The Human Voice: My Favourite Wind Instrument

I can still clearly remember the days when, as a college freshman at Berklee in Boston, great young players would come up to me and keenly ask, “Hey, what instrument do you play?” Whenever I answered that I was a singer or a vocalist, I would see their faces fall.

Finally, I started to answer, "I play the VOICE."

Often they would quip back to me, "What d'ya mean you play the Voice?"(That became the name of my first recital, by the way!)

Of course, the answer was always obvious: "It's a wind instrument, rigggghhhht?"

It can give you pause, when you actually stop to think about it. Most people labour under the false belief that a good singer is BORN a good singer. They'll often say, "Hey, you can't really be taught stuff like that."

Little do those people know that most of the vocalists they like did, at least at some point, break down and take lessons. Everybody wants to hear a great tone; but great tone can only be acheived through great breath reception and control. In order to do that correctly, you've got to look at your posture first, and figure out a way to stand in order to increase your oxygen intake to the maximum level.

As a fledgling pro, I was challenged by the whole breath thing. I had been an asthmatic since birth! My mentor/teacher, Brian O'Connell (then the head of the Berklee Voice Dept.) was astoundingly prodigious as teaching breathing. He got me through a lot, and was able to help me open my lungs more.

Still... my physical limitations were so annoying that at one point, I even resorted to getting a lesson from the great saxophonist Joe Allard, at New England Conservatory. It was Joe who taught me to look beyond the obvious physical stuff and into some of the more subtle things... like whether or not I needed to resort to relaxing exercise work (like yoga); or even do some "inner child work" (although they didn't call it that, back then). He somehow got through to me. I conquered my problems; my breath never became a limiter to my tone, again.

So... now I had the wind in my sails, so to speak. My teacher, Brian O'Connell was instrumental in helping me relax my throat more, while helping me develop my diaphragm muscles, through a rather strict daily regimen. For those of you unfamiliar with this stuff; it can be fairly difficult to separate various parts of your body (strong, controlled diaphragm with an extremely relaxed larynx (throat) area.

Fortunately, for me, I didn't give up. I loved music THAT much! In time, my tone continued to open and widen. I learned to control my breaks so that there would be no audible difference between my belted high notes going into a blended belt/head tone. That allowed me to do the Aretha/Chaka stuff, and occasionally pull out the head voice coluratura area, for kicks. More studio work and commercial work (extremely desirable) then opened up for me.

I started to listen more to my wind instrument cousins, like saxophonists. In a bit, it became clear to me that the saxophonists I loved like Brecker and Sandborn, had paved a similar path to the one I had trod myself! They had a wide, beautiful sound, and an extremely developed diaphragm. The saxophonists I didn't care for had a pinched sound and often pitchy; just like the vocalists I didn't care for!

Every once in a while, I remind my friends (vocalists or not) that we all have a great deal in common. A wind instrument is a wind instrument.

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About Cheryl Hodge

Cheryl_Hodge_2_300Cheryl Hodge has been in the music and songwriting business for well over 30 years; recording on several labels; among them Atco Records (Raindogs, 1990), and has released 4 CDs of her own; on her own label: Jazzboulevard.com Records.

She has performed her music for the last 10 years with noted jazz guitarist John Stowell (amongst many others), and they are about to release a CD of co-written originals. She has been private instructor to many; including the gifted Paula Cole. She is also the author of "A Singer's Guide to the Well-Trained and Powerful Voice", and is a published vocal arranger.

Cheryl is currently the head of the vocal dept. at Nelson, BC's: Selkirk College Music Program. There, she teaches Songwriting and Advanced Songwriting, Business of Music, Arranging and Vocals.

She continues to write and produce her original materials, and has just released "Cheryl Hodge: Original Article" - a compilation of her favourites.

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