Voice Council Magazine Interview - The Vocal Athlete Speaks Out: Myths And Voice Disorders
"Be authentic to your art and be healthy in what you do" -Wendy LeBorgne.
Wendy LeBorgne is the co-author of The Vocal Athlete, a vocal coach to elite performers and speech pathologist for injured voices.
She talks to us exclusively about her approach to the singing voice which is grounded in scientific research – yet honors everyone’s uniqueness.
What is the most common vocal problem in your singing studio?
Repetitive strain injuries. I see people getting stuck in a performance rut. Keeping an agile and flexible vocal instrument is vital to maintain vocal health. I think of the vocal instrument from the tip of your head to the bottom of your toes. The whole body must be included in the process of voice production.
Do you include a holistic element in your teaching?
I recommend my students and patients download a meditation app so they can be mentally quiet for 5 minutes before our session starts. It makes the sessions go so much smoother. Athletes ‘get in the zone’ and I translate this for vocal athletes.
Want to take this moment to bust any vocal myths?
There is not one “perfect” way to breathe. There are many types of breathing patterns and it is often dependent on body type. This comes from some of the research done by Hoit & Hixon, 1986. If you’re an endomorph (short and round) body type you’re going to breath differently to an ectomorph (tall and thin), but both body structures can both breath efficiently for any voice quality. Often, dancers are not going to fully let go of their abdomen when they breath, so can they learn to breathe more laterally for optimal voice production. In fact, these often tiny dancer bodies learn to belt their faces off!
What’s the worst piece of singing advice you’ve ever heard?
The advice singers give each other on Facebook (or other social media) about what to do when sick are often amazing (in not a grounded/founded way)! One example I saw recently in response to a query about having a cold: “cut an onion in half and lay it by the side of your bed so it sucks the toxins.”
How can physiology and emotion inform each other for a great vocal performance?
You cannot isolate emotion from vocal performance. Audiences pay for an emotional experience with their performers. So, as a performer, say you’re performing in a production where your character has to tragically die every performance, 8 shows a week.
You want your audience to connect to that emotion, but if you scream, cry, and engage in vocally traumatic behaviors every show you’re likely going to wreak havoc on your voice. You cannot just sing on raw emotion without some potential vocal detriment. Rather, learning to be authentic to your character’s experiences, embodying those experiences, and translating them for your audience so that THEY can connect with the high-level emotion.
Most dramatic vocal recovery you have witnessed:
As with any extraordinary athletic endeavor there are really no “instant” recoveries to maximal performance. The same is true for voice. Dramatic vocal recovery is usually a process over time with a team of people to help return to performance. I’m always amazed at:
The body’s ability to heal
A dedicated vocal professional’s work ethic
The first time a singer who has successfully recovered from vocal injury returns to performance
Witnessing that performance is the most gratifying part of my job.