Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 00:00
Hi it’s Marisa Lee here, and I’m so excited to be sharing today’s interview round episode with you. In these episodes, our brilliant lineup of guests will include healthcare practitioners, voice educators, and other professionals who will share their stories, knowledge and experiences within their specialized fields to empower you to live your best life. Whether you’re a member of the voice, community, or beyond your voice is your unique gift. It’s time now to share your gift with others develop a positive mindset and become the best and most authentic version of yourself to create greater impact. Ultimately, you can take charge, it’s time for you to live your best life. It’s time now for a voice and beyond. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 01:16
This week, on a voice and beyond, we share part two of my two part interview with Lyndia Johnson, who celebrated abilities as a vocal coach and in artists development are highly respected in the music industry. Lyndia, who was well known in the industry, as MzLyndia has built a relationship with the Recording Academy, which has become a long-recognized and well-respected collaboration. Miss Linda also serves on the Board of Governors for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and is a vocal consultant and clinician, the Music Cares and the Grammys. MzLyndia holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in voice and in 2018, she was invited to serve as an associate professor of practice in pop voice at the University of Southern California. Proudly, she was the first African-American professor of voice engaged by the Thornton School of Music. Her artists can be heard all around the world in pop, K-pop, r&b, gospel and music theater. And in this episode, MzLyndia delves deeper into her work preparing world-acclaimed music artists, not only for the recording studio, but we also have the privilege of her sharing the strategies she uses for assisting and supporting these artists when they are confronted with vocal issues in the midst of a major tour. MzLyndia explores the idea that as singers, we are vocal athletes and all athletes sustained injuries at some point. Therefore, it is time to stop shaming and begin creating improved support systems for our singers. MzLyndia is an avid vocal scientist, and she explains how this knowledge guides and informs her contemporary musical instructional style. She tells us that in a live concert situation, much of the vocal acoustic setup is configured in technology and can be dealt with by an audio engineer with the push of a button. Furthermore, she emphasizes the importance of having an understanding of the performance and venue demands of our working students to ensure that what we are teaching pedagogically is relevant on stage in a live situation. There is so much more to unpack in this episode, as MzLyndia shares her knowledge, philosophies and lived experiences. This is one of the most fascinating interviews with MzLyndia, one of the music industry’s most acclaimed vocal coaches. Remember, this is part two of a two-part interview, and Part one was last week’s episode number 138. So without further ado, let’s Let’s go to today’s episode.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 05:12
So therefore, you would have to be, like, go into that lesson not put any limitations to begin with and what that voice is capable of doing, figure it out. And you must also have to be so careful of the language that you’re using with these people. Because you’re dealing with egos at a different level to what we’re used to. So if someone comes in, and they already have a preconceived idea of what they think they can do, what their limitations are, or what they want to sound like. And, you know, that is totally unsustainable. From all your knowledge, and even backing that up with all your voice science information. How do you work with that person?
I’m actually dealing with that now. Oh, well, I wish that I this is a major artist I’m dealing with and I wish to I don’t want to reveal the artist because it’s a sensitive situation. I’m dealing with that now, though. It’s a major artist. She came to me maybe about a month ago and said, MzLyndia, I’m on tour. And this is what’s going on. And we did a zoom session. And it didn’t take long for me to hear now. This is a voice that has already has a career. The world already knows the sound. So there’s already millions of dollars in here. You cannot mess with that. Yes. That’s the first thing. Yes. But at the same time, they are singing in a way that is clearly not sustainable. So I am in this position, how this is a million dollar throat I’ve got right now in front of me the world knows the sound. Yes. But the world knows have found that is that has been rooted in dysfunction. Yes. And so we embraced and love a sound, but it was produced in a dysfunctional way. So how do I preserve the career, but get the sound functional, so that the instrument remains healthy? And because they are dealing with the pathology? And wearing gouges has already confirmed that? Oh, so the way they produced this multimillion-dollar sound caused the pathology that makes sense
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 07:47
100% Because music labels, they probably don’t care about that.
No, they don’t. That’s not. But let me just be let me just say this in defense of the labels. That’s not their job. No. It would be the equivalent of you buying shampoo and asking the shampoo company to wash your hair for you.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 08:09
I love that. Thank you. That’s a good analogy, or
Oh, it is your instrument, you’re supposed to take care of it. That’s not the labels job to take care of it. Their job is to sell the product, they sell the shampoo to the public, sell the voice to the public, but they’re not responsible for washing your hair, you’re responsible for taking care of it.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 08:33
So how are you working with this person?
The first session? She is She She? And because I’ve seen this many times she is angry. And she and of course
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 08:46
who is she angry at? She She’s
first angry that this happened to her. So she she’s angry that this is happening in the middle of a tour. Right? The second thing is she she got angry at me because I had to tell her the truth. Oh, but I didn’t take that personally because I knew where it was coming from. Yeah, so I let her have her rant. Yes. And I said to her when you’re done. We can talk. Oh, but I’m gonna let you have this because I understand where it’s coming from love that. And I know it’s not person. I can’t take that personally. And she was like, well, you’re supposed to be good at what you’re doing. You know, you’re telling me that I need to do this. I’m in the middle of a tour. Don’t you understand this? I said we’re gonna you’re going to finish your tour. Don’t worry about that. I will make sure you finish your tour. But when the tour is done, you have got to come to the studio. And we’re going to have to show you how all of the sounds that made your career can be produced in a manner that will not compromise the health of the instrument. You are not understanding how to play this instrument. It is It has a tremendous capacity for unorthodox sounds. Otherwise children wouldn’t be screaming on the playground. Yes, it has the capacity, you’re just not understanding and you’re not singing within your threshold you’re going past, you’re pushing past your comfort zones, you’re pushing past dynamic thresholds, which you don’t have to in popular music, because you have what, six to seven microphones?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 10:30
I was gonna say amplification,
why are you pushing past your threshold for Dynamics?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 10:38
You know, I can answer that for the audience. Because she feels that’s what the audience wants. Bigger is better. And you know, what you can only blame to a lot of the TV shows like the voice for that kind of mindset that’s been created with new artists, especially that it has to be big, big is what sells all these vocal acrobatics. They feel that they have to be pushing, pushing, pushing.
And she said, I’ve heard many of your artists and she said and I don’t hear them struggling. I said because they they know their thresholds. But it still sounds powerful. And I said because they understand. And I said and I also had to explain to her that, you know, there are all levels of vocal athleticism. Yes, some larynxes are more athletic than other larynxes. And, and I said that doesn’t make them better. It just means that we all have different thresholds of athleticism. Yes, every athlete will tell you Everyone cannot be LeBron James, on the basketball court. But you can still play basketball but maybe not at his level. So everyone’s athleticism here that doesn’t make you not a great singer. It just means you have to know where you’re athletic ranges and work there. And then ask your audio engineer to support you in the dynamics that the audience wants to get from you. And then be very highly performative. Yes, yes. In your stage delivery,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 12:23
can I tell you, whenever I was struggling vocally at a gig where I was tired, I tell you what my performances were the best ever. And I got the biggest round of applause. And I was singing nowhere near to where I could sing. But I tell you, I had every arm and every leg and every booty shaking our head adds every possible body was moving.
The audience is not aware of how how intensely you’re going in on the muscle. They don’t know that. And if you’re standing there, you’re highly performative. They’ll think that you’re in the interesting thing about this is artists do this in their music videos, when they’re not singing. They’re not singing in their music videos. But yet when you see them in the music video, you see the performance happen. You see them doing in the music videos, yes. So they have the capacity to be performative and not sing in the music videos, I’m asking you to do the same thing on stage and stay within your athletic range. Now this young artist, who I’m speaking of, I’m going to have to tweak a lot of things in her audio on her tour. There’s going to be a lot of you know, work with her audio engineer to ensure that her audio her amplification is is really through the roof so to her efforting is low. I’m also going to have to change some keys to some songs.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 14:06
I thought that all did that. That was just a
given. No, no, they all don’t do that. Okay. A lot of that’s just pride though.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 14:16
Yeah, so I was going to Well, I was going to use the word ego but pride
you know, pride Yeah, let’s
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 14:22
let’s be kind here.
Yes. And then if if they do insist on keeping certain songs in original key then I will take the bulk of the vocal, heavy lifting, if you will, and give it into the background singers? Yes. You have the background. Yeah, I’ll give leads to background singers while the front singer the you know, the major artists is singing, but the background singer is doing predominantly most of the heavy lifting in the vocals. The audience never knows any of that.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 14:53
No, but I watched the footage of Beyonce at the Super Bowl. I Don’t remember when when it actually was live, but I remember seeing it on YouTube just very recently. And Beyonce didn’t do as much singing as what I thought she was doing because the background singer sounded like Beyonce
in the in the she had some tracks playing as well. There was some jet playing, so she was overseeing some of the on some of the tracks. background singers do a lot of that heavy lifting. And Beyonce is a very she has a very athletic, physical athletic show.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 15:36
Oh, she’s amazing. Yeah, visually, like, it’s a whole production.
It really is.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 15:42
So you have to understand that her her fans are always not always coming to hear the vocals know as much as they are for the experience of all this she is
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 15:55
but they wouldn’t know that they’re not receiving the whole vocal experience. Right? They
don’t and they don’t care. They don’t care, but
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 16:01
they wouldn’t even know. And I didn’t know till I actually watched it on YouTube.
Exactly. Exactly. Beyonce is brand is not like, say someone like Celine Dion, Celine Dion fans come to just hear the voice. Yes, that that’s it, they just wants to leave to stand there in the beautiful gown and slay that’s the Celine experience. So those vocals have to be really always showing up at a different kind of level. And even though Beyonce is a wonderful singer, her vocals don’t always have to show up. In the context of everything else that Beyonce is engaged in on that stage, some of that can be handed off to background vocals, and the audience. Yeah, or the audience or so she can do all the other things that people want to see her do on the stage.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 16:59
So when these artists go on tour, do they come to you pre-tour, yeah, to a preparation? Or do they wait till they’re in trouble like this singer, before that come to you? Yeah,
I get both. I’m in pre-tour prep now. It’s called voc pre-tour prep, vocal prep. And then, and then they come to me when they’re in trouble. Again, it’s not the label. It’s not management. It’s not anyone’s responsibility. It’s the artists responsibility to their own instrument. And this is what I always say to artists. If a guitarist had a broken guitar, he would not go on tour until he got the guitar fixed. Any instrumentalists understands that their instrument needs to be in top condition before they expect to be on tour with that instrument. Singers are really kind of unique and thinking that this will just show up because they will want it to. And that is because the human voice is a biological instrument. And we will ourselves into the biology of singing as opposed to an external instrument that can be replaced. If it breaks. Yes. So a lot of times singers think if I just sing hard enough, if I just love hard enough, it’ll happen. Pushing through. Yeah, if I push hard enough, it’ll happen because I know my body. I know how much until it doesn’t happen. And that’s when my phone rings as it did recently with this young lady. And there’s nothing that can be done. She can’t stop the tours. So what’s going to have to happen is I’m going to have to meet her and one of her legs of her tour in Atlanta, actually speak to her musical director speak to her audio, sound engineer and definitely rehearse with her background vocalist, changed some keys to some songs and get her in a place where she doesn’t have her output is is her efforting is reduced. She can get to the end of October, which is when the tour is over. Then she come back and then I can get into a regular and you know, no vocal coach. We sign up to Habilitative the voice not rehabilitation. Sure, exactly. But rehabilitation is part of it. And as much as I don’t like it because it also is a psychological thing with the singer as well. Vocal rehabil, rehabilitation is also part of what we do.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 19:54
Yes. Have you ever had to pull a singer off a tour? Has it ever been so are bad that you’ve just gone? No,
I’ve made that suggestion, but it’s never been taken. No, I don’t have I don’t wield that kind of power to take an artist off tour, I will make the suggestion to the powers that be, but they’ve never listened.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 20:18
So you’ve had, you’ve had to do that in the past,
I would suggest they shouldn’t finish this tour, or they shouldn’t do this. Or they shouldn’t do that, to the management or to agents or to whomever the artists will kind of listen to. And I will always get absolutely not that can’t happen. We got to figure out something else. Because of the money. Of course,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 20:41
of course. So this singer that you’re working with, obviously, like there’s a pathology there that you’ve already said that she has polyps, or a polyp. And you have said that it’s because of the way that she is phonating. But when a singer is on tour, how much of it is the singing? And how much of it can it be lifestyle, that it’s being on flights, being in air conditioning, eating bad foods, not getting enough sleep, being expected to do all this press, they’ve finished a show they have to talk to media, wake up in the morning and do the morning show? How much of it is that aspect and how much of it is the actual the stage segment
with that varies from singer to singer with her, it is 100% The voice and how she’s producing certain sounds with another singer, it is it could very well be everything that you said, the lifestyle, the speaking demands, the promotional touring as well, not just the singing tour, but the promotions or the morning shows and things of that nature, who’s surrounding them that might have faulty smoking habits. And they could be around people who are smoking keeping late nights, not really, you know, vocally dehydrated, not getting in enough steam or enough, you know, hydration. So it’s a case by case basis I’ve seen at all this particular artists because I know her I know it’s a vocal thing. But another artists, it could very well be everything that you mentioned. Hmm.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 22:29
I think the hardest thing I would imagine for this artist is to pull back that efforting because so many singers feel that unless there is effort, there’s it’s not singing, if they feel that there’s no effort, there can’t be singing, because effort and singing seem to go hand in hand for them. So it’s kind of recalibrating the brain to isn’t it?
It is and I can’t control that only thing I do is give the help give the advice and pray that they take it and pray that they lean on the other support systems they have in audio and background singers, and even playing the track if necessary, and hope that they preserve the instruments, so but by the time they get to me, we can do some rehabilitative work, and work collaboratively with the auto laryngologist and speech therapists and everyone else. But yeah, you can only give the information and hope that they take it. And that’s all I can do. And I And I’ve done everything but cajole and convince and pray and say please, please, please, yes. But ultimately, when I’m when I walk away, it really is on them at that point. And you just hope that they take it and I also try to give them this language. It is not a reflection or a failure. If you rely on these other support systems. It just reflects the fact that you are an athlete and all athletes get injured at some point. Exactly. That’s all it’s innocent. It’s a reflection of and if an athlete is injured, we don’t shame them. We don’t shame them. No. And so I try to make sure that those are my parting words with any artist who calls me in this situation, to let them know this is not anything you need to feel embarrassed or ashamed about. And it’s not a reflection of your talent, and is not a reflection of your authenticity as an artist. It is a reflection of the fact that you have a very demanding career and that the responsibilities that you have here are not the average responsibility for your average person and that you are an athlete and you’ve gotten injured and that’s just what happened.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 24:57
So why why is this so much At shaming in our singing voice community, I don’t know if you belong to any of the social media forums that the singing teachers are a part of. But let’s just use the example of Adele. And she’s not the only one. There’s been so many artists who have had vocal pathologies over the years and had to stopped their touring. But let’s just use Adele, because I think because she has the big voice. And everyone’s you know, especially the classical voice community, man, did they pipe up? And shame and blame and ridicule? And put all CCM singers into that one category that we are playing with fire? I mean, shouldn’t we be supporting singers and not shaming them? And they don’t understand what it’s like, because a classical singer gets up and does one or two songs. We have to work for hours on end in the CCM world, really do and sing and dance and move and do all the acrobatics and like,
and write the songs and write the songs often you’re writing your material.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 26:17
So what why is our industry shaming? What is it the classical voice?
I think artists have a very difficult time admitting to the world that they are struggling vocally. And I think Adele deserves so much credit for just being transparent about her vocal problems and her and her pathology and her injury. And I applaud her for her transparency. And for her honesty, I think she liberated a lot of singers. After she admitted it. I noticed several others started coming forth like say,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 26:52
I was going to say Sam Smith, and even Bruno Mars was here in Australia. And he said, he can’t sustain the work that he that how he sings in the recording studio. He cannot sustain in a live situation. Yeah. And that he was struggling vocally.
Yeah. And I think Adele, liberated, so many singers by being honest, that used to be such just the shame that you just hide and just don’t tell people you having vocal problems. Just don’t say anything. And Adele, I think, you know, she deserves credit for just liberating singers to say, look, I’m an athlete, I got injured. There it is, I’m getting healed. And I’ll come back and continue to play this game, or do this work. And so I think that, you know, you’re right. And but again, as a as an opera singer, as a former opera singer, yes, I can tell you that opera is about an elite art form that was built and established on separatism. Let’s just talk historically about opera. 16 15/16 century Italy, at the time, opera, it was about aristocracy, access to music and music, education, the salons happening in aristocracy in the homes and composers having patrons like Hyden and the ester houses and Mozart having patronages and the wealthy being able to afford all of this elite sounding music, that if you had aristocracy in education and could afford formal music, education, and Msure you invite Mozart to your living room. To to to play his latest, you know, concerto or, or Fugue, or whatever it is. But what about the maids and the butler’s and the footman who were sitting in service to aristocracy, what were they listening to? Well, they were going to the local pubs, and they were listening to what we now know is folk music. What we now understand to be folk music, yes. Of the folk music of the people. It wasn’t difficult to sing, very limited in the range, accessible lyrics, lyrics that were in languages that people spoke in a vernacular that everyone understood. And, you know, it showed up in traveling, you know, shows like traveling caravans like the troubadours into veirs and so we get all of this accessibility to music. And while the maids and butlers were in local pubs listening to that. The people they work for the aristocracy. Were in the castles listening to Hyden unveiled the next symphony. Yes, though it was rooted in separatism. Yes, now fast forward, three 400 years later, Belcanto hasn’t changed. Opera is still very much an elite art form for a very specific audience. It is still highly inaccessible, and languages, and the ability for your average person to feel like they can participate. And even the culture and how you can show up at an opera. You can’t show up culturally in an opera the way you can add a Beyonce concert. You cannot participate in an opera the way you can add a Beyonce concert. And so there is still this built in inaccessibility. Now the art form in and of itself is still highly beautiful. But it does require a cultivation of the throat. That does not resonate in just regular human beings who speak a certain way or who navigate sound a certain way. And so, when Belcanto trained coaches hear a throat like Adele’s, the first thing that they’re going to filter that sound through is an operatic aesthetic that is wholly unfair. Just like it’s unfair for a pop singer, yes, CCM teacher to filter an opera sound through a ccm aesthetic. Unless you’re someone like me, who kind of fits in both worlds,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 31:57
which is very unusual. Yeah, that’s very unusual. Do you think then, teachers should stick to their lanes? If they don’t understand a style? Or have empathy for a style or don’t immerse themselves in a particular style? They shouldn’t teach it?
I do? I do. I don’t think that you have any business, teaching Belcanto to someone who wants to sing country music. Or if you’re if your only pedagogical knowledge is a Belcanto pedagogy. You have no business teaching a Garth Brooks style singer or, or Taylor Swift style singer. None at all. Because as much as people like to say, if you sing opera, you can sing anything. I just told you my story, gospel music informed the opera for me. Mm hmm.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 32:54
Yes. So therefore, in terms of higher education, I know that you’re at the University of Southern California, and you’re working with the popular music students says singer songwriters. And I have I’m actually in a place of privilege to where I do the same thing here in Australia. But we’re very rare. Our breed is rare. What do you think about the status quo of higher education in terms of popular music, education,
our universities are very rare yours and mine. And our universities are rare for a couple of reasons. One, many universities still here, especially some of our elite, American conservatories are still ensconced in a Belcanto, primarily a Belcanto, curriculum based curriculum for singers who want to come in and get a degree in voice or voice performance. So they go into a studio with a thickening teacher whose background is only Belcanto. And the curriculum is designed to support that teacher. So curriculums need to be rewritten. That will allow because if the curriculum is written, for students who come in and say, I want to study opera, then there needs to also be a separate curriculum written for students who come in and says, I want to study popular contemporary vocals. Right now, many schools, American schools, especially some of our renowned schools, are trying to implement a curriculum that was written for Belcanto training into a popular music kind and that doesn’t work and the unique thing about you USC’s popular music program and yours. It specifically is designed, written to reflect how artists are showing up in the contemporary music industry. Yes, yes. And again, I’m in a very privileged position because I my whole studio, my marching orders from my chair and my dean is, you need to unpack this in a way that shows up and how it shows up in what you do outside of USC, we need to make sure our students graduate and can enter into the music industry.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 35:38
But isn’t that what it’s meant to be about? Imagine going and studying law, knowing that you’re never going to get a job in a law office?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 35:47
Yeah. I mean, if you look at the statistics,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 35:54
popular music styles represent 99% of total music consumption, classical music is 1%. Now you flip that around. And you can say that, well, it’s not 99%. But I worked out the statistics, it was like something like 92%, of higher education is classical music. And only 8% is popular music. That’s unethical. To me, it’s like taking hundreds of 1000s of dollars from people, and they’re never going to get a job in that. So one, it’s unethical. And you’re right. That I think, in order for popular music, education, to be successful, you need to have people working in the program that not only have the education to teach it, but have also walked the walk. They’ve been on the march they’ve done they’ve, they’ve had a career. And that’s one thing in my program, all the teachers no matter what instrument they teach, and even the people teach in production, even my boss, we’ve all been in the industry for decades. And our job is to make people employable. My students are already releasing new music, they’re writing, recording, performing new music, as are yours, but you’re at a different level with all the people in your private studio. But just in that universities, situation, which is what I’m talking about.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 37:40
I think that’s universities need to listen to the demands, and the needs of the students themselves, and then call in people from the music industry, as well.
That’s how I got to USC. I was recruited from the music industry. But that’s how every one of my colleagues at USC, in the popular music program or division of contemporary music got there by being recruited by the founder of the program, my good friend, Chris Sampson, who was a visionary 15 years ago, when I met him, and this was just an idea that he had for the University of Southern California. And now the idea has basically because the popular music program at USC is so lucrative. It it actually funds a lot of the other programs. Yes, it you know, and the truth of the matter is my colleagues I enjoy it and I’m sure you can say the same I mean, in my chair is the wonderful legendary Patrice Rushen of pop r&b fame, forget me nots, you know, Cindy,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 38:56
me. You know, and just a wonderful visionary and chair of the program. I have, you know, I’ve worked with with Mike Garcia and Andy Abad and Doug petty, and, you know, and and so many legends, and then in our popular music industry, you know, we work with music promoters, legendary music promoters, who have who promoted careers, tours, like Michael Jackson’s tour, oh my gosh, wow. And then Paul Jackson, you know, Jr, who’s a good friend of mine. And, I mean, the list goes on and on. And it’s, and we all got there and none of us I think maybe one or two of us have doctorate degrees. We all got the doctorate from what we did. Yeah. You know, USC is good at that. They’re good at pulling out of the world into their university and saying and then, you know, saying we’ve got so and so here, you know, that kind of The thing it was, it really was something I wrestled with, because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go into academia, because I wasn’t sure because, you know, I was educated in academia. And I didn’t want, I didn’t want to go into an environment where my teaching would be put into a curriculum, because I understood that in the real world, what I do wouldn’t fit into a curriculum, there has to be moments where you break the rules, there have to be moments where you might take a mediocre voice, and just give it the best it’s got, because you see that the person is going to be a bigger brand ambassador of something. And, and so you know, I struggled with that. And then my good friend, Chris Sampson just reached out and said, You know, it’s, it’s time for you to share now, all this knowledge, and in this community, and I’m also fortunate to say that I was the only I was the first African American vocal coach, USC, hired incredible in Thornton’s history.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 41:04
Well, congratulations. I was
I was shocked to, to know that there had not been a black coach, either in the opera department, jazz, or popular voice departments, at USC. Now, fortunately, since I’ve been there, we have, you know, a few more. But I was the lone wolf and I couldn’t believe it. Now, there were many reasons why I was told of that. But, you know, but for the first three years of my three or four years at USC, I was the only only vocal coach, they had a color. Now, that doesn’t negate the fact that the other coaches were giving solid, popular Fifi and pedagogy. They were, but there were students of color who wanted someone modeled in front of them.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 41:56
Yes, yes. 100%.
And, and many of the students of color like myself, voices came out of the black church. And they didn’t have that, modeled in front of the wonderful CCM singers or CCM instructors, who were very candid with me, they said, You know, I know how to sing pop music, but I didn’t learn this in the black church. I’m not, you know, I’m a white Jewish man, or I’m, you know, whatever. Yes, you know. And so, when I came, the students of color, the bipoc, students were like, Oh, my God, finally, someone who sees where I came from, and how this is really showing up in my throat, and how this isn’t, you know, and, and I think that that was also huge for the program and for for Thornton. And I’m so happy now that the classical division in Thornton has now hired, you know, a male teacher of color, and a female teacher of color. So, there’s three of us now. Yes, yeah. And but I know and when I got there, I know that the mom and I think we shouldn’t overlook how important it is for CCM teachers to also understand that, you know, you have to model a certain culture in front of your students. And if you have a lot of students of color, even some CCM teachers, and I won’t name names, but I’ve heard when students of color come out of gospel music, even in CCM, they kind of, you know, kind of
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 43:47
IK, okay, then they’re not, there’s no empathy or understanding for their roots.
There’s nothing I’d say to them. What are you think Aretha Franklin? Yeah. Where do you Whitney learn to sing Aretha Franklin’s father was a minister, she got her voice in the church. Yes. I mean, this is this is the foundation, you have to understand that the religious component of it is part of it. But we get the sounds out of giving reverence to our religious experience. But that in turn recruits a level of fearlessness, and our commitment to express and extol our religious fervor and comes out of that. And that’s why we’re not really harnessed or put in the box because it’s being expressed out of an outpouring of a religious experience. That’s why you can’t put it in a pedagogical box. Yes,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 44:52
I’m just going to and you can stop me if you wish here. I’m going to put something out there. it because this is raising something in my mind when we met in Philadelphia and through our dear friend, Dr. Trunice Robinson, Martin, she introduced us. But I had seen you at this voice conference, you were sitting in the row that I was sitting in at a particular particular presentation. And I could see you’re not happy with some of the information that was being shared in this presentation. And it was about acoustics and Voice Science. And earlier, you talked about how much that informed what you do. But when we spoke about that particular incident, because I wasn’t happy about what was being said, either. And that’s why I gravitated to you. Because I was thinking, I love this person, because her and I are thinking the same thing. I don’t know her, but I know what she’s thinking. And I want to say, I’m with you here. And it would. So this idea of how acoustics informed what you do in Voice Science informed what what you do. My argument about acoustics is you can’t pigeonhole every body and what is going on in the spectrogram? Or whatever your device you’re using to gauge what is going on with the voice acoustically? How does that fit in culturally? Because how you’re going to say to Beyonce, you know what this is showing that that Foreman is not? How can you say everyone needs to have this going on in their voices?
I was what you saw, the reaction you saw out of me was twofold. And I remember the lecture that you’re referring to. One, the immediate reaction I had was this person has never been outside of their studio. They they just been in their studio, implementing all of this in the students who probably don’t even understand it.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 47:33
I don’t understand it. Yes,
that’s the first thing. And that’s my biggest problem with a lot of CCM teachers, you need to come out of the studio go into these concerts go in backstage and I heart musical words go in and see what is really happening. So that’s the first thing that gave me frustrated and say, Okay, you have never been outside of your studio. The other thing is Yes, I know a lot of Voice Science. And like you said, I’m very careful of how I utilize it, which is why I tell you, it informs my teaching, but I never burden my singers with that information, as I’ve used it for myself to help me guide them. I call
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 48:17
that weaponizing when you use information in that way. Yeah, weaponizing knowledge.
Yeah. And it is for some teachers, it’s just their way to show off what they know.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 48:30
100% You know,
I just want to be impressive and show you what I know about all this voice science stuff. Okay,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 48:35
what do you do exactly what you do? Yeah,
I mean, that’s nice and all, but this person in front of you doesn’t care, and they don’t even understand it. So just use it as knowledge for yourself to help get them to a place. And sometimes you may need that voice science knowledge to help get them to a place and sometimes not, but it’s also on how you articulate it. It has to be digestible. It has to be done in a language. That makes sense. And this is the other thing you saw in me. In a concert situation, a lot of that acoustics is handled through the audio engineer. It’s not even necessary. And I’m sitting there thinking this is a moot point. Because the audio engineer will handle all of this. Yeah, him or herself in the audio booth. They will configure the microphones. They will configure the monitors. They will even add the formant digitally. This is all moot. And that’s why I’m sitting there thinking okay, you have not been at a concert. This is already configured in technology. The singer has microphones that have built in compressors and built in this There are 5, 10, $15,000 microphones that are many chips in there that take care of all this for them. Yes. Now it’s nice to be able to tell them about the format’s and stuff, particularly if the singer really wants to know that I do have headset, yeah, clients that say you Oh, that’s interesting, I want to know more, and that’s fine. But again, if they’re on tour, and they’re struggling, they don’t want to hear any of that. They could care less. And so you go to the audio engineer, and you say, how can we configure the microphone so that they are working less? What can we do to amplify them so that they’re not working as hard? How, and then I go to the background singers, listen, I need you to double these vocals, I need you to stack these harmonies, I need you to do everything that they’re paying you a lot of money to do, actually, I’m going to reconfigure the background vocals. So a lot of that acoustic stuff. Yes, it’s nice information. But if they really were outside of their studio, and talk to a really knowledgeable audio engineer, the audio engineer will tell them well, you know, I can do that by pushing this button. And it’s done. That’s nice that the human voice can do that. But I can push the button. And when they’ve sang in the mic, it’ll sound like that’s happening. Now that may sound like it’s cheating, or whatever it is. But you said it’s so beautifully. We’re talking about not like 80% of the population is listening to this music where the 1% or 5% is listening to. So opera is more of the organic acoustical framework, but you only got 5% of the world. Whereas Beyonce is more, let the audio engineer do this. And we got 80% or 90% of the world. So humanity, human beings from America to Korea, I mean, let’s just pause here, you’ve got a whole Kpop kind of thing happening to
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 52:21
and and J pop, J Fernando pop and canto pop up, and then
all of Europe and all of Europe, all inspired by music that’s rooted in African American culture
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 52:39
100% All of it, yes, inspired.
The very music, that even some CCM teachers still frowned upon, because it’s rooted in a religious kind of experience that’s not governed by intonation are not governed. And that’s another thing. People often say, Well, a lot of times in gospel music, you know, it’s particularly in church is bad intonation is this. I said, let me just be clear. The fact that it’s sometimes off pitch is part of the experience. So let’s not put it in. Oh, the intonation is, it could be, but the intonation is off because of the expression of the religious experience.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 53:31
It’s, well, I would use the word emotion to a student, I would say emotion, right? When you’re emotional. People forgive those imperfections. If you’re being honest and authentic. And you’re truly expressing what it is you’re needing to express and you’re telling your story in your own voice. Audiences will forgive those imperfections. Absolutely. They
actually celebrate them. Yes. Yeah, oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh. Yeah. I mean, come on. Audiences celebrate that, because that resonates somewhere that is not governed by Oh, the intonation is not. And trust me, I know how to sing in tune. But I also understand how to allow my voice to just feel Yes. And whatever comes out is what comes out.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 54:39
Yes. Yes. In the moment, on that on that day, because what might happen in an hour’s time could be completely different. To be completely different. Yeah. And if we’re being honest and true, it will be different. It will
be Yeah. Yeah. And Dr. Tunis writes about this. So beautifully In her book, so you want to be a gospel singer, where she writes, In the when gospel music is being sung in the context of the black church. Don’t assume that just because the pitches aren’t accurate, that they don’t know what they’re doing. That’s something that inaccuracy is part of the experience.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 55:24
beautifully put, yeah.
And sometimes in a ccm studio, when they hear the pitch inaccuracies, among students who are groomed in that, that black church experience, they assume they start kind of tilting in the classical world. Well, that’s the wrong picture. Well, it is. But does it inform the lyric? If the Lyric is cry? And they’re doing Oh, yeah. What’s wrong with that?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 55:58
That’s what I love about CCM, about this music, which has come from African American music is the all all those vocal effects, that gives you that space to share an emotion in the way that you truly want to and is an allows for vulnerability. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, perfection is boring. I don’t want to hear perfection, I want to hear the real. You I want to heal. Hear what you have to say in your own words, in your own voice. And it’s okay to sob and to cry. And to be breathy. Don’t stay in any of those per night. But use them as you need. And as you would wish to tell your story. And it’s fine. I know you’ve had this big career, you’ve worked with the Grammys, you’ve worked with music labels, record companies, in academia. With these artists, have you ever been silenced in any of the work? Or felt that you didn’t have a voice yourself? Other than that one experience? In your classical training? Have you ever felt that you couldn’t speak up and share what you’ve just shared?
Early in my coaching career? Yes. But I’ve been around now long enough that a lot of people know me. So, um, so I feel more confident now. But early in the career when I first started in my little small studio in Chicago, yeah, I really, really felt that but you know, 20 some odd years later, you know, most people know she just yeah, that those those insecurities have gone away. But it went away because time and just years. But yeah, early on, I did feel like you know, I don’t have a voice. And so I’m not quite even sure how to defend or advocate for the singers. And I’m in that in but time took care of that. And just mean plot just really sticking to it. And one singer at a time, one producer at a time, one agent at a time when manager at a time, one label at a time, to the point where I have friends now who are label executives, who now will just call me and say what do you think?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 58:36
That’s amazing. But that
took a years?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 58:40
Well, you’ve paid your dues. Yeah, you’ve paid your dues? How can we as a voice community, we’re starting to wind up now because we’ve spoken for so long way going to split this up into two episodes? How can we as a voice community, better support our singers? Do you feel the CCM
Community First of all, if you’re dealing with singers that are already performing, make sure that you show up a few shows just to check things out. See the venue that they’re singing in a lot of beginning artists in this in popular music thing. bars or Yes, you’d like mine, you know? Yeah, it doesn’t have to be a great venue. But you do want to go and see what the audio setup is. What if they’re singing with a band? What you know, what are the volumetric levels that the band is playing it? Oh, that
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 59:42
does my head in guitarist need to learn they’re not the lead instrument in the band. Exactly.
Exactly. And the coaches won’t know how to support them unless they actually go out and see, okay, your guitarist isn’t doing this right. And so when you come back to this Studio, let’s work in a way so that you know and that kind of thing they need to. That’s the first thing you need to show up. And as much as that may be a difficult thing to do. I’m not saying go to every show, but I’m saying go to a few shows so that you can see what they’re up against. That way that will help you train them when it comes to the studio. Okay, I went to your show, and I saw your percussionist was just banging away, and you were just hollering and screaming past your athletic levels. So let’s work in this way or that way. And you know, because even as a ccm teacher, you could be teaching them things that doesn’t isn’t applicable to how it shows up in their live shows. Yes. And that’s important. You got to see, you know, no, and there’s all kinds of CCM singers, this CCM singers, who are just singer songwriters, it’s just them in their acoustic guitar.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:00:55
Yeah, those little end, I call them the little indie singers, little indie singers.
Yeah. And you need to see, okay, I saw what you’re doing. And now that’s going to help me when you come back to the studio. So that’s the first thing I will encourage, please try to get to your students’ shows one or two. You know what, and I know that that’s asking a lot, especially if you have a large studio, but it does help you help them when you know what’s happening when they’re not in the studio, because you could be teaching them something pedagogically that’s not relevant to how it shows up away from the studio. Yes. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is you need to immerse yourself in their aesthetic, their style, if it’s Country Music, start listening to some country music if it’s rock, rock, if it’s Neil, So Neil, so if it’s gospel side, listen to get a little familiarity with the genres that you’re teaching. Again, it doesn’t have to be your favorite genre. But you do need to hear it being done so that you will get to know culturally, what’s happening with country music. Listen to Garth, listen to Keith Urban, listen to your country artists, so that they so that you can say okay, I’m getting a sense of what’s happening here and why and now that helps inform how I need to teach.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:02:16
And the final thing I would say is, you might have to get personal and tiptoe into the lifestyle. You know, what are you doing at home? Do you smoke? Are you a recreational marijuana smoker? Do you smoke medicinal marijuana. You know, I’m a firm believer and not telling adults what to do. But I also need to give them an alternative. Okay, if you’re going to smoke marijuana, after you smoke, you need to also make sure because it’s very drying, make sure you do this and this and reconstitute the voice, get it rehydrated. Again, make sure that you take care of yourself, I’m a proponent, if you’re an adult, and you’re going to smoke marijuana, you’re gonna just smoke marijuana. Yeah, that’s just what you’re going to do. I can tell you how it’s going to affect your voice and hope, again, you heed my advice. But once you leave my studio, I can’t control that.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:03:14
And so all I can do is tell you what the effects will be. And pray that you heed my advice or tell you if you’re going to smoke, then make sure you take care of your voice this way afterwards. If they’re doing more hardcore drugs, then I encourage them to probably seek, especially if I noticed it is they’re using it to help them with performance anxiety, which is often thinkers will use hardcore drugs to help with performance anxiety, then I will give them alternatives. And I’ve done that with one artist who use drugs because he had terrible performance anxiety, what kind of drug he was actually using cocaine, okay? He was snorting it. And he only did it because he it relaxed him on stage. And you know, and so, and again, I gave him some alternatives and said, You know what, in order for me to help you let me show up at one of your shows and see what’s going on. So I went backstage, and sure enough, he was about to do some cocaine. And I said, You know what, let’s figure out if something else works. So what I did was I gave him some alternatives. I said, let’s do some meditative work. I said, Do you like yoga? And I said, I’m not a yoga person. But do you know any yoga, he didn’t know any yoga? I said, Let’s meditate. I said, let’s talk. Let’s talk you down off this ledge and see if that helps. And I and then I put in, I put on some soothing music, and I said, you know, he said, wow, that’s really relaxing music. And after a while, we began to come up with other things and now he has a massage therapist who comes in and gives him a full body massage before he listens to the meditative music that I was playing. And he also burns Believe it or not incense. That’s amazing.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:05:11
And yeah, you know what you could possibly have saved that person’s life too.
Yeah, he was saying that it was because his anxiety. And that’s why I tell CCM that you have to show up backstage to see what’s happening. Yes. If they’re, especially if they’re doing drugs, you’re just going to have to walk in that room and say, Okay, what’s happening here and again, he’s an adult, so you don’t want to be a parent. But you want to say, can we explore some other options before you do this? Yes, yeah. And if they say no, then they say no, but he happened to say, Yeah, let’s just see what else we can do. What do you got?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:05:46
Amazing. Well, we’re gonna wrap it up here. Lyndi, MzLyndia up
the Grammys gave me that that M Z Lyndia. Kids, yeah, they did that.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:05:58
Yes. So we’re gonna wrap it up, love your work, keep doing what you’re doing. Our field, our singing voice community needs people like you who have that kind of experience. And you should be sharing that with the world. It is invaluable. Nothing can replace experience. Knowledge reading out of a textbook is one thing. But to actually experience it is completely different. It’s like being a ccm singer. And looking at a piece of sheet music and singing from a piece of sheet music. It is very different to then when you listen to it, and you and that is the lived experience. So thank you so much. And hopefully we’re going to catch up very soon.
I hope so thank you so much for this podcast and what you’re doing for the for the singing community at large CCM, classical. I mean, whoever’s listening, this is such a valuable source and tool and resource that you’re offering. And it’s just been a joy, a truly a joy. And I’m so grateful for our, our newfound and budding friendship. I can’t wait to see you and Queensland at the conservatory there. I’m just excited.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:07:16
Yes. And I’m gonna see you in LA, as well. I’m coming to see you next February. So I’m very excited to hang out. I think you and I could be dangerous together.
I’m already making plans.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:07:32
Oh, no, thank you. Love your work, love you and best wishes with everything that you’re doing. Keep up your amazing work. Thank you so much. Bye.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:07:48
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