Before my own voice began to collapse prior to thirty years of age, I had been assessed by world-renown singers and teachers to possess the talent for a brilliant international operatic career. Like any young aspiring artist, I had high hopes for that career. At that time not one teacher I sought out had an answer that might have explained the cause of this early vocal decline, nor how it might be corrected. The inference was that the problem was all in my head and that ‘righter thinking’ might be the answer. – And so began an arduous and painful journey to find a master of voice who might be of help.
In 1976 I was introduced to the pedagogical writings of the famous and controversial teacher/author Cornelius Reid in New York City in the book THE FREE VOICE. – Reid was, and still is considered ‘controversial’ because he did not teach the conventional methods of breathing and support or placement of the voice. His pedagogical emphasis was on healthful use of the larynx, its associated muscle systems and the tonal qualities produced by the vocal registers.
I gained my first vocal experience in Mr. Reid’s methods of voice building (in my case, vocal deconstruction) through Kenneth Nielsen in Calgary, Alberta, who at that time had done research for Reid at the Gainsville Institute for Vocal Research. My first few singing lessons with Ken were humiliating as I could not sing more than 10 minutes at a time. It was as if I had never taken a singing lesson in my life, when I had studied since the age of fourteen and performed leading operatic roles!
Shortly thereafter in late 1977 I began working with Cornelius Reid himself, making extended trips to Manhattan for lessons. He generously offered me the opportunity to observe him teaching great singers like Ellen Shade, Ariel Bybee, Clamma Dale, Wendy White, and others – enormous talents who had major, international operatic careers. For more than 30 years until shortly before his death in the winter of 2008 at the age of 97, I listened and participated in lessons with Cornelius Reid. He initiated me to the concept of ‘process’, yielding to nature’s laws without placing false demands on my voice or my psyche. Those years were indeed the most extraordinary and rewarding journey of my professional life.
The undertaking of functional voice training with Cornelius Reid and his courageous followers led me not only to vocal freedom, but allowed me to reclaim my youthful pursuit as a teacher, a profession for which I had trained. It was a career choice that has brought me immeasurable fulfillment and an on-going future of work with new generations of aspiring singers. Cornelius Reid taught and encouraged me to become the kind of teacher I was looking for in 1974-75. — I now dismantle and rebuild the voices of talented singers damaged in career pursuit, many of whom should have had international careers themselves.
What concerns me the most is the question: Why did these voices, including my own, require “fixing” in the first place?