AVA Lifetime Achievement Awards

Lifetime Achievement Award for “Outstanding leadership and sustained contribution to the field of voice over many years”

The highest honour accorded by the Association

  • Open to AVA members or retired previous members only
  • Nominees shall have evidence of significant contribution in at least three of the following areas:
    • Exemplary practice within their profession
    • Education
    • Commitment to cross-disciplinary activities
    • Research and publications
    • Promotion of voice and/or advocacy for vocal health
    • Service to AVA
    • Service to the voice community
  • Nomination received unanimous support from Board
  • Entitles the awardee to Life membership of AVA


As presented by Dr Debbie Phyland at the Australian Voice Association AGM, October 25th 2020:


“To introduce and contextualise the two wonderful ensuing recipients of this award necessitates a reflection on the inception of AVA and their pivotal roles. Back in Adelaide some 30 years ago, Cecilia Pemberton, Janet Baker, Alison Russell, David Close and Alison Bagnall met up and deigned to hold a multi-disciplinary voice conference, the first of its kind in Australia.  As a committee they were impecunious, but their US keynote presenter Professor Bastian generously agreed to present with no remuneration and they proceeded in good faith. The Inaugural Voice Symposium was held in Adelaide in May 1991 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Two hundred delegates attended the symposium; speech pathologists, ENTs, teachers of singing and voice coaches. The success of the symposium was the impetus for the formation of the AVA.


By the end of 1991, Alison Russell, Jan Baker and Cecilia Pemberton had established the AVA with a charter to foster collaboration between all voice professionals in the education, research and care of voice users.

The financial success of the inaugural symposium meant that, from then on, seeding funds were available for future AVA organising committees.


All three of these women should be congratulated for their vision and commitment to Voice in Australia but in particular today we wish to recognise the two that have sustained this commitment and been true doyennes in our collective worlds for the past 30 years. In case you haven’t been able to identify them from this introduction, they are none other than Dr Janet Baker and Cecilia Pemberton. In their own different ways, they have both been pioneers and pundits. It is fitting that we celebrate them together, but this does not in any way diminish the extraordinary relative contribution of each. So, in alphabetic order:


Associate Professor Janet Baker

Dr Baker (Jan) is an inspirational thought leader in our field, and an exceptional role model to me and so many others. I personally recall attending a therapy workshop she ran about 28 years ago and feeling like I had an epiphany as I had met my new idol. Witnessing her work with clients and hearing of the strong physiological and psychodynamic rationales underpinning her therapy represented a pivotal and inspirational moment in my own journey as a voice clinician. I know I wrote a letter to her then (which now may seem obsequious) but my words of gratitude and admiration still ring true today and would be echoed by many others.


From the beginning of her speech pathology career, Jan has been fascinated by the intrinsic links between communication, human behaviour and emotion and she has championed the importance of recognising and exploring these connections, especially in relation to the human voice.  Her further studies which led to qualifications in counselling and psychotherapy and family therapy, demonstrated in practice, her commitment to dealing with communication issues and their impact in the wider framework of family; beyond the individual. Further, her impactful PhD research reflected her passion and commitment to the area of voice. Dr Baker was the first speech pathologist to qualify as a clinical member of the International Transactional Analysis Association (ITAA) and as a Family Therapist.


As previously noted, Dr Baker was one of the founding members of the Australian Voice Association and has played a pivotal role in this association for many years.  Indeed, she has also been well recognised in SPAA for her service and advocacy for voice as part of communication. She has been a regular invited presenter at AVA & voice events, made significant contributions in the areas of speech pathology clinical services, academic education, influence and advice to government, clinical education, research and publications, management of health and education services and service to the community. She has been heavily involved with tertiary education throughout, setting up the curriculum for the new Speech Pathology course at the School of Communication Disorders at Sturt College of Advanced Education in Adelaide and later in her career from 2004-2006 she worked in curriculum planning for the Speech Pathology Masters’ Program at the School of Medicine, Flinders University, SA and was appointed as Associate Professor Speech Pathology and Audiology.


Dr Baker was similarly recognised by Speech Pathology Australia with transfer to the highest accolade with Life Membership and she has also received prestigious recognition in the US receiving the American Psychosomatic Society (APS) Scholar’s award and Citation Poster Award in Denver 2006. We know she has received numerous other awards. She is well known and respected internationally and nationally throughout the speech pathology, laryngology, performing arts medicine, psychology and voice fields. She has presented in her inimitable, poised, erudite and inspiring manner for an impressive number of invited national and international presentations and workshops-the invitations testament that she is indeed considered most worthy by her peers.


She is similarly very well published. Most significantly, Assoc Prof Baker has authored the truly extraordinary book “Psychosocial Perspectives on the Management of Voice Disorders” (a work of art as well as science). She has also written a chapter on “Functional Voice and Related Disorders” in the excellent textbook Functional Disorders in Neurology Handbook of Neurology Series and is Lead Author (along with other international notables) on a multi-disciplinary consensus document for Management of Functional Communication, Swallowing, Cough and Related Disorders: Consensus Recommendation for Speech and Language Professionals.


Perhaps many don’t know that Jan is also a highly acclaimed mezzo-soprano with a long list of performance and stage credits. (I recall first hearing Jan’s magnificent voice when she performed at The National Gallery of Victoria for the 1998 AVA Voice Conference with her witty reworded version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Major General “I am the very model of an otolaryngologist”).  Being an operatic performer herself, has no doubt further informed her intricate understanding of the performance voice, its strengths and fragilities and symbiotic relationship to one’s physical and psychological wellbeing.


So… there are so many things I could say about Jan (Associate Professor Janet Baker). Her sheer hard work, creativity, multiple gifts and extraordinary achievements represent outstanding involvement and service to AVA over three decades and indeed merit this award and more.




Cecilia Pemberton

Equally but for different reasons, Cecilia Pemberton is similarly one of my, and so many others, cherished mentors and sources of clinical inspirations-a passionate speech pathologist who is a clinician to the core and has made a sustained and outstanding contribution to the speech pathology profession during her career.  She is a recognised and valued specialist in the assessment and treatment of clients with any form of vocal dysfunction across the board and has worked for the last 43 years in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia and in the United Kingdom-she gets around our Cecilia!  Colleagues at both a state and a national level frequently seek her opinion and advice about client care.  She is well recognised for her expertise and clinical judgement. She has also been involved in formal research in her specialty area and had her work published in international professional and scientific journals. Other researchers in the field of voice refer to her depth and breadth of knowledge in clinical expertise which is always grounded firmly in evidence-based research.


Cecilia has been an active promoter of clinical excellence and research.  She has been involved in a number of formal research projects, all of which have resulted in ground-breaking publications in international refereed journals. In particular three publications she co-authored have been well-cited and received much media interest  “Have Women’s Voices Lowered Across Time?” and also  “A Cross Sectional Study of Australian Women’s voices; Speaking Fundamental Frequency Changes Over Time in Women: A Longitudinal Study; and “Characteristics of Normal Larynges under Flexible Fibrescopic and Stroboscopic Examination: An Australian Perspective” . All of these articles have in fact had a significant impact on our understanding of the Australian voice landscape.  


In 2000, Cecilia who is here tonight led a research project evaluating the Voice Care for Teachers DVD. The DVD was an update of the educational video (created by Cecilia, Dr Alison Russell and Professor Jenni Oates) and has been sold widely to educational institutions, speech pathologists and voice coaches throughout Australia and overseas. The specific focus on prevention and early intervention for voice problems was pioneering and has been the impetus for many other proactive approaches to occupational vocal health.

Cecilia has continued her commitment to this cause by investigating the prevalence of voice problems among teachers and developing long-term vocal health programs particularly targeting Catholic Schools in NSW. The first of her programmes started in 2008 with Wollongong Catholic Schools and was based on the concept of Employee Assistance programmes which had a long history of success. The results have significant implications for the prevention of voice problems in teachers and have been widely disseminated and recognised at OH&S conferences and influenced/guided Work Cover voice policies and recommendations. She has similarly provided voice care programs to the fitness industry. Her private practice is aptly named “Voice Care Australia”. Cecilia has also been engaged as a voice consultant by Occupational Health Solutions to provide independent medical assessments for workers compensation cases presenting with voice disorders.

Indeed, Cecilia’s work in the occupational health space has been ground-breaking and recognised on the international stage earning her the British Voice Association’s Van Lawrence Best Paper prize; the Speech Pathology Australia Community Based Innovation award and finalist position for the Australian Human Resources Institute Awards, the BMA Best Workplace Health & AMP Wellbeing Program, and NSW Workcover Awards.

Cecilia has been a regular invited speaker at conferences and workshops both nationally and internationally. She has been instrumental in setting up, maintaining and leading Voice Interest groups whichever state she has been in (SA, Victoria & NSW), showing boundless generosity in sharing her knowledge and experience among her colleagues. She has been an active teacher and clinical educator of both students (including those at Flinders University, SA) and speech pathologists alike showing a tireless commitment to collegiality and lifelong learning.


Cecilia arrived in Australia from the United Kingdom in 1977 and has worked in the field of head and neck oncology and voice disorders ever since. She has been involved in, and frequently the development of, joint clinics in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney for 43 years: evidence of her truly collaborative approach. She is committed to, and models, best practice in the area of voice.  Her passion for her role as a speech pathologist, her excellent networking skills, her innovation and significant contribution to the field of voice through the development and implementation of therapy programs, outcome measures and prevention programs, together with her willingness to share information with her colleagues make her a perfect candidate for the award today and second to none.



On a personal note, I am exceptionally honoured to present these awards tonight and to have been mentored by both of these extraordinary and truly inspirational women in different ways.  I wish to also take this opportunity to thank them for their invaluable contribution to my own professional growth (even if I neglected to send Cecilia a similar letter to Jan’s one!).


On behalf of not just speech pathology but the entire Australian Voice community, we congratulate you Jan and Cecilia on your Lifetime Achievement Awards (as Life Members of AVA) and thanks you both unreservedly for your “Outstanding leadership and sustained contribution to the field of voice over many years”. The Australian Voice Association also thank you for your vision and commitment in setting up this organisation which remains so strong and important to us all nearly 30 years later.”


Dr Debbie Phyland, October 25th 2020







Mobility Tips for teaching, coaching or consulting – Annie Strauch

A video post from Annie Strauch – Physiotherapist

In this short video, physiotherapist Annie Strauch offers mobility tips for those of us teaching, coaching or consulting online. Annie demonstrates some short and simple exercises to help us find release through the body, and to assist in a healthier and stronger vocal function. She focuses on the shoulders , neck and upper back in this series of movements that we can all enjoy throughout our working day.

How to use your voice when teaching online – Amy Hume

An Article by Amy Hume – Lecturer in Theatre (Voice) at Victorian College of the Arts
Originally posted online 21st April 2020 – reposted with permission.

Several teachers have reached out to me over the past few weeks asking why their voices feel so tired after a day of teaching online.

Vocal fatigue is common for teachers, whose job requires them to use their voice an extraordinary amount during the day with few moments for vocal rest (school teachers even have to use it at recess and lunch time whilst on duty).

So, I thought this was interesting. Teachers talk all day, so why is talking online making their voices tired?

There are a few reasons your voice may be feeling tired or sore at the end of a day of online.

1.    You may be over-compensating

It’s highly likely that the main contributor to vocal fatigue from online teaching is coming from a tendency to over-compensate.

In a face-to-face environment, you rely not only on verbal communication but your physical presence in the room. You can signal to students with a gesture or even a glance.

Teaching online is totally different because physical presence is removed and there’s a boundary between you and the learner. You may start to overcompensate with your voice in an attempt to ‘reach’ students and connect with them through the new medium of video conferencing.

This would, in turn, place extra strain on your voice as you try to be louder or more animated than you ordinarily would in a face-to-face environment.

One teacher told me that he feels his online classes are ‘not as good’, so he’s trying to mask his insecurities by being extra upbeat and animated. It only took a couple of days before his voice was giving away exactly how he was feeling – he’d exhausted himself and had barely any voice left.


The challenge is to trust that whilst your teaching is different when delivered online, you remain a good teacher! Students are also adjusting to the new environment. Remember that less is more, trust that your energy and your lessons will reach you students.

Also, make use of the camera – experiment with how your facial expression could do the work your body language might normally be doing in the classroom.

2.    You may be talking more loudly than what’s required

 Whether you’re using a laptop or desktop computer, most in-built microphones these days are very effective. Although it might not be up to the task of recording an interview or podcast, unless your inbuilt microphone is damaged or you’re standing a few metres away, you can trust and rely on it to be working well.

That doesn’t mean you don’t need to speak clearly! As always, a microphone will only pick up the work a speaker is already doing. Always put the emphasis on clarity rather than volume for digital environments.

You also don’t need to fill your whole living room, house or apartment with your voice. Speak to the group in front of you by speaking to your mic or screen, but don’t assume you have to be any louder in order for them to hear you. Unless they tell you otherwise, assume that they can hear you fine and you don’t need to be putting any extra effort into being loud or increasing your volume.


If in doubt of your audio quality, ask your students for feedback as to whether they can hear you or not. This will help you determine whether you need to dial up the clarity or volume.

Note that audibility and intelligibility are two different things. If your students say they can’t hear you, play with speaking more clearly (you could think of us as dialling up your consonants or putting more energy in your articulators). If increasing the clarity doesn’t change their experience, it may be an audibility issue rather than intelligibility.

You might also want to consider using a headset. I find headsets great for video conferencing as I know the mic is right in front of my mouth, plus I can hear the students more clearly, and I can gesticulate freely! Colleagues and I have worked out our favourite headsets at the moment are Logitech H800 Wireless Headset (hooray for Bluetooth) and Corsair HS45, but you could even opt for something as simple as Logitech H110 Stereo Headset.

If you’d prefer a desktop mic, the Rode NTUSB is great value for money – it comes with with a desktop stand and will plug straight into your computer. The Rode NT1A condenser mic is also a crowd favourite and a great option if you have an audio interface and mic stand at the ready.

3.    You may be using your voice more than you would in the studio or classroom

In an effort to make sure instructions are clear and your students are engaged, you could be speaking more than you would in a face-to-face environment.

Many of my colleagues in the voice profession have commented on the importance of clarity of instruction when teaching online. There’s unanimous agreement that our instructions need to be specific and deliberate. Clarity of instruction doesn’t necessarily mean giving more detail or speaking for longer, it can mean finding the simplest way to say what needs to be said.

This reduces the chance of confusion, which itself leads to frustration, annoyance or discomfort from the students. Confusing instructions also increase the vocal load of the teacher, as suddenly you’re explaining something more than you normally would.

Most significantly, clear instructions make the lesson easier for the students (who are experiencing the same amount of Zoom fatigue as their teachers). It takes the pressure off them having to dissect information that’s being delivered to them through a different medium than they’re used to.


Find the most simple, clear and direct way to give an instruction or explain a concept to students. Rather than ramble and draw out your explanation, pause and give them the space to ask questions.

Remember that students are getting familiar with this new learning environment too. They need space to comprehend information and take in instructions

4.    Resist the temptation to fill every silence with your own voice

Silence in an online class can make you feel like the lesson isn’t landing, the students are losing focus or people are distracted. But perhaps these moments of silence are the same in-between moments that present themselves in any face-to-face class – only now they’re not filled with student chatter or background noise?

In an online environment, the background noise of a school or university disappears, and the silence can be overwhelming. The space you give students to comprehend concepts, respond to instructions or complete their work is crucial – not only to their learning, but to preserving your voice (and probably your wellbeing!).


I know some teachers who are using the Pomodoro technique – teaching for 25 minutes, then giving students a 5 minute break, so it’s 25 mins on and 5 mins off. You could invite students to put some music on in short breaks like these, or you could play some music and the students hear that. Music or no music, any sort of break in a class is a chance to build in moments of vocal rest.

You could also embrace the silence! Rather than racing to fill every pocket of silence with your own instructions or talking, get familiar (and comfortable) with the silence. This is certainly a challenging one when teaching online, as I know a lot of teachers are feeling a need to fill every little moment of the class to keep students engaged. The best solution is probably to investigate and strike a balance.

5.    Have a look at your working-from-home set up and check that it’s supporting effective voice use

One singing teacher told me last week that she injured her neck in the first week of teaching online because she insisted on putting her laptop up high on top of her piano because she didn’t want to have a double chin.

There are few things more daunting than seeing yourself on camera all day, every day, day after day. It’s no wonder some teachers have opted for the most flattering camera angle as opposed to the most ergonomic set up!

She quickly realised how ridiculous her concern about a double chin was, but only after she injured her neck and was wondering why her voice was so tired and scratchy.

When it comes to using your voice efficiently and effectively, alignment and breath are key.

In a classroom or studio you’re probably standing, and chances are you’re moving around a bit. You may not always have the best posture when standing but at least you’re not leaning over a laptop or slouched at a desk.

Working from home, you might be sitting at a desk or table delivering classes to a screen that’s requiring you to gaze up to it or lean over to it. Preferably, your camera will be at the height of your head so that you can keep your head and neck in alignment. If your head and neck are off balance, that’s going to put extra strain on your neck and shoulders, restricting your breathing and disconnecting you from using your voice functionally.


Find the balance between a camera angle and lighting you can cope with, and prioritise your alignment so that you’re not stretching your neck forward or slouching in your spine.

Any moments you can build into the day that allow you to stretch your neck or shoulders will be beneficial as well.

If you’d normally go between standing and sitting when teaching, aim to have the same variety in your online classes.

6.    Make sure you are breathing

One of my colleagues from New York remarked recently that on a trip to the supermarket, he felt tension in the air, and he looked around and observed that everyone was holding their breath (a voice teacher’s trained eye can quickly notice when people are breathing shallowly or holding their breath).

This phenomenon of holding your breath through the pandemic was also observed in David Marr’s article on The Guardian, One day we will tell stories of the virus, a time when we held our breath passing people on the street.

Sadly, in Australia, it feels like after going through a summer of being scared of the air due to bushfire smoke, we’re now scared of the air due to the virus.

I’m finding myself frequently holding my breath on my morning walks through Carlton Gardens and on trips to the supermarket, and whilst I thank my impulse to survive, I remind myself to reconnect to my breath when I’m back in my teaching space (aka my living room).

It’s important to acknowledge we’re not only shifting to teaching online, but doing so in the midst of a global pandemic that comes with a range of its own demands. You’re not only learning to teach online, you’re also processing what’s happening in the world, in your institution, in your family and with your students – all of which as a singular concern could be discombobulating and disconnect you from your breath.


Whether you teach standing or sitting, take a moment to check in with your breath before teaching. You can place a hand around the level of your belly button and focus on breath moving your belly out into your hand as breath comes in, and your hand moves in towards your spine as breath leaves.

Low and slow. That’s all you need to remember.

If you can take this moment to centre your breath before class, you’ll be more likely to be using good breath support when it comes to teaching.

What does a Voice Coach Do? – Jennifer Innes

When someone asks me what I do, and I say, “I’m a Voice Coach”, the conversation usually continues a little something like this:


Them: “oh, you’re a singing teacher?”

Me: “No, I don’t teach singing; I teach spoken voice.”

Them: “Oh, so you’re a speech path?”

Me: “No, not that either, though some of our goals are similar”

Them: “Erm….so, you teach elocution and how to speak properly.”

Me: “That’s closer to it. But not really right either”.


Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame them.  For people outside the performing arts world, there’s no reason for them to know what I do.  Sometimes when I say I teach accents as part of my job, that is familiar (and often inspires QUITE the conversation), but otherwise, how should they know what a Voice Coach is? If I’m honest with you, many people within the performing arts field also don’t realise the full scope of my job.  This is a topic of much discussion and some frustration among ‘Voicies’. Sure, we can warm up the actors, but what we do goes way beyond that.  As a colleague recently observed – half our job is in educating others about what we actually do.


We often butt up against the dated and inaccurate perception that we Voice Coaches function solely to teach and drill technical skills, and to craft our students’ voices into some standard and universal ideal.   As a trained and practising actor, who had studied Spoken Voice myself at drama school, even I had a limited idea of the full depth and creative potential of my job before I retrained in Voice at the Victorian College of the Arts. During my immersive training, and since entering into my new career of University teaching, private practice and production coaching, my eyes have been opened to the full potential of my profession. Which leads us back to the original question, what is it that I do?


Before I describe my job, I want to state that other Voice Coaches might offer different perspectives or opinions on the role.  There’s a range of different approaches out there, and I’m sure that many vary from mine to some degree.  However, I’m certain that many of my colleagues, both in Australia and overseas, share many of my guiding principles.


So yes, we do teach technical skills.  We teach people how to use their bodies in a way that supports a flexible and healthy voice.  For me, this is step one.  Sometimes this means we need to undo: undo patterns of physical tension that might be unconscious and habitual, but which might restrict a full and free breath; undo habits of movement that contribute to tension or inhibit vocal freedom; undo patterns of thinking which restrict or limit vocal and creative potential.  Blocks and restrictions can be physical, mental and emotional (which is where things can get tricky. But more on that later).  As Cicely Berry, former Voice Director for the Royal Shakespeare Company put it: ‘Voice work is a matter of finding a way past people’s fears and defences, connecting them with the full potential of their voice’[i].


In a basic sense, I think about my practice as teaching people how to walk and talk.  Don’t laugh – it’s harder than you think.  Because talking with a fully expressive, flexible, and embodied voice takes practice, patience and a delicate awareness of your physical (and mental) habits.  My job is to facilitate an environment in which the student or client (I’ll call them the ‘person’ from now on) can develop that awareness.  I feel strongly that in order to create that environment, I need to build trust with the person. I must not criticise their voice, or seek to ‘fix’ it, but provide tools to expand the possibilities of their unique voice while celebrating that very uniqueness.  I (and many peers) avoid using terms such as ‘wrong’, ‘bad’ and even ‘normal’ in our teaching. Because the voice is more than a sequence of physical processes resulting in sound vibrations – it is part of our identity, and opening up the full range of the person’s voice can be a confronting and emotional process.


Here I must comment on what I am not. I am not a therapist.  I don’t claim to be, I don’t have any relevant qualifications (beyond Mental Health First Aid Training), and I will never seek out dramatic emotional responses in the person just for the sake of it. If a Voice or Acting teacher ever asks a student to dredge up some past emotional trauma in order to really ‘get there’ emotionally, I believe they are entering into an area that is unsafe for the student.  There is research to support this assertion[ii], but that’s a whole other can of worms, and we needn’t go there now.


An oft-heard refrain when coaching Shakespeare is ‘play the thought, not the emotion’.  If an emotional response does occur, as a result of the text, it should serve the story and leave the person unharmed.  If the emotional response is separate to the story and the character, if it lingers, or if it is clearly disproportionate to the task at hand, I will care for the person in the moment and take appropriate action if needed.  Sometimes moving the body can help to release lingering emotions[iii], and sometimes rituals[iv] can help people step out of character.  In some cases, the person should be referred to a mental health professional.   In my experience, this rarely happens.  More often, I have seen the process of breathing deeply result in tears which signify little more than a release of long-held tension.  Still, it is important to recognise our duty of care and practice our craft with awareness and professionalism.


OK, Jen – I hear you say – I still don’t know what you actually do, like, in the studio.


Fair question.


After I work with the person to build an awareness of their body and move toward releasing extraneous tension, we work together to develop strength where it is helpful.  We redirect effort to the back and abdominal region, which in turn relieves the muscles in and around the shoulders, neck and larynx of the urge to over-compensate and strain to push out the voice. If there is a medical condition, or I suspect there might be, the person is referred to a medical professional. I am not a therapist, and I’m certainly not a doctor. My work does not replace the work of the ENT or Speech Pathologist.


After some breath and  body work, I assist the person to stretch their speaking voice by building and strengthening resonance and pitch range. We exercise the articulators (not so that the person sounds like a robot but so that they have increased vocal possibility – notice a pattern here?).  And many Voice Coaches work with text. Lovely, rich, muscular, invigorating text. And we work creatively, not mechanically. If you watched many of us working with text, you might think we’re teaching acting; and you’d kinda be right.


And here is the element to our work which is, to me, most important, most valuable, and most thrilling: connection.  We teach (allow? remind?) people how to connect.  In an age of illusionary connections (posts, feeds, likes, message notifications pinging up a storm), it is a pretty special thing to stand, breathe, look another human in the eye and tell them a story.  It can also be terrifying.  Often,  we’re so out of practice that many of us are overcome with self-consciousness in the moment of actually being seen. I have worked with students who physically shrink themselves, or blurt out jokes at their own expense to cover their discomfort.  I’ve seen people cry and people launch into critical attacks on themselves or tell me how ‘bad’ their voices are.  But we persist, and this is why: to witness the effect of a true, human, completely in-the-moment connection; to see someone stand tall and take up the space to which they are entitled; to hear someone send their voice out into the room with assurance, rather than retract it apologetically at the end of every phase.  We persist in order to witness the charge and change we humans can experience and bestow when we truly access freedom in our voices, and let language move through us.  This is what I do. What a thrill.


For those who perceive my job as fixing, or standardising voices, or pushing actors towards perfect, crisp but inflexible elocution (as it was once called), I offer this quote from renowned Voice Coach and Pedagogue Kristin Linklater: ‘the natural voice is transparent, it reveals, not describes, inner impulses of emotion and thought, directly and spontaneously. The person is heard, not the person’s voice’[v].


Oh, and I teach accents. But please don’t ask me to do one for you if I see you at a party.


[i] C Berry, ‘Transforming Texts’, in Well-Tuned Women: Growing Strong Through Voicework, , F. Armstrong & J Pearson, Pirate Jenny Publications, 2013, p.45

[ii] S Burgoyne, K Poulin & A Rearden, ‘The Impact of Acting on Student Actors: Boundary Blurring, Growth, and Emotional Distress’, Theatre Topics, vol. 9, no. 2, 1999, pp. 157-179; M Seton, ‘Post-Dramatic’ stress: Negotiating Vulnerability for Performance’ Proceedings of the 2006 Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, 2006; SL Taylor, ‘Actor training and emotions: finding a balance’, PhD thesis, Edith Cowan University, Perth, 2016, p.52

[iii] M Seton, ‘Post-Dramatic’ stress: Negotiating Vulnerability for Performance’ Proceedings of the 2006 Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, 2006, p.4

[iv] R Barton, ‘Therapy and Actor Training’, Theatre Topics, vol. 4, no. 2, September 1994, p 112

[v] K Linklater, Freeing the Natural Voice: Imagery and Art in the Practice of Voice and Language, Drama Publishers, Hollywood, 2006, p.8

Air for an Audience

An article by Nathan Curnow.

June 2018. We’re about to perform in the German city of Heidelberg. It’s a beautiful evening, and we’re trying to keep calm as the sun dips below the rooftops of the baroque streetscape. It’s the opening night of their annual literary festival. The Spiegeltent has been erected in one of the cobblestone squares of the old town district and now sound check is over, the stage is set, the venue is filling up. I have to be cool, but it’s easy to be undone by the significance of all this. The city of Heidelberg has flown us halfway around the world to be the headline act in the birthplace of Romantic poetry.

For me, it’s the culmination of twenty years as a poet and spoken word performer. I’ve worked countless rowdy bars, quiet libraries, country halls and tin sheds, using nothing but my voice. Spoken worders aren’t singers, comedians or musicians. We don’t have tunes, punchlines or a guitar to hang around our necks. We don’t even have a piece of paper to read from. All we have is a bare stage, a microphone and our memory, which we hope works, plus some experience in rhythm, rhyme and intonation. We manage air for an audience, the air across our vocal cords, the air that we form into words.

Now jump back twenty years to when I first got up at an open mic. Imagine a dark, upstairs room, with bodies jammed onto couches so rundown that no undergrad would want them in their share house. It’s a hot and stuffy Wednesday night on Brunswick St in Melbourne, windows jammed open for fresh air, tram’s dinging their bells as they pass. You’re in a room full of weirdos and wannabees, each one waiting for their name to be pulled from a baby doll’s head. You’re at Babble. And suddenly you’ve been chosen to have your three minutes on stage.

It was do or die back then. And most of us died. Some were a three-minute train wreck. Each night was an electric circus of danger and possibility, the room supercharged by failure, success and expectation. It was there that I began exploring voice. I’d listen for hours, asking why some people hit and some completely missed. Mostly it was a total drag of a night, except for one magical moment when someone got up and did something amazing, something that gave us enough reason to return the following week and endure it all again.

So what makes a voice hit its target? It’s obviously a combination of what’s said, how it’s said, plus when, where and why. There’s the anger and urgency in the orations of Malcom X or the fierceness of Nina Simone. There’s the dramatic delivery of Alan Rickman, the charm of Jeff Goldblum, the sultry heat of Eartha Kitt or the creepiness of John Malkovich. I don’t have the clinical knowledge of a specialist. All I know comes from my years on stage and from being part of a listening audience.

Earlier I said that I had to keep cool before taking to the stage. Everyone has doubts, especially performers, but staying cool and present gives your voice the best possible chance of sounding believable in the moment. People respond to what they perceive as real, so like a magician, you’re hiding the tricks. You’re managing your nerves so that the audience won’t see the techniques of your delivery. People want to think it’s natural, effortless, even though deep down they know it’s not.

I contend that there are three elements to manage an effective voice. Now, these aren’t Toastmasters or TED Talk techniques. They’re not ways to sound as captivating as Maya Angelou or James Earl Jones. They may not give your voice the X factor, but they’re fundamental to working a microphone or to just having a conversation down at your local supermarket.

The Internal

When I was six years old I had a debilitating stutter. I was unable to say the smallest words like ‘hi’ or ‘and’, the sounds refusing to complete their release of me. My mother suspected it was due to the tantrums of my Grade One teacher, a lady whose face lit up redder than the planet Mars before she exploded at the little children before her. My mother was right, I was petrified of the woman, and this fear manifested as a stutter.

It’s almost impossible to find your voice when your inner world is in chaos. Performers might commonly suffer stage fright, but we can all feel that same intense pressure in our daily lives—the threat of judgement, the fear of failure, the weight of expectation. When we’re constantly overwhelmed we’re not safe to feel ourselves, and being ourselves is the key to voice. If eyes are windows to the soul then perhaps voice is the orchestra of it. The sounds we make reveal us—who we are, what we fear, what we want or what we’re hiding.

For a performer, nerves and adversity can be a wonderful motivator in the short term, bringing a necessary edge to the voice, but if left unmanaged the performance will eventually suffer. This goes for anyone, no matter where or what the occasion. It’s hard to speak if you’re in distress, and sometimes the smallest audiences are the most terrifying.

The Meaning

Have you ever seen a music video that bears no relationship to what the song is about? If not, check out the Look of Love by ABC. It’s bizarre! Or have you ever listened to a good audiobook that’s read badly? There’s a disconnect between the message and the delivery. The voice seems to ring untrue. To deliver a believable voice we must understand our message and what it means.

Sometimes a well-intentioned producer will employ trained actors to read the work of poets, instead of the actual poets themselves. I understand the idea, but I’ve never really known it to work out. Why? Because actors tend to overshoot it, emoting it to death, putting themselves and what they do before the message. Rather than being stewards of the poem, they think it’s about themselves doing it.

In A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, Bob Dylan sings: ‘I’ll know my song well before I start singing’. It’s a simple line, one that’s always meant a lot to me. The clarity of the idea combined with his sing-speak sound has made it unforgettable. If you truly know your ‘song’, you’ll know its meaning. This guides your delivery so that you can get out of the way of your own performance. Now that’s a kind of irony, isn’t it? How can a performer get out of the way of their performance? Simply, by managing the ego. Realising that it’s not all about you gives your voice room for the message, providing the best chance of bringing people together.

The Audience

There are those magical moments when a performer feels perfectly in tune with the audience. It feels like you’ve become involved in something bigger, a shared experience you can’t explain. For the performer, it’s like they’re delivering the show but receiving it as well. Spoken worder Sean M Whelan says:

‘It’s about being inside that moment for the duration of the performance, but it’s about being outside of it at the same time.’ (2012, Verity La)

Our voice reveals our relationship with our audience. It reveals how we consider them, whether their loved, feared or loathed.

Some ‘page poets’ resent having to read their work in public. They’d rather be one step removed, speaking only to the reader through the printed words in their new book. And yet live readings are where most poetry books sales occur, so they’re thrust onto the reading circuit. What results is something that’s excruciating to sit through. You can hear their disdain and discomfort in every word.

As I said earlier, people respond to what they perceive as real, and in my experience the only thing an audience won’t forgive is contempt. You have a role to fulfil beyond your own doubts or misgivings, and they want you to fulfil it. If we’re uncomfortable with this role then our voice suffers. In this sense, our attitude toward our audience completely relates to the who, what, where, when, why and how of speaking.

Now as you already know, these three elements connect and overlap. They relate to us being in the present, whatever the context, wherever the stage. These moments are full of pressure, irony and expectation but we have to find peace with that in order to speak. Ultimately, I think it’s about acceptance. To deliver our best voice we must accept that things may fail, and that failure is a success if it’s genuine. We must fool ourselves into thinking that our own magic trick is trick-less. Because it is, and it isn’t, and that’s exactly how real magic happens.

June 2018. I step up to the microphone in Heidelberg, breathing in the air that’s mine and all of ours. By recognising this I can find my voice, managing it out of respect for myself, my message and my audience. I breathe out and the air is formed into words that hopefully hit their target. Then through my voice, I begin the show, which is all of us creating something.


Nathan Curnow is an award-winning poet, spoken word performer and past editor of Going Down Swinging. His books include The Ghost Poetry Project, RADAR, The Right Wrong Notes and The Apocalypse Awards. He has taught Creative Writing at Federation University; been a peer assessor for the Literature Board of the Australia Council, Creative Victoria and Arts Queensland; and recently co-judged the Newcastle Poetry Prize. In 2018 toured Europe with loop artist, Geoffrey Williams, performing at the OFFMilosz festival in Poland and opening the Heidelberg Literature Festival in Germany.


“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

National Voice Meeting 2018 – Presenter Series #3

What is Vocal Massage and could it be helpful for patients with Voice Disorders?

Vocal massage is designed to give a ‘reset’ of the muscles involved in posture and vocalization to help maintain (or help re-establish) healthy voice production. It is also increasingly being investigated as a way to decrease pain and tension from excessive contraction of the extrinsic muscles of the larynx (as found in voice disorders such as Muscle Tension Dysphonia) (Dehqan & Scherer, 2008). Vocal Massage is also starting to be used as part of a holistic treatment plan established by an ENT and Speech Pathologist by Voice centres such as the Cleveland Clinic, Vanderbilt Voice Clinic, and the Royal Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in London.

A way to improve posture and prevent vocal problems

Singing and speaking well require a freedom and balance in the muscles around the larynx and jaw and a buoyant, free posture for the breath. A number of articles have illuminated the way in which good posture, particularly of the cervical spine, is directly related to higher levels of vocal resonance and pitch control (Arboleda & Frederick, 2008). Cardoso, Lumini-Oliveira, and Meneses (2017) have proven an effective posture allows a subject to more easily shift the tension between muscles, allowing for a free movement of the larynx without blockages and with benefits to voice production. In a study by Kooijman (2005), muscular tension and body posture were assessed in relation to voice handicap and voice quality in teachers with persistent voice complaints- the conclusion was the combination of hypertonicity of the sternocleidomastoid, the geniohyoid muscles and posterior weight bearing…[were] the most important predictor for a high voice handicap. Manual bodywork such as Vocal massage combined with rehabilitative exercises may be the way forward in helping some patients recover from a vocal disorder by addressing the body patterns contributing to the tightness in these muscles. Unfortunately, comprehensive studies on the long-term benefits of this have not yet been undertaken.

A Vocal Massage Session

The first component of a Vocal Massage is postural assessment and palpation of the area around the neck and jaw to establish if restrictions in the muscles may be affecting the patient’s ability to supply breath efficiently to the voice and vocalize well. The larynx and hyoid bone are gently assessed to establish if they are in a free, neutral position, range of motion of the jaw and head will be tested, and the therapist will check if the ribs and diaphragm are mobile and the posture is balanced. A treatment plan is then developed specific to the patient’s needs, which may include alleviating tension around the front of the neck and jaw, mobilizing the hyoid bone and larynx and addressing postural issues affecting the freedom of the breath. Myofascial techniques are used which include gentle tractioning of the muscles, trigger point work and stretches that may help reduce tension in the muscles.

May help improve respiratory function

We know that manual therapy appears to increase the respiratory function of normal individuals (Engel & Vemulpad, 2007), but more research needs to be undertaken to see if manual therapy could be helpful to those with inhibited respiratory function and voice disorders (da Cunha Pereira, de Oliveira Lemos, Gadenz, Cassol, 2017). Anecdotally many of my clients have found massage helpful after a respiratory illness such as a cough to alleviate tension and stiffness around the larynx and have found their voice more resonant and responsive after the massage session. Myofascial release techniques in this instance are used on the sternocleidomastoid and scalene muscles combined with gentle mobilization of the intercostal muscles, diaphragm attachment points and the ribcage to help free the breathing mechanism.

Countering the physical demands of workplaces- particularly for stage performers

Stage workplaces major demands on a singer’s body. Raked stages, very heavy or tight costumes, wigs, hats and high heels can all throw the alignment of the posture out and tense muscles involved in vocalisation. It can also mean the singer adjusts the position of their pelvis and neck. These adjustments may affect the singer’s capability for full breath capacity and best breath management (Staes, et al., 2011). Vocal massage used as a preventative measure to help a build-up of tension may help bring more balance back to the body and keep a voice fresh and healthy.

A study examining the effectiveness of Vocal Massage in relation to Reflux

While much more research needs to be undertaken, in a recent study by Gaelyn Garrett, M.D., and Duke researcher Seth Cohen, M.D. at the Vanderbilt Voice Institute (Cohen & Garrett, 2008) it was found that around 67 per cent of patients who had hoarseness over a six-month period were either on reflux medication or had been prescribed reflux medication without improvement. Two-thirds of those patients improved with specialized manual therapy aimed at muscle tightness of the neck and throat. “Medical Director Gaelyn Garrett, M.D., and her staff of speech-language pathologists had previously treated the condition with voice therapy alone for the muscles around the larynx, which include the swallowing muscles. Some patients, however, did not respond to only doing voice therapy.” “In these people who weren’t responding, we started asking a lot of questions about their daily habits and we started realizing that people talk on the phone and it affects their posture; people are at a computer and it affects their posture,” Garrett said. It was also found that typically these patients had experienced some kind of physical or emotional trauma which had begun a process of excess tension throughout the body “… they were in a car wreck, they went through a divorce, they had back surgery” (Cohen & Garrett, 2008). Cohen and Garrett (2008) report how a more holistic view revealed other causes of tension: “And you start asking people, too, about where they focus stress and if they have any cervical spine issues, neck or shoulder issues, tension headaches. It all fell in place that if we address this whole musculoskeletal area, from the backup, it would help patients relax their voice,” she said. In conclusion, while anecdotally vocal massage helps certain patients and small studies have proven its effectiveness (Rubin, Lieberman, & Harris, 2000), more comprehensive studies are needed to establish the long-term effects and benefits, the type of patient it might help and how it might be best implemented in a multidisciplinary setting.


Arboleda, B. M. W., & Frederick, A. L. (2008). Considerations for maintenance of postural alignment for voice production. Journal of Voice, 22(1), 90-99.

Cardoso, R., Lumini-Oliveira, J., & Meneses, R. F. (2017). Associations between Posture, Voice, and Dysphonia: A Systematic Review. Journal of Voice.

Cohen, S. M., & Garrett, C. G. (2008). Hoarseness: is it really laryngopharyngeal reflux? The Laryngoscope, 118(2), 363-366.

da Cunha Pereira, G., de Oliveira Lemos, I., Gadenz, C. D., & Cassol, M. (2017). Effects of voice therapy on muscle tension dysphonia: a systematic literature review. Journal of Voice.

Dehqan, A., & Scherer, R. C. (2018). Positive Effects of Manual Circumlaryngeal Therapy in the Treatment of Muscle Tension Dysphonia (MTD): Long Term Treatment Outcomes. Journal of Voice.

Engel, R. M., & Vemulpad, S. (2007). The effect of combining manual therapy with exercise on the respiratory function of normal individuals: a randomized control trial. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 30(7), 509-513.

Kooijman, P. G. C., De Jong, F. I. C. R. S., Oudes, M. J., Huinck, W., Van Acht, H., & Graamans, K. (2005). Muscular tension and body posture in relation to voice handicap and voice quality in teachers with persistent voice complaints. Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica, 57(3), 134-147.

Rubin, J. S., Lieberman, J., & Harris, T. M. (2000). Laryngeal manipulation. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America, 33(5), 1017-1034.

Staes, F. F., Jansen, L., Vilette, A., Coveliers, Y., Daniels, K., & Decoster, W. (2011). Physical therapy as a means to optimize posture and voice parameters in student classical singers: a case report. Journal of Voice, 25(3), e91-e101.

To contact Rachael about Vocal Massage please email her at rachael@vocalease.com.au

Rachael Cunningham is a Vocal Massage Therapist in Sydney. She is a qualified Remedial Massage therapist and has undertaken extensive training in myofascial techniques for the Neck, Jaw and Head and Vocal Massage. Rachael is also very aware of demands placed upon singers in the performing arts as she has sung in the chorus of Opera Australia for the past 20 years. Currently she is performing in Aida at the Sydney Opera House and is about to travel to China to tour with Madama Butterfly. Her website is www.vocaleasemassage.com.au

“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

Manual of Singing Voice Rehabilitation

National Voice Meeting 2018 – Presenter Series #1

Leda ScearceHealing Voices

By Leda Scearce

Singing is a part of virtually every culture and is fundamental to our human experience.  In the United States, singing is enormously popular, as evidenced by the vast number of people engaged in all kinds of singing activities. Over 30 million Americans participate in choral singing alone (Chorus America, 2009).  Shows like The Voice, America’s Got Talent and American Idol illustrate how passionate we are about singing. From the amateur recreational singer to the elite celebrity, we sing as soloists and in ensembles, with instruments and a cappella, in classical and contemporary styles, on stage, in concert and in the shower.

Every person’s voice is unique and identifiable, and our voices can be a big part of our identity and how we see ourselves in the world.  This is especially true for singers, for whom the voice is not only intricately tied to self-image and self-esteem, but also may be a source of income and livelihood, creative expression, spiritual engagement, and quality of life. For a singer, a voice injury represents a crisis.  Because of the specialized needs of singers, it takes a team—including a laryngologist, speech-language pathologist, and singing voice rehabilitation specialist—to get a singer back on track following an injury or voice disorder.  Singing voice rehabilitation is a hybrid profession, requiring in-depth clinical and scientific knowledge married with excellence in teaching singing.

Voice problems are rarely isolated in etiology—usually, multiple factors converge to create an injury.  These factors may include poor vocal hygiene, inadequate vocal technique, an imbalance in vocal load and medical problems (allergies and reflux are common in singers, but thyroid, pulmonary, neurological and rheumatologic conditions are among the illnesses that may affect the voice).  The singing voice rehabilitation process must encompass all elements that may be contributing to the problem: medical factors, vocal hygiene, vocal coordination and conditioning, vocal pacing, and emotional factors.

Figure 1

Vocal Coordination and Conditioning

In the context of voice rehabilitation, the singer’s vocal technique may have contributed to the voice problem and/or may be compromised by the voice injury.  In many cases (particularly for CCM singers), the singer may have never received formal training or may have been trained with a classical methodology that does not align with his or her singing style (LoVetri & Weekly, 2003; Weekly & LoVetri, 2009).  The singing voice rehabilitation specialist must design a rehabilitation exercise protocol that promotes optimal coordination of voicing subsystems to appropriately compensate for and promote resolution of the injury while ensuring the singer achieves and maintains adequate vocal conditioning, all in a manner that is consistent with the physiological and acoustic characteristics of the singer’s style.  Thus, the exercise regimen for a rock singer will be different than for an operatic singer.

An effective singing rehabilitation design goes far beyond what is necessary for building technique in a healthy instrument—it requires deep scientific and clinical knowledge to understand the differential impact of various vocal injuries on the structure, function and interaction of voicing subsystems. The rehabilitation protocol must be customized to singing style and underlying injury.  The difference in the exercise regimen for a singer with vocal nodules vs. vocal fold atrophy may be subtle but can have significant impact on the successful outcome of the intervention.

While thorough scientific and clinical preparation is indispensable, it is equally important that the singing voice rehabilitation specialist be an accomplished teacher of singing.  One must be competent in training healthy singers before delving into the more complex endeavour of interacting with an injured instrument (NCVS, 2013).  Ideally, the vocal exercise regimen should encompass the voice holistically—both speaking and singing.

Vocal Pacing

Vocal pacing refers to achieving balance in the amount, type and intensity of voice use.  This is an area that is sometimes overlooked or under-emphasized not only in singing voice rehabilitation but also in the realm of voice habilitation (the enhancement or development of technique in healthy voices).  Optimizing vocal pacing is of critical importance both for achieving and restoring vocal health, and may be a major component of the singing voice rehabilitation plan.  The singing voice rehabilitation specialist can collaborate with the singer to develop strategies for bringing voice use into balance that may include:

  • Prioritizing vocal activities and unloading or reducing those that are less important.
  • Documenting voice use to identify where the vocal load is out of balance and where there are opportunities for improving balance.
  • Planning amount and intensity of voice use in advance, scheduling periods of voice rest (especially when rehearsal and performance demands are high) and strategic planning for efficient practice time.
  • Effective use of amplification, both for singing and speaking.

In some cases, optimizing vocal pacing may mean increasing voice use on a day-to-day basis to “smooth out” the overall vocal load, as for the “weekend warrior” in a garage band or choral singer preparing for a concert.  In either situation, the singer may be engaging in extremely intense voice use episodically without getting regular vocal exercise in between.

Emotional Factors

Many singers have a strong emotional reaction to experiencing a voice problem which arises not only out of concern about the implications for continuing performing but due to long-held and misguided beliefs in the singing culture that voice injuries are the fault of the singer and that singers who experience voice problems are “damaged goods.”  The singer may undergo emotional ups and downs throughout the rehabilitation process, especially if performance has been curtailed or when financial or academic success is jeopardized by the voice problem.  In addition to the physical injury, many singers sustain an “injury of confidence” that can linger after the injury has resolved.  Throughout the rehabilitation process, the singing voice rehabilitation specialist must be mindful of and sensitive to the emotional experience of the singer and interact in a compassionate and supportive manner.

The Singing Voice Rehabilitation Package

All of these factors—medical, behavioural and emotional—must be appropriately addressed through collaboration of the voice care team to guide the singer back to a state of vocal health and wellbeing.  Obviously, singing voice rehabilitation is a complex and multi-faceted process, requiring knowledge and experience that span art and science.  Manual of Singing Voice Rehabilitation: A Practical Approach to Vocal Health and Wellness has been developed to guide the singing voice rehabilitation specialist in developing and executing effective, efficient rehabilitation plans that are customized to each individual singer, encompassing all relevant factors, so that singers are empowered to return to a state of vocal wellness and the joy of singing.

Originally published in the Plural Publishing Community Newsletter, April 2016.

Leda combines her extensive performance experience as a classical Soprano with her roles as a speech-language pathologist and voice teacher. She has worked as a voice teacher for over 30 years, serving on the artist faculties of Bowling Green State University, Meredith College, Brigham Young University of Hawaii and the University of Southern Maine.  In 2004, she obtained a Master of Science degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Boston University. As a graduate SLP student, she completed an internship in voice disorders and voice rehabilitation for the performing voice at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston. She is currently Clinical Singing Voice Specialist, Clinical Associate Faculty and Director of Performing Voice Programs and Development at the Duke Voice Care Center and Duke University School of Medicine, where she provides rehabilitation therapy to singers, actors and other vocal performers with voice injuries. Leda is the author of Singing Voice Rehabilitation: A Practical Approach to Vocal Health and Wellness, published by Plural, Inc.

You can find Leda’s book Singing Voice Rehabilitation: A Practical Approach to Vocal Health and Wellness, published by Plural, Inc. via this link:


To register for the AVA National Voice Meeting and AGM 2018 click here:



  • Chorus America. (2009). The Chorus Impact Study. Washington, DC. Retrieved December 5, 2015, from https://www.chorusamerica.org/advocacy-research/chorus-impact-study
  • LoVetri, J., & Weekly, E. M. (2003). Contemporary commercial music (CCM) survey: Who’s teaching what in non-classical music. Journal of Voice, 17(2), 207–215.
  • National Center for Voice and Speech (NCVS). (2013). NCVS Symposium on Specialty Training in Vocal Health Summary Report; April 25–26, 2013, Salt Lake City, UT. Retrieved from http://www.ncvs.org/STVH_Summary_Report_2013.pdf
  • Weekly, E. M., & LoVetri, J. (2009). Follow-up contemporary commercial music (CCM) survey: Who’s teaching what in non-classical music. Journal of Voice, 23(3), 367–375.

“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

woman texting

Posture and how it affects your speech

How many times has someone advised you to stand up/sit up straight, so that you sound better?

Or received some comment about your posture?

This article is not about body language, or how to stand when you are speaking per se.

I will be discussing how our posture affects us all overall and how our daily habits interfere with our voice! Strange isn’t it. You will be thinking, how does my habit affect my speaking?

Habit by definition, as quoted by F.M Alexander, “A habit is composed of a sequence of acts that follow upon some cue. It is a chain of neural events, with response in all our tissues.”

The way you hold your body, the way you hold your shoulders, your knees, and the way you hold your jaw…all of them impact how you are able to vocally express yourself. My favourite example is the way all of us use our phones or IT gadget. In today’s society, we are plugged in more often than not and get caught up with that task. Have you ever wondered what that posture does for your voice?

Often, we get so engrossed in reading/replying sot our head falls right forwards and we don’t even realize how much strain we are putting on our neck and shoulders! When the head is pushed forwards for constant periods of time, either when sitting or standing, the larynx (voice box area) is not free to move as it can, and the voice cannot function smoothly.

woman texting

When we stand or sit without stiffening our muscles, we are well balanced and coordinated, and send out a clear strong signal. Below are some habitual patterns people have when standing. Which one are you?

  1. Over-arching back: Most of us have been advised to sit up straight/stand up straight or to stand properly. As a response, we subconsciously lift our sternum/chest, and throw our shoulders back and tilt pelvis forwards. This ‘straightness’ will be followed by overly tense muscles of the torso

  2. Stiffening of neck and throat: One of the biggest tendencies for singers and speakers is to stiffen the neck and throat muscles. Have you ever seen someone’s neck with their muscles bulging out when they speak? The breathing airway is affected when we constrict muscles in hour head/neck region.

  3. TMJ problems: TMJ joint simply refers to the joint where your jaw is fixed.  There is a close relationship between stiff necks and tense TMJ joints. Do you speak with minimal jaw movement, and hardly open your mouth? Do you have pain at your TMJ joints? Pay attention to your jaw

  4. Knee-lockers: Sometimes when you try to stand up straight, and ground yourself, you inadvertently lock your knees. Now, why is that a problem? Locked knees mean excess tension in hip joints, which interferes with range of arm movements, which tightens neck and throat muscles and makes your voice work harder than it needs to!

  5. Stiffening of the rib cage: This happens when the ribs are held very still, with no lateral expansion. In this position, the person holds the rib cage up and out after practising deep inhalation. The diaphragm moves, however the ribs do not move laterally ( sideways)

  6. Overworking the facial muscles: Singers, actors and public speakers often consciously or subconsciously over work the facial muscles, when they try to articulate the specific vowel or consonant sounds. Overdoing articulation means you are holding some part of your face too effortfully. Be it your: lips, tongue, eyebrows etc

A great way to start noticing your posture, and where you hold excessive tension, is to lie down comfortably, in a safe space with your knees up. Choose any sound, and make that sound. Notice which part of your body stiffens/tenses or simply works too hard when you make that sound. You can even practice with a few simple sentences or if you are really stuck, sing “ Happy Birthday” when you are lying down.

“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

Thila Raja is a Speech Pathologist, who specializes in voice training. She helps people recognize their vocal skills and express themselves clearly. Thila loves helping professionals communicate to their best. Find more from Thila here: www.speakforlife.com.au

Loud Noise

Anxiety and its Affects on the Auditory and Vocal Apparatus

Anxiety is such a fascinating topic and one that with each passing year I get more and more passionate about.

As a Somatic Educator working with dancers at The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (and in the professional arena) for over 15 years it was only recently that I began working across the voice and music departments as well. When I made that shift I was immediately struck with how my knowledge slipped even more perfectly into this area, particularly for the voice students.

Evolutionarily the voice is one of our most precious assets for communication and, in times of need, protection. We whisper, laugh, cry, sing, gasp, shout and scream in relation to the needs of the moment.

As a singer, teacher or performer we use our voice to communicate each day and yet at times, our voice can fail us, particularly when the stakes are high, or when we’re so frightened or overwhelmed we literally cannot speak.

Everyone has a unique response to stress, anxiety and fright, which is essentially our response to danger or perceived danger. While speaking or singing may be one of our greatest loves, performing in front of a group of strangers can initially be an anxiety-inducing experience – biologically strangers are a threat!

Our physiological response to danger goes back to a primitive reflex called the Moro Reflex, which becomes our Adult Startle Reflex. This reflex goes on to underpin our fight, flight and freeze responses.

The Startle Reflex is elicited by 2 very specific stimuli:

  1. A sudden loss of support (falling) and, interestingly for musicians

  2. A sudden noise over 80 decibels (like speaker feedback!)

In response to danger, or perceived danger, our autonomic nervous system orchestrates a whole series of changes to our breathing, heart rate, muscle activation and vocalisation to meet the challenge of the moment and we experience our personal variations of the flight, fight and freeze responses.

One of the major nerves to control these changes is the Vagus nerve or 10th Cranial nerve. It travels the longest distance of any nerve of the autonomic nervous system and extends to include the mouth, tongue, larynx, heart, lungs and digestive organs.

Major Nerves

Just looking at that list you can see clearly how stress, anxiety and fright would have a profound affect on vocal performance.

The saying “I have a frog in my throat” relates to these physiological changes and while our biology may be assisting us to be ultra quiet (or ultra loud) in times of danger this is not helpful when the perceived danger is our joy – singing and speaking.

You may recognise some of these common experiences

  • Dry mouth

  • Rising pitch

  • Quickening speech/song

  • Tension or constriction of the vocal cords

  • Tension in the jaw and tongue

  • Lump/Frog in the throat

  • Raspy voice

  • Loss of breath

  • Quietening voice

  • Loss of voice entirely

Each one of these changes can be traced back to a biological purpose, but when it comes to singing and speaking, most of these do not assist!

To compound matters, unless you have developed your skills for optimizing performance under pressure, awareness of these physical changes can perpetuate the experience – your physiology confirming your anxiety – and an awful anxiety loop begins.

So having cast our attention briefly over the biology and physiology what are some simple things we can do to prepare for a great performance.


  • Take time to listen and get familiar with the unique noises of the venue
  • Eliminate unnecessary noise where possible
  • Make sure you are happy with your earpiece if you’re wearing one
  • Check the volume and placement of the fallback speakers
  • Take time out in a quiet place before the show
  • Resist talking/listening to people who make you anxious
  • If you notice a problem with sound ask the sound desk to adjust asap


  • Sip lukewarm drinks like herbal tea. (Some people prefer a cool drink but lukewarm drinks are more gentle on the cords. Alcohol is a natural relaxant but this is not always a good long-term choice.)
  • Place a hand on your throat. Feel the warmth and softness of your hand. Take a few breaths like this.
  • Place a pen lengthways in your mouth to stimulate the smile reflex, particularly if you now reflect on how silly you now look J
  • Use the tongue to gently feel the inside of your gums, teeth and lips, as if tasting the remanent sweetness of a past dessert. Lick right around to the back of the teeth and over the lips too.
  • Yawn, even if you fake it to start, to release the jaw and quieten the nervous system.
  • Do a gentle lions tongue pose or hakka face, with the tongue hanging out fat and full.
  • Make gentle soothing sounds like sighing, ahhhhing, hmmmming

Anxiety is a whole body/brain/mind experience and when we create change in one area we see changes in the whole experience. Pick one or two of the ideas above and see how they work for you.

If this kind of work interests you there are many wonderful Somatic Educators. Consider methods like Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique and Linklater and seek help from a practitioner who can give you specific homework. Practicing in the comfort of your home, without stress or anxiety, makes it much easier to access when you need it most! And if you feel that your experience of anxiety is particularly challenging seek out a Somatic Educator who specialises in anxiety.

If you would like to work specifically with me I have a private practice in West Perth and I provide Skype sessions for clients outside of Perth, WA.

And be sure to look out for my follow up article “Anxiety, Posture and Your Ability to Stay Grounded” in the coming months.

“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

Molly Tipping is a Somatic Educator, Feldenkrais Practitioner and Pilates Instructor specialising in performance and anxiety. Molly has been working with performing artists for the over 15 years and currently runs a private practice in West Perth and lecturers at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (in the Dance and Music Departments). Molly also runs trainings for the Feldenkrais Guild of Australia, The Pilates Method Association and The Royal Academy of Dance and is the co-producer of Move Over Anxiety, an audio program currently on sale in Australia and The United States.

BodyMinded: Alexander Technique for Voice Professionals

The Alexander technique is known as a useful adjunct to training in vocal circles, however, while many people have heard about it, there is a lot of misconception. Today I hope to introduce how it works and how powerful it is when effectively applied.

To begin: Tasmanian actor overcomes his ‘hoarse voice sore throat’ problem.

F.M Alexander was a Tasmanian and an actor at a time when there was no amplification available.  After suffering a regular loss of voice while performing, he started a process of rigorous self-observation to find out what was going on.  He knew that the hoarseness and pain got worse when he performed, so it must have been related to HOW he was performing… but what was he doing?

Alexander’s solution came after a long process of experimentation, and he was surprised to discover that not only had he overcome his voice problem, he had developed a process that led to profound improvement in health and well-being.

Now 100+ years after his birth there are Alexander Technique teachers around the world, teaching people from all walks of life to find their optimal coordination.

So what did he discover?

Alexander found that natural good posture, essential to the good use of the voice, is dynamic and responsive, constantly moving, providing support against the force of gravity and organising the timing, sequencing and rhythm of the parts. While that cannot be ‘made to happen’ through effort, it can be ‘directed to happen’ naturally via conscious direction of your spatial sense…

Unfortunately for many, this dynamically balanced poise, ease and power are easily disturbed by habits of tension or collapse. Especially after years of training, or in response to stress, habits of interference can lead to a frustrating and ongoing struggle with vocal performance, as it did for Alexander.

Alexander said…
“You translate everything, whether physical, mental or spiritual, into muscular tension”

The Alexander Technique teaches people how to think about how they move, in the service of natural coordination, ease power and grace, especially while using the voice.

Try these activities:

  1. The Spatial Sense

Make a vocal sound of some kind, perhaps you are a singer and make an open sound or a non-singer and you just make an ‘AH’ sound for a second or two. Notice how it feels to make that sound… and what you are drawn to notice in your body.

Now consciously shift your attention to your head… that’s right, above your jaw, above your ear-level… up to your skull. Did you want to move it? You don’t have to move it, but you do want your head to be able to move easily… We are talking about ‘knowing where your head is in relation to your body’, that is, accessing your spatial sense consciously. Note that this is different from any direct idea of effort or movement per se. Now, while thinking of your head above your jaw, make your sound again. How was it different from the first time? What happens if you try this experiment while walking?

So, with this as the beginning let’s do the next experiment.

  1. The Direction of the Air

Alexander demonstrated that the sense we have of our own bodies and how we are moving is often inaccurate. We habituate to the way we normally feel, so changes are likely to feel strange, even wrong. With the voice, for example, it is not unusual to see people compressing down in their torso to make a sound, and it feels right to them to do so. In BodyMinded we teach people ‘conscious cooperation’ with their human design and with the physics of actions. You are probably familiar with how sound is made in the voice-box (larynx), by the movement of air up the windpipe (trachea). Have you ever consciously thought about this movement as you use your voice? Let’s combine the first exercise with the second… as you create your sound, think of the air going up to produce that sound. What happens to your voice as you do this? How does it feel?

  1. The Action Plan

Now we are going to add something about your desired sound. Perhaps you just made a sound at a volume that seemed easy and natural to you. What happens if you decide to double the volume? In Alexander’s case, he would immediately notice an increase in tension, a stiffening of his head on his neck, perhaps you even lifted your chin a little?

The way we carry out our actions is largely pre-determined by habits gained over our lifetime so far. When you add to your action plan… “I want it to be louder”, the changes that occur will depend on the idea you have of what you want and feeling of how it happens. In the BodyMinded process, we help you identify clearly, what you want, which sounds simple but can be surprising to explore.

Now we will build a ‘BodyMinded Instruction’ from these three parts… “I know I have a head, it moves easily over my spine, so I can think of air going up as I decide to make a louder sound”. Did the way you made the louder sound change?

The BodyMinded process teaches you how to generate instructions for yourself and others that are built from the relation between general or overall coordination; cooperation with human design; and a constructive action plan. Each part of this triumvirate can be ‘unpacked’ and explored over time, leading to a wonderful and effective set of dynamic tools for your own performance and your teaching.

“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

Greg Holdaway is Director of BodyMinded: Sydney Alexander Technique, where he trains Alexander Technique teachers.  Greg has developed a unique professional training, BodyMinded which integrates up-to-date science and Alexander Technique principles for actionable practical skills for use with clients and students. www.alexandertechnique.com.au