PAS-Conference October 3-5, 2002
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The Biographical Touch

The Voice Teacher as Voice Therapist: Imagination and Artistry in the Clinic?

Freda Herseth


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.

Mezzo-soprano

Heralded 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.  

She 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.  

Freda 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 Baylor University.

Born 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.

Since 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. 

Freda 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.

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(November 2002, photographs of the conference added)