The Voice Teacher as Voice Therapist:
Imagination and Artistry in the Clinic?
I have sung as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest
memories are of riding my horse or roaming the fields and woods near Seattle
where I grew up. I would sing out favorite songs, or more frequently, make them
up according to mood and weather. This physical and mental freedom to discover
my personal connection to music, choice of words, notes and rhythm proved to
provide, for me, a personally integrated approach to singing and music: the
"why" was inherent in the sheer joy of expression from within, the
"how" was spontaneous, joyful, and entirely fulfilling. These have
remained my focal points for singing.
I went on to study singing with two wonderful teachers, Dr. Thomas Goleeke at
the University of Puget Sound, and Jan DeGaetani at The Eastman School of Music,
both of whom stressed a commitment to music, artistry, and healthy singing. In
those days, youth was my great friend, however. Whatever natural talents I
had seemed to flow freely. After I was singing professionally for some years,
singing began to be a struggle.
Difficulties and questions arose which went beyond my previous experience. I
could examine my vocal technique, but the issues did not abate. Finally, a few
years ago I was diagnosed with pernicious anemia. It appears that I had gone
undiagnosed for anemia for many years. I have since learned that it can have a
deleterious effect on the efficacy of muscles, including the intrinsic laryngeal
muscles. After finally undergoing treatment my voice continues to gain in
flexibility and strength. But, for some years, I had struggled mightily at times
to "find" my free, expressive voice. I could find a "substitute
voice" and with a great deal of work the voice did feel more reliable, but
it wasn't as flexible or colorful. There was a loss of artistry. I wondered if
the voice and artistry had become incompatible for me. I recognized that I had
developed compensatory tensions in the vocal tract and support system. I read
books and articles which addressed any number of physical explanations and
approaches to singing. Even though I was not able to fully integrate the
information, due to my undiagnosed status of health, I learned a great deal
about how the voice should function. I combined what I read with notes from my
first two influential teachers and from my own approach to the music, whether I
was singing a five tone scale or a Lied. This symbiosis of physiology,
imagination, and "in the moment" spontaneity began to more fully
inform my own work and my teaching.
I joined the University of Michigan in 1995, where I teach voice and vocal
pedagogy in addition to serving as chair of the department. This past year, I
was asked to join the University's Vocal Health Center as a singing voice
specialist. I did so with some trepidation. Who was I to work in a clinic, how
could I help "normal" folks who had trouble with their speaking
voices, what could I offer that would complement the work of a trained speech
therapist and an otolaryngologist? After all, they utilize
sophisticated programs to quantify data in treating patients and all I have is
my ear. I was encouraged to work with the patients as I would work with students
in need of information and exercises to correct faulty phonation.
The work has proven to be enormously fulfilling and interesting.
Many of you at this conference have inspired me through your work. Dr Thomas
Cleveland was gracious enough to allow me to spend a day shadowing him in
Nashville and learning a great deal in the process. I look forward to sharing
some insights from a professional singer and teacher who has found herself in
the voice clinic with a great desire to help folks "find" their own
best voices again.
by the Munich Abendzeitung as a
“mezzo-soprano discovery”, Freda Herseth has sung many operatic roles,
receiving critical acclaim for her performances in La
Cenerentola, Le Nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan
tutte, Der Rosenkavalier and Il
Barbiere di Siviglia. She has
performed with orchestras and chamber ensembles throughout Europe, Russia, and
Israel, including La Scala Opera Orchestra under the direction of Riccardo Muti
in the world premiere of Richard Wernick's ...and
a time for peace, the Israel Sinfonietta, the Stuttgart State Theater
Orchestra in the world premiere of William Bolcom's Songs
of Innocence and Experience, the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra, the Bratislava
Radio Orchestra, the New York New Music Ensemble, the Haifa Symphony Orchestra,
and The Folger Consort of Washington D.C. Well known for her work in
contemporary music, she has premiered many works written especially for her.
She has performed at the Vienna Festival, Warsaw Autumn Festival,
Festival d'Automme at the Bastille Opera in Paris, Steirischer Herbst in Graz
and with the American Music Theater Festival of Philadelphia.
has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a DAAD/Fulbright Grant, a
stipend from the Richard Wagner Society in Bayreuth, and fellowships to the
Aspen and Tanglewood music
festivals. The International Voice
Foundation awarded Ms. Herseth the 1997 Van Lawrence Fellowship in recognition of excellence in the
field of vocal pedagogy.
Herseth is Chair of the Voice Department and Associate Professor of Voice at the
University of Michigan, teaching voice and vocal pedagogy.
She has taught at the Brevard Music Center, the Aria Festival of Ontario,
the Cleveland Institute of Music, and the Voice Foundation’s Annual Symposium,
and has given master classes at the University of Puget Sound, Indiana
University, the Cleveland Institute, the University of Northern Illinois, and
in Seattle, she graduated cum laude from the University of Puget Sound, where
she studied with Dr. Thomas Goleeke. She
received a Master of Music degree and Performer's Certificate from the Eastman
School of Music, where she studied
with Jan DeGaetani. She was awarded an honorary degree Doctor of Music from the University of
Puget Sound in 2001.
1995, Dr. Herseth has collaborated with Dr. Norman Hogikyan, Director or the
Vocal Health Center of School of Medicine at the University of Michigan.
Together they have produced the video “The Living Voice”, which was
selected by the University and presented at Celebrate
Invention 2001 (Inventor Recognition, University of Michigan). She works as
a singing voice therapist at the Vocal Health Center with Dr. Hogikyan,
otolaryngologist, Marc Haxor, speech therapist, and Professor Leslie Guinn,
singing voice therapist. She is
co-author, with Professor Gregory Wakefield and Maureen Mellody, of “Modal
Distribution Analysis and Synthesis of a Soprano’s Sung Vowels”, Journal of
Voice, Volume 15, Number 4.
Herseth has recorded for CRI, Crystal, Gasparo, MMC, South German
Radio/Television, Hessen Radio (Frankfurt), Bavarian Radio (Munich), ORF
Austrian Radio/Television, RAI Italian Radio, and Northeastern Records.