Here's a pic of Super-Me in case you've only seen me in my mild-mannered guise

Here’s a pic of Super-Me in case you’ve only seen me in my mild-mannered guise

You probably are super-skilled in ways that you don’t even notice, because it’s just how you are. Other people notice these skills and admire you for them, but you might not even know that you have them, or know that these skills are even a thing. Because of this blindness to our own abilities, it’s very likely that other people’s opinion of you far exceeds your appreciation of yourself.

My husband, Peter, a clothing designer, can go into a fabric store jam-packed with literally tens of thousands of fabrics and home in on something that will look fantastic on his latest client. (I on the other hand have trouble choosing a toothpaste if there are more than 3 options.) I am blown away on a regular basis by what he brings home from the fabric store…he thinks of this as “just shopping.”  To me, Peter’s ability to envision and carry out his projects is super-human. He assumes everyone shares his facility in these areas and doesn’t consider himself particularly special for it. But he is special.

And you are special, but to recognize this, you’d have to see yourself through the eyes of your friends.

And I too am special, I realized recently. I have a super-human ability to home in on what is working and not working in my students’ vocal technique. And further, to assist my students in bringing about positive changes in their singing. This week, I became aware of a superpower underlying these skills that allows me to be a super-effective voice teacher. In order to discuss the superpower, we need to give it a name. Let’s call it “vocal empathy.”

Earlier in my teaching, I did not even know that vocal empathy was a thing. It was so close to me, that I didn’t register it, in the way that you didn’t feel your clothing touching your skin until I just brought your attention to it. (You’re welcome.) So now that I’ve identified my superpower, exactly what is it?

Vocal empathy is the way that my body—including my vocal tract—syncs up with the body of a singer I’m listening to. When my students sing for me, I feel sensations that are not my own, including tensions and constrictions in my throat when they sing a note in a tense or constricted manner. This is often quite uncomfortable, and gives me an additional incentive to lead my students to vocal freedom! But I also get to empathetically experience healthy, free singing, which can be exhilarating. I am able to vicariously experience the joy of performing music outside of my range or capabilities.

Amazingly, this vocal empathy seems to work in both directions. Not only can I pick up physical elements of a student’s technique, but I can also somehow affect the action of the various parts of a student’s vocal mechanism via my intention and the balanced coordination of my own vocal mechanism. It works from across the room without my having to do or say anything, although words and touch and visual demonstration can facilitate the communication.

Maybe everyone has some level of vocal empathy. I’ve never heard anyone mention this “talent” before. Do all voice teachers have it? Do all good voice teachers?

If my students could observe themselves from my perspective, they’d see their own superpowers.

  • S., who agonizes about creating a smooth line in her singing, would hear the exquisite lushness of her every phrase.
  • M. would marvel at how easily she incorporates my directions, no matter how complex.
  • Tenor C. would be delighted at how atypically rich the lowest tones of his range are.
  • O. would be amazed along with me how easily and intimately he connects with his audience in any type of song.
  • A. and J. would know that their ability to perceive kinesthetic subtleties in their movements is off the charts.

What are YOUR special superpowers? These may include commonly named talents like a good sense of pitch or a wide vocal range. But they also likely include commodities that are difficult to perceive or describe, like starting a loud, high note gently or having access to quick and silent breaths in the midst of rapidly moving notes or having a natural sense of the opposition between your tailbone and your knees. Come explore with me: I can show you the many ways in which you are a prodigy. That’s another of my teaching superpowers.

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