theatre
Sunday, July 28 to Thursday, August 1, 2013
Come join us in beautiful Minneapolis as we work in the spaces of the Guthrie Theatre to explore community and collaboration.
This year’s theme is a call to unpack vocal wisdom as it is embodied and experienced, how it impacts knowledge and production, and aids in the access to pedagogy. The theme also provides an opportunity to explore collaborations and build community across the generations of veteran, mid, and early career voice trainers. VASTA invites conference participants to submit proposals for papers, workshops, and performances that address this theme. We highly recommend submissions from panels of veteran voice trainers working with early or mid-career voice trainers. VASTA also encourages all graduate students and assistant professors working on voice pedagogy who have never presented at VASTA or a national conference to apply.
All materials must be electronically date-stamped and uploaded by February 15, 2013 to the website submission page. For further information or questions please send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org
Proposals must include the following and can be submitted electronically:
Electronic submissions: www.vasta.org/workshop-proposals
We encourage presentations on the conference theme. Here are some possible options:
- Professional/Career Development and Mentorship
- Professional Journeys, Early, Mid and Late Career Experience
- Integrated Cross Disciplinary Pedagogy, e.g. Voice and Movement
- Medical, Science Research
Voice and Speech Trainers Association
History of the Outreach Committee
Fellow VASTan’s, there is a new opportunity for members who wish to bring voice and speech training to those who do not have access to voice specialists. It is called "The Outreach Committee." The committee branched out from the VASTA Fellows Program which was started by the board in order to bring specialized voice and speech training to organizations and institutes that did not have access to such training. Although there were a number of wonderful workshops, master classes and symposiums offered, very few took advantage of our offerings and so, it was decided that the Fellows Program needed to be restructured. As chair of the committee I made a few suggestions which the board tweaked in order to create the Outreach Committee. For the past year the board, Cynthia Bassham (the board liaison) and I have been working to create a structure which could facilitate pro bono voice and speech training for those in need.
The committee is devoted to provide pro bono master classes and workshops for institutions and organizations which do not have access to specialized training. This is being done as a part of the VASTA Vision 2014 outreach and advocacy goals. VASTA seeks to raise the profile of what we do as an organization, raise standards for practice within the profession and increase public awareness of good vocal usage.
Goals of the Outreach Committee: What we’re working on.
At present the committee is working on two primary goals, a reintroduction to the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival (KC/ACTF) and a more active participation at the International Thespian Society’s festivals. Rene Cook along with our president, Mandy Rees, are currently working with the publishers and board of directors of Education Theatre Association (EdTA) on providing written information about the Outreach Committee for upcoming issues. Also, Rena is working to reinstitute an opportunity for a high school teacher to come to the next VASTA Conference with a small honorarium. I am in the process of contacting current committee members about getting in touch with ACTF regional representative in their area in order to have a VASTA member offer a workshop or master class at each regional festival.
Rena Cook is well connected with the Thespian Society and is its members regarding the potential of having VASTA members attending their festivals, as well. The goal is to introduce opportunities for institutions such as high schools and other departments, which do not have access to a voice and speech specialist, in order to facilitate both understanding and exposure as to what VASTA represents and has to offer.
Potential for the Outreach Committee: Why get involved
This committee is a facilitator for VASTA membership to offer training to those who need it. It is pro bono work. The values of such efforts are obvious; for junior faculty wishing to add to their dossier additional service work this in an invaluable credit. VASTA is an international organization with publications on tenure and promotion accepted at the highest levels of institutional education and offers mentorship in numerous forms to membership. Being an active member of the Outreach Committee would be a laudable credit for anyone.
I recall the words of Steve Hickner, director of The Prince of Egypt when he was talking about the early days of his career working for Disney as a cartoonist and editor. He was hired on a 9 month contract and was told repeatedly that he would be let go after the contract was finished. He told his supervisor that he was not worried about it as he was going to work so hard it would be financially impossible for them to let him go. He was right. He volunteered for everything and they kept him on. Later he was hired by Steven Spielberg and joined the crew of DreamWorks where he still works today. Mr. Hickner said; “never ask for money; ask for opportunity, work hard and the money will come.” I am confident that those of us who do pro bono work can tell you that exposure and generosity leads to paid opportunities.
How to get involved
The Outreach Committee needs participation in three primary areas: committee members who are willing to serve as regional facilitators to help us get the word out about what we can offer, ideas on ways we may better connect with the public and other institutions, and those who are willing to serve as a guest instructor, providing workshops and master classes.
If you are interested you can contact me, Scott Nice (Outreach Committee chair) via E-mail at email@example.com.
For a great deal of my academic career I’ve been required to look at a whole range of written material – academic policies, tenure guidelines, grant requests and generic student evaluation forms—that, as a faculty member in the arts, don’t really apply to me. I’ve got to the point where I assume that unless something is arts-specific it won’t really apply to my students either. However, a general principles text about teaching and they way we learn has lead me to reconsider not just content but my approach to teaching. The book is:
How Learning Works - 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching
By Susan A. Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, Marie K. Norman.
Here are some things I found really useful:
How does the way in which students organize knowledge affect their learning?
My strategies for “organizing” information may not match those of my students and these differences may affect their ability to retain and utilize it. As faculty we apparently tend to organize our domain knowledge around "meaningful features and abstract principles." But students, even those who seem highly skilled, often don't have such connected ways of managing information. Students as novices will often have superficial knowledge structures and will differ in the number or density of connections, so their ability to recognize relationships amongst pieces of knowledge becomes as crucial as the knowledge itself. It would seem then that a crucial part of my job is to present information in a way that facilitates the development of students' organizational structures (or associations). This obviously includes how I sequence the student’s physical experiences.
One symptom which I certainly recognize is students’ tendency to lock onto terms which give them a false sense of understanding the material. For example, they just love that word “support“, and may think that they understand it long before they do. So I have started to think not just about sequencing their learning experiences, but also about information “grouping” and the way I categorize information in classes. Some appealing strategies from "How Learning Works" included giving students “an advance organizer” of principles within which to fit the knowledge they will be acquiring, and creating a concept map to analyze my own knowledge organization and then explaining to my students the organizational structures behind why I am teaching what and when. I can also help them map out how my concepts relate to information presented elsewhere in their training.
The kinds of practice and feedback that enhance learning
A fair bit of this chapter is discipline specific but I did take away a few applicable tips on aligning goals for performance, feedback, and practice. (Practice is defined as the individual work students do outside of class.) At the early stages in their academic careers, I can help students to set specific goals for their practice sessions and to develop practice strategies and techniques in line with my course goals.
Feedback is a familiar tool of course but this book has helped me focus on precise timing of feedback, and on the "looping" of observed performance to target feedback to practice and around to performance again. (The book provides a cool diagram on this.) And I'm learning to clarify some of my goals in terms of simple exposure to material vs proficiency, and the implications of this for student practice. I liked the idea of “scaffolding” i.e. adding my support to a student’s practice to ensure that it is at the appropriate level of challenge. As the term implies this support can be taken away when the student is more secure.
Applying the seven principles to ourselves
The logical progression is of course to apply the principles of learning expounded in the book to my own learning about how we learn and (and therefore how to teach.) Although I have given less thought to keeping up with the advances in pedagogy than I have to the content of my field, it does seem like a realizable goal to implement two clear “ pedagogical improvements” to a class each time I teach it. The most cogent argument made for devoting time to learning more about teaching is that our students, collectively and individually, change constantly. Logically our teaching needs to constantly adapt to changing parameters. This book was a stimulating read and I found lots in it applicable to teaching voice and speech.
Stephen Luke Walker and Chris Palmer
The MA in the Practice of Voice and Singing (povas) was designed to enable research, examine and further develop an interdisciplinary approach to voice and singing techniques to promote a more integrated practice. The idea being that there should be a unique connection between the disciplines of the spoken and sung voice. The aim is to render transparency and mutual relevance between two disciplines. This ground breaking course critically evaluates the existing methodologies of these two disciplines, researching among others Berry, Linklater and Rodenberg in Voice pedagogies and Bel canto, Estill and Husslar in singing pedagogies and finds that there is a new approach to voice training for the Musical Theatre performer.
The research between these two disciplines has affected training for our musical theatre students. Outlined below are some of the fundamental shifts brought about partly by the MA PoVaS course and the research plus the impact it’s had on the training of voice at GSA. The two areas I want to explore today are the epiglottic vallecula and posture or alignment for speech and singing.
The Training of the Singing Voice in Musical Theatre
By Stephen Luke Walker, Head of Singing and Music
At the root of the system of training delivered across the department at GSA are the key elements of efficiency and agility. With the demands upon performers’ voices in the West End reaching feats that were once deemed impossible or certainly unsafe, it is essential that the voice is built in a way to meet the specific requirements of an unforgiving industry. For musical theatre this means ‘from the middle out’.
There has long been speculation over the term ‘mix’ and understandably as it is respected that a singer of any note is essentially always singing in a ‘mixed set up’ (varying degrees of chest/head voice/resonance etc.) in order to create the illusion of ‘ease’ and an acoustically balanced tone regardless of the label put upon the specific quality. However, undeniably it is the mix that must be the focus of the foundation in singing training for the musical theatre actor. The mix allows us to create the illusion of ‘seamless sound’ throughout the range, the ability to negotiate the transitions between varying vocal qualities and above all demonstrate optimum vocal health.
Training begins with what I refer to as Vocal Metamorphosis or ‘The Butterfly Method’. The high majority of productions running in the West End and running UK No1 tours, are American in origin, or assembled of American repertoire which has been written for the naturally appropriate set ups of the American musical theatre actors voice; a vocal set up which is altogether more ‘mixed’ (varying balanced degrees of thyroaryetnoid to cricothyroid activity), placing the sound much further forward. In order to ensure that British actors can execute the same vocal feats when there natural set ups tend to be more dense, darker and ‘further back’ in terms of sound placement and resonance, the placement of the sound must be brought into line with that naturally adopted by Americans. In light of this, the sound sounds harsh, bright and ‘ugly’ (like a caterpillar) but with time and development begins to sound and feel natural, and in time as the individual becomes proficient at singing in this ‘mixed’ set up, more resonance and ‘weight’ can be introduced leading to a balanced and beautiful vocal quality (like a butterfly). This is NOT the same as simply adopting and singing with an American accent, nor does it alter the actual natural quality of the individual, although it will require a certain amount of natural set up alteration initially, requiring the singer to lose a certain amount of ‘vocal weight’ or resonance in order to acquire full mobility, agility and efficiency of the vocal mechanism. Over the course of time the singer will naturally adopt this mixed set up but be strong enough to make vocal choices out of this; to use more chest voice (speech quality), to use more head voice (cry quality) or to adopt belt, always making seamless transitions with the illusion of ease.
Working this way has lead me to understand that there is a crucial aspect of the singers anatomy that has not been identified or referred to with the respect to its essential part in excellent singing and musical theatre; the opening and release of the vellacula, the crevice or depression found immediately behind the tongue. This is the key to ‘mixing’ whilst singing and therefore requires a great deal of focus in training the singer to sing from ‘the middle out’. Adopting this system of training allows students to reach feats of extreme vocal agility that dictates fach no more, and a healthy and versatile lifelong career.
The Training of the Speaking Voice for Musical Theatre
By Chris Palmer, Head of Voice
Since the inception of the POVAS course (now in our 4th year) the exploration of posture, breath, and resonance when training the Musical Theatre performer to that of the actor, have generally been trained in the same way. It is universally acknowledged that working principles of good breath, posture articulation and resonance for Actor training is fundamental, based on the principles of solid and previous knowledge in the voice work of Linklater, Berry and Rodenberg, alongside Michael Mccallion, Arthur Lessac and many more. So all work to date seems to focus on voice and speech for the actor, without enough consideration for the Musical Theatre performer.
As we know musical theatre performers must be a triple threat performer much like training an athlete to increase body awareness in core strength in the oblique’s and transverse muscles for dance, and we know this has an impact on voice training as the student learns to extend, pull up, and hold in a dance class, yet release, allow, let go for voice. Added to that is a further dichotomy in singing, where less emphasis is placed on back resonance, a relaxed tongue as in the ‘huh’ of Linklater and diaphragmatic breath work is of less importance.
The Epiglottic Vellecula
There is of course an understanding that ‘freeing the voice’ and solid understanding of good alignment plus the relevance of a body free from un unnecessary tensions, should be evident especially at the start of training, however the needs of the musical theatre performer has heretofore relied on the performer/student to alter his or her posture from speech to song. The research suggests that in order to accommodate the needs of the Musical Theatre performer there should be a more joined up approach to the training.
I would like to suggest how some of those shifts of emphasis might co-exist; the first is to focus on the epicglottic vallecula, which has already been mentioned above where the space in the root or crevice of the tongue, In order to create a more harmonious set up for both speech and singing.
The training of a singing voice focuses on the improvement of enlarging this space for the sung voice by stretching the tongue forward creating a more opening space behind the tongue, in the epiglottic vallecula, this increased space whilst small has an immediate effect on the sound created. The sound is more forwardly placed; yet there is less effort especially for volume and power. This significant yet small shift has lead to an increased awareness of space in the oral cavity and provides the performer with a more dynamic sound. This also suggests the student is less worried about increased abdominal breathing for speech as this seems to be less significantly evident in singing.
The training in voice at GSA now focuses more attention to this improved space in the epiglottic vallecula by the end of the first year of training, this allows for a more joined up approach the voice and singing departments. Combined with this is a stronger emphasis working with American texts much earlier on in their training, starting first with American Political speeches which provides a vocal vehicle for students to explore the voice, placement and manner for an American based piece. The use of long breaths, thought changes and pitch variance in an American accent and has increased the musical theatre students performance overall and is a particularly good vehicle for the student to realize the connection between the two disciplines.
Alignment or Posture
Combined with this sense of space in the oral cavity is another fundamental shift and that is of posture or alignment. The research from the singing suggested the ‘set up’ between singing and speech is again contradictory and this needed to be addressed. An understanding in good posture is still essential, beginning first with the neutral posture based in Alexander Technique method, but then the shift begins as the need to move to something more useful for the musical theatre performer and that is to engage the back muscles as if setting up for singing.
The posture originally based in the Bel canto model where one foot is placed a little further forward than would be considered appropriate for neutral posture, knees still soft and a gentle leaning backwards as if on a raked stage, engages the back muscles and enhances the posture of the larynx set up an ideal position for singing belt. The arms slightly bent, have space under the armpits and there should be an engagement as if squeezing down. This method since I have observed in the singing technique classes, I have begun to develop and the research showed such a dichotomy in posture between the two disciplines of voice and singing which has now altered the teaching of voice now engaged at GSA.
More significantly is an increased amount of students now gaining employment in the West End and beyond, whilst GSA has always been recognized as a world leader in Musical Theatre this more considered from both the voice and singing department grew out of some of the research in the POVAS course and the singing teaching with the new Head of Singing Steven Luke walker at GSA to mapping the education in a conservatoire setting to industry practice sees a true triple threat emerging.
What has been most significant is not a singing method to teach the spoken voice but a shared appreciation of what is appropriate for the musical theatre performer. I hope that this will generate understandings and ontologies of practice that will be disseminable on an international basis.
VASTA Board of Directors & Officers
Board of Directors
Michael J. Barnes
Guy William Molnar
Tara McAllister Viel
Michael J. Barnes
©2010, Voice and Speech Trainers Association