Singing to survive
NAPLES, Florida—Unbelievable! Thank you all so much for tuning into “The Voice Teens” last weekend. It means so much to all of us—coaches, staff and crew alike—that you’ve joined us.
Last Saturday evening, a young lass from Surigao del Norte named Mica Becerro sang “Queen of the Night,” from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Strong-voiced and precise, she wowed us with her talent and obvious dedication. All four of us turned for her, and at the end, she chose “FamiLea” as her team.
Each coach had the chance to speak with her to try and convince her to pick their respective teams. When my own turn came, I told her the story of how classical singing technique saved my voice, and ultimately my life.
After a few months of playing Kim in the West End production of “Miss Saigon,” I was starting to feel vocally weaker.
Singing that role eight times a week was starting to take its toll, and since I wasn’t a technically knowledgeable vocalist at the time, I didn’t know how to sing properly in order to make it to the next day.
Finally, on one very cloudy morning, I woke up with nothing coming out of my mouth. My mother called a friend in London who then gave her the number of an ENT. He took a look and said the word “nodules.”
After we got home, my mom called the “Miss Saigon” company office to tell them what was going on. Our company manager, Jane Salberg, then gave her the phone number and address of another doctor, Garfield Davies.
He said, with the most reassuring tone in his voice, “You don’t have nodules, but your vocal cords are swollen. I’ll
prescribe vocal rest for a couple of weeks, and then you’ll have voice therapy and singing lessons.”
I had to take many shows off in order to recuperate, and my poor mother had no one to talk to at home. We had to use a weird form of sign language and many notepads in order to communicate. It was a great time to read a few books (thank you, Robin Cook, your books helped fill the time).
My voice therapist was a lady named Christina Shewell. She had me lie down on a bed and watched my breathing, and noticed there was so much tension in my throat and that my shoulders would rise with each breath I took.
Next up was the singing teacher who would change everything about my singing. Her name is Mary Hammond. She listened to my singing and watched how my body produced sound.
She then told me that she was going to teach me classical singing technique. It wasn’t so I would sound like an opera singer, but that this would be how I would survive from one day to the next.
We first worked on Kim, and how to sing that role without killing myself. She took everything apart from my posture to how I formed my vowels. She modified certain positions I used on stage to more voice-friendly ones. She employed the Alexander Technique to make sure I had maximum alignment for the whole show and wouldn’t have trouble singing.
On the night I returned to the show, it took a lot of thinking to remember everything I’d been taught and not lapse back into bad singing habits. My colleagues noticed the change in my voice—that it had gotten stronger and I sounded more confident.
Over the course of a few months, I would take steps forward, and backward, until I got to a point of consistency.
I studied with Mary for around a year, and in that time she taught me arias, songs from other musicals and Disney songs (quite prophetic, given what I’d be doing only a couple of years later).
We kept working on improving my technique. Years later, whenever I needed her to check on me, I’d go to her studio and sing with her. (She helped me get the more difficult bits of singing Eponine for the “Les Miserables” 10th anniversary concert just right.)
So to those who teach classical singing technique, allow me to give you all a round of applause. You’re giving your kids an incredible foundation for singing.
Even belters and crooners could use it, just to get the body to support the voice more and to avoid injury and discomfort.
To Mary, thank you. My gratitude is everlasting.
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