Heidi Moss Erickson is an acclaimed performer, voice educator and scientist, who prefers to describe herself as a seeker. In this episode, we get a rare snapshot into Heidi’s personal and professional life as she opens up about what she defines as her serendipitous life. Heidi holds a double biology degree and a master’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania, as well a music degree from Oberlin, and Heidi tells us how she was able to merge her passion for music, with her love of science.
In 2007, she suffered a rare facial paralysis and was told by doctors and singing teachers that she would never be able to sing again. Heidi shares with us the tremendous impact of this devastating injury, but also too how it inspired her deeper exploration into the science of singing and it was through her own investigation, perseverance, resilience, and adhering to a daily self-care regime that she was able to rehabilitate herself and prove everyone wrong. This life changing occurrence has allowed Heidi, to let down her barriers, become more vulnerable, accepting of herself and to continue on her journey of self – discovery.
In this episode, Heidi also discusses the similarities between music and science, the importance of neuroscience and voice training, how we must learn to accept mistakes when they occur in singing, in the same way that we do in a science experiment, the importance of playfulness in the singing lesson, the difference between the mind and the brain, the positives outcome adhering to a self-care regime and there is much more that you will learn from Heidi in this episode. You are going to love Heidi Moss Erickson.
In this episode
01:08 – Introduction
15:42 – Directing her science background towards singing
17:05 – Heidi Moss’s facial paralysis injury
22:14 – Coping from a physical, mental & emotional perspective
24:14 – Returning to singing again
33:15 – Heidi’s monster for negative self talk
37:32 – Obstacles during rehab and recovery
47:56 – Is there a difference between the mind & the brain
1:09:09 – Heidi’s view on historical pedagogical text
1:16:55 – Final closing questions for Heidi
Singing in the Brain offerings: New Workshops in November!
Monthly Journal Club: https://www.heidimosserickson.com/journal-club
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 00:10
Hey, it’s Dr. Marisa Lee Naismith here and I’m so honoured to be sharing today’s interview round episode with you listen, and you will be inspired by amazing healthcare practitioners, voice teachers and music industry professionals who will share their stories, knowledge and experiences within their specialised fields to help you live your best life every day. As singers, our whole body is our instrument and our instrument echoes how we feel physically, mentally and emotionally. So don’t wait any longer. Take charge and optimise your instrument now. Remember that to sing is more than just learning about how to use the voice. It’s about A Voice and Beyond. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode. Heidi Moss Erickson is an acclaimed performer, voice educator, and scientist who prefers to describe herself as a seeker. In this episode, we get a rare snapshot into Heidi’s personal and professional life as she opens up about what she defines as her serendipitous life. Heidi holds a double biology degree and a master’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a music degree from Oberlin. And Heidi tells us how she was able to merge her passion for music with her love of science. In 2007, she suffered a rare facial paralysis, and was told by doctors and singing teachers that she would never be able to sing again. Heidi shares with us the tremendous impact of this devastating injury, but also to how it inspired her deeper exploration into the science of singing. And it was through her own investigation, perseverance, resilience, and adhering to a daily self care regime that she was able to rehabilitate herself and prove everyone wrong. This life changing occurrence has allowed Heidi to let down her barriers become more vulnerable, accepting of herself and to continue on her journey of self discovery. In this episode, Heidi also discusses the similarities between music and science, the importance of neuroscience and voice training, how we must learn to accept mistakes when they occur in singing in the same way as we do in a science experiment, the importance of playfulness in the singing lesson, the difference between the mind and the brain, the positive outcomes when adhering to a self care regime, and there is much much more that you will learn from Heidi in this episode. You are going to love Heidi moss Erickson. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode Good morning in Australia and good evening in San Francisco to Heidi Moss. Do you call yourself Heidi Moss Erickson?
Heidi Moss Erickson 03:52
Is that now I do because I am well not quite a newlywed, but newlywed ish. So I’ve added the Erickson to my last name now.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 04:02
Okay, well, that’s okay. I added my last name finally after we’ve been together for years and I only just added it it’s when we start to like the maybe. Exactly.
Heidi Moss Erickson 04:16
You know, the more the more I’m with him the more I say okay, I’ll take it now.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 04:20
Yeah. I love that. You know is life for you in San Francisco at the moment.
Heidi Moss Erickson 04:26
I love it here I feel I am an East Coast New Jersey New Yorker girl in the US and they’re very different worlds but I haven’t I’m transplanted. I love the weather and the people and the food and the being able to go out in nature so it’s really a beautiful, beautiful place to live.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 04:46
I believe you’re near Napa though.
Heidi Moss Erickson 04:49
I yeah, that’s my little secret. I work in San Francisco but I live near some vineyards which is is really nice to go see especially right now because it says The crush season here so you see lots of ripe grapes. So I’m very blessed. Okay, well, it’s one thing to look at them and it’s another thing to consume them Heidi. That two out here.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 05:15
That’s are we Yes. I love visiting wineries, I must admit I have a little bit of a joy in that as well. Well, I
Heidi Moss Erickson 05:24
think music and wine go well together, right? It’s a sensory, especially in the brain. It’s your brain sensing all these kinds of granular experiences that you correlate with pleasure, so why not?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 05:36
Okay, I’ll blame it on that side of my personality.
Heidi Moss Erickson 05:42
Excuse It’s scientific. Just tell
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 05:43
people okay, I was told by a scientist. Heidi, you are a performer, and educator and a scientist, but you prefer to call yourself a seeker. Now, a lot of different hats. We need to do a background search here. What came first?
Heidi Moss Erickson 06:04
So I think there’s the nature and nurture question. And so I think I was always, naturally probably more of the musician, singer. But the nurture I grew up in, I’m the youngest of six, and everyone is a scientist or doctor. So I, the nurture part, I felt like that was the default. I felt like, well, I should be this i, this is what everyone else does, isn’t this what people do is they become a scientist, and I had, you know, very curious older siblings that taught me about antibodies when I was, you know, in grammar school and things like that. So I think my natural state was, was this musician. But I always argue that science and music are the same, because it’s this technical foundation that everyone needs, who’s a musician or a scientist, but what creates is that creativity, right, that takes everyone to the next level. So I think they’re both the same, at least I feel for myself, I don’t feel like a different person, by having been in both because I do the same thing. I’m creative. And I think about technical fun things, too.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 07:12
So when it came to formal studies, I’m assuming that you must have been listening to music as a child, you obviously had that love of music as a child. Did you study music before you studied sciences? Yes, I
Heidi Moss Erickson 07:28
started in piano, I heard my brother take piano lessons. And so I was about five years old. So I started actually as a pianist, and was obsessed with that. And then, in high school, there was a old woman who would do taught voice and she would play opera recordings in her house. And I started hearing that and it was just I’d never heard anything like that sound. And so that turned me on to opera singing because it was much more fun to stand in front of the piano and sing than sit behind the piano play. Your little ma’am. Kind of performer I was like, I want to do that. So that’s what I I switched over to more singing directed things and said goodbye to the piano for a little while.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 08:14
So then you went and you obtained a music degree at Oberlin? Haratz Yes. So from there, did you transition across to a performance Korea,
Heidi Moss Erickson 08:26
ah, so at Oberlin, and had this great double degree programme, so I could still wear both hats at that school. And Richard Miller, classical singers will know him from his book, The structure of singing, and so he had a voice lab there. So it was a good way to combine music and science. But after Oberlin, I was not a performer. I went on to study biochemistry and then went into a research lab where I worked as a professional scientists to fund my singing habit. So I lived in New York City, and I was able to do research by day and sing at night kind of thing. And
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 09:04
you studied a lot. You graduated with a double degree in biology, a master’s in biochemistry. Yeah. And then this is the fun one. I feel and I have to read this. You studied telomeres, telomeres? Yeah, to get at Rockefeller University. Now, what on earth is that? And why does one study that? And, like, Was it something that you thought, oh, this sounds cool. You get up one morning, and you go, I’m gonna go and study tell him
Heidi Moss Erickson 09:47
that I love it. Yes. Yeah. It’s like, it’s not like the telomere epiphany. I’ve always been a micro biology fan like I like the small things. So I loved genetics. In DNA, and cell biology and you know, biochemistry and so when I went to look for a job at Rockefeller there was this female leaders in science were sort of rare. And there was this female scientist teechia de longa. Actually, the telomeres won the Nobel Prize in 2009. To women, it’s a very female dominated field, which is sort of interesting. Yeah. And what telomeres are, are the ends of DNA in your chromosomes, but they’re implicated in both cancer and ageing, because I always say, ageing, is you know, people say, I want to live forever. Well, I say, well, that’s a tumour, you know, it’s like that sort of cancer cell is right, you know, longevity. So your cells have a lifespan? And what controls that lifespan? Are these ends of your DNA that sort of shorten over time? And that shortening will tell the cell it’s time to go? And that’s how you sort of lifespan work? So yeah, so I got in that was sort of a, I found that subject fascinating, because of those kinds of two critical points of science, people are interested in ageing, and people are interested in cancer. And so this sort of merges these two very powerful human things, but at the micro level, wow. So when you started to combine voice and science, was that at a time had you started teaching by that time? Yeah, I taught on and off sort of that whole time. I wasn’t a full time teacher until after I left the lab, so that was probably about See, I’m old now. That was probably like 20 years ago.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 11:46
I know. I’m not old. Everyone on my show is 21. Yeah. 21
Heidi Moss Erickson 11:54
I love that. So when I was my birthday, and someone said Happy 29th birthday, I was like, Okay, I like 21 better, it’s a little
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 12:01
Oh, so much better. So I was
Heidi Moss Erickson 12:04
always thinking pedagogically as a teacher, just because Richard Miller taught me about Voice Science and the mechanism. So I was always obsessed with the mechanism. But I hadn’t thought about sort of the brain part until later. And I’m, I’m, I think I didn’t become a singer professionally. And in a lot of ways, because the psychological part was so hard, I think to be a professional musician, and be under scrutiny all the time by either coaches, teachers, and yeah, so that that gave me a little bit of fear of it that then the lab didn’t do and I think if you’re a sensitive person, it’s it’s a brutal, brutal thing. And it’s sad that I think a lot of musicians sometimes struggle with the the lens that’s under you all the time. So
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 12:56
Hmm. So you had performance anxiety? Yes.
Heidi Moss Erickson 13:00
Audition anxiety, I would say, performing was much easier. But I think the audition part was where I would fall apart. Yeah.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 13:08
But that’s really interesting, because I when I was doing my background search on you, yes, I saw that you entered so many competitions. Most of them. I couldn’t even pronounce the names. I just, I just thought, I’m not gonna ask you that question. I can’t pronounce these names. But you did. You entered so many, and you did so? Well. You now be under more greater scrutiny than what you are when you’re in a competition?
Heidi Moss Erickson 13:39
Yes, I think that’s sort of the nature of at least the classical singing world, you know, they have the Met, petition. And I always get to the semi finals. And I think imposter syndrome or nervousness at the finals, I would always take at the finals. That was sort of my tradition. I said, that’s how it is Heidi’s way she will get to the semi finals, and then she will fall on her face in the finals. But I think that experience taught me a lot and it makes me a better teacher because I now we’re in competitions. You know, it’s the same thing as a performance. And now I understand what performance anxiety is, from, you know, the neuroscience perspective. I wish I knew then what I know now. So I can now advise students on how to best set their mind and body up for these things that are a lot of pressure. Because, you know, at the time, I had no idea what was happening to me, but now, now yeah,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 14:36
that’s such a shame because I see that you were you were given the title of being or the descriptor of being a rich and radiant soprano. I know that you do. That’s
Heidi Moss Erickson 14:52
a little scary. Yeah. No, that was Yeah, I feel very lucky that when I could, when I felt free And this is why again, I’m so passionate about how the brain gets into the zone or how the brain can find that because when you’re there, then it’s it is wonderful. And it’s wonderful on both sides, or it’s wonderful for the performer. And it’s wonderful for the audience. And so I think if we can find that kind of magic nugget, and be able to know what it is and know how to get there. And what is an authentic performance in, you know, the unconscious competence, or however we’d like to call it here, you know, I do think that’s the holy grail because that’s what all artists want, as quickly. So I think it’s a really important endeavour define that.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 15:41
So when you embarked on this journey with for science, MIT, science, was this. Did you embark on that journey? Because you could see there was a need for this. And or was it a natural curiosity?
Heidi Moss Erickson 16:02
Yeah, I love that question. I feel serendipity is a very lovely mistress sometimes. Yeah, I was in the lab. And then, you know, gods, I was still studying, I would take the Crosstown bus to Julliard, and I did start entering competitions while still actively being in science. And that was sort of the transition. As far as getting into the science of singing. I was always interested in the mechanism. Yes, the psychology part. And the neuroscience part didn’t come until I suffered my seventh cranial nerve injury that then forced me to reevaluate my own life art personally, professionally, because at that time, I had given up science for a full time singing and teaching career. So I was actually had contracts and was performing professionally at that stage when I got this injury. So that I think was the big turning point that shifted everything for me. Yes. Well, we may talk about that injury now seeing as you brought it up, and you will come back to some of these other questions. Yeah. That I’m very keen to know the answers to. So this injury occurred in 2007. Correct? Yes. So what was the circumstances around that? Yeah. So I was pregnant with my second daughter. And I was sort of in a very challenging personal situation. And I think I always I think this is part of the artists journey, too. You know, I’m open about mental health. I’m open about being in you know, unhealthy relationships or situations. And so it was a very stressful time in my life. I had a toddler I was pregnant. And so when Bell’s palsy hits, I actually just wrote an article for The Washington Post. So that came out last Friday, I reviewed a book on that. But Bell’s Palsy, they don’t really know why it happens sometimes. So can be stress, it can be a virus, yes, anything that can inflame that nerve. And so when that nerve gets inflamed, it’s, it destroys all of the nerves that innervate your facial expression, as well as some in the larynx and some in your neck, and some in your ear. So there’s, most people will recover, because it’s not as bad. You know, it’s not permanent. But in my case, the worst of the worst, basically, damage you could get. But they didn’t know that until several months in, and that was the, the, I think of that. Yeah,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 18:50
yes. Because from what I understand, it is usually temporary. And it is usually like the maximum is around six months. So you must have just waited and expected that it would go and it didn’t. But did you just wake with it. And you could see something was wrong. And it gradually worsened over the next couple of days. Yeah, so
Heidi Moss Erickson 19:14
what happened was, it was I had woken up, it did happen overnight, and I went to brush my teeth, and I was sort of groggy, and I went to brush my teeth, and I couldn’t spit. And I was like trying to spit, it couldn’t spit the toothpaste. And it didn’t hit me until I was like what’s going on, and then I couldn’t speak. And I thought I had a stroke because then I looked in the mirror and my face was droopy. And I had no ability to move that side of my face. So I went to the ER thinking I had a stroke and I’m pregnant and and the nurse was like, Oh, you’re fine. You just have Bell’s palsy gave me some, you know, antivirals just in case and some steroids and sent me home it was so it was actually not a lot of care in the acute moment. It was just because oh you’ll recover because that’s what they assume for everybody. Yes. You know, so I was like, Okay, I’m going to look funny for a couple months, and then, you know, I’ll deal with that. But then, of course, nothing happened. And then they do the MRI and they do the EMG. And then you get the neurologists, even white face and sad look saying I’m so sorry. And that was that was sort of devastating that moment. Yeah. So
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 20:27
how life changing has this been for you, personally, like in your day to day life as a woman and as a mother.
Heidi Moss Erickson 20:37
So I mean, I love that you touch on both woman and the mother, because I think those were, in my mind at the time. You know, the singer was tertiary, even though I had had this great career I was actually doing so well. I had some great contracts. I loved performing. But there’s something about losing your face that you can’t describe. I mean, people, you know, I used to be a soubrette I used to be flirty, I used to be you know, so I had that side, right, the eternal flirt, you know, outgoing,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 21:08
see that in you? Yeah, I can say you’d be rather cheeky.
Heidi Moss Erickson 21:14
Yes, I was totally cheeky. Yeah, no, talking to strangers, and just, you know, just fine. And, and so I think taking away something that was so much a part of my being, it’s an identity thing. And then when you mentioned the mother, you know, I had two very young children and you read, you know, I was still a scientist. So I would read childbearing on how important the mother’s face was to a child’s understanding of the world and emotion. So I think I was just addressing those two main things. But singing also, I couldn’t pronounce things, I had lost about a third or a fourth of my top range because of one of the muscles. So I was a high soprano. So and then vanity in this business, right? They’re not going to hire someone with a broken face for one of those roles that I was traditionally cast for. So it was it hits so many avid parts of my identity at once, I think. Yes. Traumatic part. Yeah.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 22:13
So how did you cope then? Like, from a physical and a mental and an emotional perspective?
Heidi Moss Erickson 22:23
Yeah, I mean, I think I think it took me until even now, for me to finally wrap my head around everything. These things are very long journeys and lifetime journey, I think. But at the time, I tried to I love humour as a way to sort of heal. And so I actually through what I called a pity party, as you know, is like a joke, like a liberal party. I invited people over, but I called it like a pity party. Oh, my gosh, and I had everyone paint masks. And so it was sort of like a fun way. Because I knew people who were close to me or even acquaintances, they didn’t know how to talk about it, right? Yes. You say, I’m so sorry, or, and I didn’t want people to feel that way I want to, sort of, it’s okay, we can talk about it and make light of it. And, and so that was sort of the way I coped, externally, which I thought was important internally. And that goes back to sort of what, you know, we do have two worlds, sometimes our internal world and our external world, internally, I felt really lost just because I had given up science for singing. And, and now I felt like I couldn’t go back to either. And so that gave me another identity crisis in a way. Hmm. And then that led me down to sort of combining them inadvertently.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 23:46
Yes. Are you a spiritual person?
Heidi Moss Erickson 23:50
I say I’m spiritual. I’m not religious. I was raised Catholic.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 23:55
Yeah. Yeah, same
Heidi Moss Erickson 23:59
problems, you know, but But I think, you know, I’ve had these moments in life that have just been too purposeful, to sort of coincidental and serendipitous that I just, you know, I feel that mic curses became blessings. And I didn’t even tell you how I got back into singing. It was just had to do with a landlord. I was I’d given up singing and I had rented an apartment. And I heard music downstairs. So this was my landlord randomly after three months in graduate school, giving up music, and I heard music downstairs and it was live. And I asked my landlord, I said, I did I hear live music. He said, Yes. He said, I’m a musician. Turns out he’s not just a musician. It was the most I don’t know if you know, Pursell is a classical composer from the Baroque. And he’s the foremost scholar of Pursell. And all a person’s numbers are ranked by z numbers, just like Mozart with K numbers, and it’s because that was my land, my landlords last name Zimmerman. And so he had an organisation and I said, Can I audition? for you, but I, I believe if I, if he was not my landlord, I would not have some again. So it was one of those like weird spiritual plantings, you know,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 25:09
so was this after the the Bell’s Palsy? No, this was a prior.
Heidi Moss Erickson 25:15
Yeah, this I yeah, I went backwards just
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 25:19
just to talk about the spirituality of just like these. I feel like life presents you with these random events and, and sometimes they feel a little too coincidental in a way. Great, because my next question was going to be everything happens for a reason. So hence yet? Have you discovered the reason why this has happened to you?
Heidi Moss Erickson 25:44
Oh, look, I love you. This is so such a great question. I feel it has taught me more about everything. I feel like I have a purpose now, in a way. I think it’s very. Yeah, gosh, I don’t even know how to articulate it. I think it opened the door to so many things about our art, and myself that now have given me a path that is really unique, I think, and I’m lucky that I can indulge in it and communicate what I’ve learned through having not only to retrain the physical, but it touched on retraining the psychological, which made me realise the things that were I was struggling with as a singer before Bell’s Palsy. So, you know, when you study singing in the brain, you realise, oh, this is how the brain vocalises. And we’re sort of doing it wrong sometimes when we focus on micromanaging everything and micromanaging the mechanism. So it transformed how I teach 1,000%. And it transformed how I understand the instrument. And so those two things,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 27:04
yes. And from what I see when I follow you, because I do follow you on social media, you are a great inspiration to all of us. And, and but what I love is the vulnerability. And you put yourself out there. And I think so many more of us could do the same.
Heidi Moss Erickson 27:29
Yeah. I yeah, I think when you’re a performer, or and I do think that’s what palsy taught taught me is that, you know, now it’s on my face, I can’t hide anything use. I can’t make myself look perfect. I can’t project that I have it all together. And so I think there was something liberating about that, in a way. Because then it’s and then I found, the more I did that, the more people would then say thank you, and then they could open up in a way that was cathartic for them. And I think it’s, that’s part of it, it I think, you know, in science, we are allowed to have failed experiments and you learn from that it as an as a performer in the public eye, any misstep is is criticised. And so it’s it’s a really hard way to live. Yes, you’re in, if you’re not feel like you can’t make a mistake. So when I teach, there’s a lot of play, there’s a lot of, we’re just gonna sing this for fun and be a crazy character. And, you know, I call it like the scientist in a crib, you know, it’s like the baby who takes the toy and bites its head off, and then it tastes bad or throws it across the room. You know, I think we need to play more and find this kind of deeper reason why without judgement, so give ourselves permission to make mistakes and to just play sometimes.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 29:03
sounds like to me you appreciate yourself more than what you did. And so have has your perspective on life in terms of appreciation and gratitude changed also.
Heidi Moss Erickson 29:19
Absolutely. And as soon as I made that shift then I was able to meet like the love of my life you know, I like then love and opportunity comes to you it’s strange phenomenon is when you sort of accept it in yourself and then become content in yourself and I try to teach this I have two daughters, you know, then things come to you and it’s it’s a way of being that I feel is so much healthier that I’m not trying to fit in someone else’s box. I’ve created my own life and happiness and from inside and then the rest follows if that means
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 30:00
From a physical perspective, did you learn to take better care of yourself? Like in terms of self care? Did that regime change? And did you appreciate sleep and diet and exercise? Like did they were they part of the healing journey as well?
Heidi Moss Erickson 30:23
1,000,000% I’m not a guru. I’m not. I’m not. But I think, you know, with an inflammatory disease, which is what Bell’s Palsy is, and I had other inflammatory diseases like Hashimotos, as well, and I had depression growing up, you know, so I had all of these, you know, whole body holistic things, that what’s the cause, right, we sort of doctors shrug their shoulders and they give you know, and I come from a medical family. So I was sort of analysing it from from a very micro way. And I as I said, In the beginning, I love the micro stuff. But as soon as I started thinking about the macro, which I’m lucky living in the Bay, San Francisco Bay area, because they’re known for that, you know, sort of healthy eating and, and yoga and meditation, but there’s now science behind it. And I’m actually you know, going to be even teaching this for singers. You know, it’s like the biohacking. So I do things. I call it caveman biology. So, really, because it’s sort of, you know, I wake up in the morning, we need to expose our eyes to natural sunlight, you know, just little things like this that we forget in the modern world can make you healthier, and sleep is definitely one of those things. It’s necessary for learning and how many nights did I stay up studying for organic chemistry and not sleeping at all. And of course, are a night Remember, I told you, I didn’t do well, in the finals? Well, I would stay up all night, just trying. And that was the worst thing I could do is value of sleep, and self care. Have changed changed my life, for sure. Even mindful rest during practice is important. Now we know there was I’m doing a journal club on that there was a paper that came out that said, even 10 to 20 seconds of just mindful rest in between a motor task can solidify that task 20 to 30 fold. So now with students, they’ll do something and then it’s like, you know, we’ll just have a little zen moment. And for all of us, it’s just those little things that now seemed anecdotal in this, quote, self care, or now science have met the scientific proof. And that is something that’s very exciting to me. Because, yeah,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 32:39
yes, I love all that. And, and for me, in the mornings, I, I’m very big on like journaling, or just having like, it’s only just a five minute, I’m not great at writing essays. But that’s one thing I set the intention every morning, is to take a moment and take a breath. Exactly. And I think we can all do with that, can’t we? We can all just take that moment just to be present with ourselves to breathe. Yeah.
Heidi Moss Erickson 33:13
And journaling is so important. It’s like the art I had the artists way many, many years ago. That’s sort of where I got my idea for the monster, you know that I have the stuffed animal for my students, but you just show
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 33:24
us? Oh, yeah, we do have YouTube.
Heidi Moss Erickson 33:28
So. So this is my monster. And I actually for my vocal, I teach anatomy and physiology of the voice at the San Francisco Conservatory. And at the beginning of the semester, I give everybody a tiny stuffed monster. And I have students come back to me years later that say they still have their monster. And the monster is the only one that’s allowed to negatively judge. So if you have a negative thought, while you’re singing, and you know, you want to you know, because sometimes I’ll teach a lesson and someone will do something. And before I even say anything, they’ll go, Oh, that was terrible. And you come from
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 34:05
I know, right?
Heidi Moss Erickson 34:06
And so it just shows you that is learned, right? That yes, action is learned and so so now that they say that’s for the monster to think that’s not for you to think and I have one of my students is a psychiatrist at UCSF. So this is like a professional. And he he’ll he’ll catch himself and he say, you’re going to bring out the monster, aren’t you? You know, so it’s even my adults who are highly educated. It’s not It’s honestly something we all need to be mindful of that. You’re talking about being in the moment with ourselves. As soon as you start judging. You’re out of the moment. And I think that’s what’s useful about the monster not just for singing and voice lessons, but but in my life too. You know? Yes.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 34:50
And I think as I always say, as singers we’re pretty messed up anyway. We’re also we’re all judging ourselves and you’re so right, my students, I call it that self feedback. Yes. I’m in the middle of songs and at the ends of phrases I just go. That is banned. But I’m going to try that monster. I’m going to get a monster and I’ll let I’ll let you know how it goes.
Heidi Moss Erickson 35:20
Even posted. Yeah, I had I had this great coach. Oh, I didn’t drop the F bomb yet. So maybe it’s fun. Yeah,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 35:27
I Yeah. Okay. So I want to switch off for people that are doing and, and not watching on YouTube. I’m holding up a smear job because I’ve heard Heidi being interviewed on other podcasts. And she swears a lot. So I made a switch.
Heidi Moss Erickson 35:51
I just realised I’ve been such a good girl this time, drop the F bomb. But I had this great coach, and he would have these masterclasses and I would you know, sing and I would say like, you know, I would curse. So
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 36:04
I switch off. Yeah, there we go.
Heidi Moss Erickson 36:08
Or I would make a face, you know, in the middle of the Aria. And so he decided and just for me, it wasn’t for anyone else. He said, As soon as I see judgement on your face, or as soon as you curse, everyone in the room has to clap. Like just one clapped. And it’s so jolting because you realise how often you’re, you’re shadowing your own self criticism. And these days saw me like listening or criticising them at all. And so the whole room was just constantly. So that was a wake up call to myself to that. I am I am showing my own displeasure of my singing on my face, which is just not a good thing. If you’re a performer. So no, the monster has many has a really full belly for my, my self judgement. But now, that was one thing that palsy took away too is because I said everyone’s looking at my face. So no one cares about my voice. So I had much less self consciousness after Bell’s Palsy, which is interesting.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 37:10
That is interesting. I read that you rehabbed yourself?
Heidi Moss Erickson 37:15
I did. Yes.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 37:17
You were told by teachers and and doctors that you would never sing again. Yes, you use some of I’m sure a lot of your science background to rehab yourself. What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome? And how did you rehab yourself? Yeah,
Heidi Moss Erickson 37:38
I mean, I, you know, obviously, sometimes, when you’re told you can’t do something, it makes you want to do it more. So in a way, I never felt more passionate about singing when it was taken away from me. So I, the smallest story is, I could not say p. That was really difficult. And because there’s actually a, I have a slide on this there, nine muscles required to say pee and seven out of the nine were broken. And we’re dead. My
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 38:09
going to say that wouldn’t be very handy if you needed the bathroom exam.
Heidi Moss Erickson 38:15
I got it. Yeah, there were lots of things. I was like, I remember even going to order something, you know, and it’s like, oh, you know, no. Yeah. And actually, people it was just people thought, you know, there was something mentally wrong with me too. That’s
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 38:34
what people would assume. Yeah. And so
Heidi Moss Erickson 38:37
I would get treated differently. It was a really bizarre from the flirt to the you know, are you okay, good for you for going out by yourself. Those kinds of things. All Yeah, so it was so I was determined to say pee because I felt like those were really difficult. So I because I’m a scientist actually, one thing my female boss, yay female scientists. We had journal club all the time where we would read papers outside our field. So I my upbringing, and I thought that was normal, but it’s really not. So my scientific upbringing involved not being afraid of papers that had unfamiliar terms in them. So when I got Bell’s Palsy, I just read everything I could about the nerve damage about so the papers I found that were the most analogous to what I had were actually oddly phantom limb patients because which means soldiers or people who got a limb cut off, they still had sensation or observations of the limb that wasn’t there. And so the way I made that equation is because my brain still thought that the nerves were wired the worst so they can send signals to some didn’t exist. So I thought if I read, so they had things like mirror therapy where you would put a mirror For the Phantom Limb patients, where you’d only see you know, the healthy side, both left and right, and you would try that. Then I stumbled upon and this is something I’ve written about. I’m actually writing another paper that was in the naked vocalist blog, I stumbled upon vocal learning. Because where I was at Rockefeller, they studied songbirds. And so I happened to be again serendipity to talk about spiritual, the place where I, I had heard lectures on songbirds from the foremost authority of songbird brains. And it turned out during that time since I had left another Dr. Eric Jarvis, a postdoc who’s now there as a full time scientist, very famous scientist, discovered that humans are more like songbirds in how we sing in their brain in our brains. It’s called convergent evolution then, then a chimpanzee. I read Yeah, so I read about that, you know, it’s really annoying, detailed science, but that’s how I retrained how to say p is I pretended I was a songbird. And I never said p before. And what songbirds do and human babies do is we Adi eight, we hear it in our heads. And we just keep trying over and over again. Yes.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 41:22
And so mimicking,
Heidi Moss Erickson 41:24
it’s like mimicking, but then you also hear it in your head as well. So okay, we’ll hear it in your head. So I just kept trying to send that signal to say pee. And finally you can see I actually still don’t have muscles here. I’ve missing you know, three huge muscles for pee. I can still remember how I used to say it, which is pee pee, because you see how this Yes, yes. He it’s a little asymmetrical. But it’s a different neural signal. It’s a different recruitment of muscles to say pee. And I remember that day when I was just sitting in the mirror going pee pee and then it finally was like pee. Is it that sounds like a real pee, you know, does.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 42:07
Yeah, sounds like pee. It doesn’t sound like anything but a pee.
Heidi Moss Erickson 42:11
Yeah. And so that small success was sort of with that one thing sort of fed into everything in terms of that process of, of hearing what I want to sing, because my larynx was a little asymmetrical because there’s one muscle that did the die gastric, which is raises the larynx and it tilts it. So mine was asymmetrical, which is why I lost some of my high notes, which I haven’t gotten back. I haven’t gotten them back. But you know, I don’t need that extreme anymore. But anyway, so it just, it started the process for retraining, not just speech, but singing. And it was that combination of the phantom limb and this the vocal learning that that helped me figure that
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 42:57
out. And a lot of P words like patience, perseverance. Yes, practice. Oh,
Heidi Moss Erickson 43:05
I write down.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 43:07
Yes. And the first thing you would have done was go to the pizza parlour for a pee.
Heidi Moss Erickson 43:17
Well, actually, the irony was the first performance I had post palsy that wasn’t a big role. It was just like a benefit was a friend of mine who’s a baritone. He was a well known baritone. He actually won a Tony for Bob’s lemons. Lava. Wham. So he, Eugene, Bronco, Viana. He invited me he said, You need to sing again. Let’s perform at this house concert the pop again Oh, pop again, I do it. And if you know that, that’s all pop up of IK i It was really hard. It was a little bit of a mess. But I said out of all the duets you want to do you want to do the pop again? A one, you know so but so I did have to go out in public and sing something with a lot of peas in it. Well, what was another faith thing? Like someone up? There’s like tested me?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 44:02
Absolutely. But that would have made you even more determined. Yes, exactly. And I read that it was a full two years after the onset of Bell’s palsy that you went and performed. Noreen has aria from Don Pasquale, was that the PP one?
Heidi Moss Erickson 44:22
No, that was not that was my first role. That was the first time I can. Yeah, I because people wouldn’t hire you know, I had actually contracted SFO, I had contracts at big opera houses. But, you know, with this face, because when you’re in an audition room, it’s much more obvious. So it was sort of, especially for the roles I was doing. So there was a small company in San Francisco called Pocket opera. And I just I had sung with them before and I just said give me a chance. You know, just I promise I can be the character and you know, we can act in other ways and and He did Donald Pippin who passed away recently, but gave me that chance to perform that role that’s up on YouTube, the Aria and you can see my
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 45:09
favourite. Yeah, I watched it. It was brilliant. Yeah.
Heidi Moss Erickson 45:13
So it’s like, I can play co Kedesh. You know, even though I my face wasn’t perfect. So, you know, it was, I think that was both taught me and I think taught the audience. I think I had there was a reviewer who I spoke to afterwards and he said, you know, you notice it for a second, then you forget? And I think, and I do think that’s, you know, I don’t want people to try to pretend it’s not there, you know. But I love the fact that he said, you notice it in the beginning, and then you forget, because that’s really what I’m hoping for. Yes, that
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 45:49
that means that you had the audience engaged in your performance. Right? Right. Yes. And also to I believe that you had to really learn where everything was you had to remap?
Heidi Moss Erickson 46:04
Yes, I love that you brought that up. So that’s really, you know, neuroscience. And I think this is useful, we were talking about self care, and, and basically, it summarises the entire nature of our brains, our brains operate. They’re predictors, right, our brain is desperately constantly trying to predict things. And so it’s trying to predict where things are. So it maps things in our bodies of you know, I can reach for this cup, okay, that it can predict how far I have to reach out so I can grab my cup. And that’s a very useful thing. If it mismatch that if my you know, then it gets there’s this kind of your brain starts to panic, right? Because it’s not where you thought it was. So that’s the physical prediction, psychologically, there things like that to anxiety, performance anxiety, which we talked about is also rooted in prediction, because your brain is trying to predict why you get anxious is your brains making these calculations and saying, What if I mess up? What if I mess up? What if they hate me? And if those are the things your brain is actively predicting for yourself, you’re going to be anxious. So that’s why I like things like affirmations, or these things that may seem, you know, I remember what I first heard about them, you know, the scientist in me is like, what’s happening? Why is an affirmation a good thing? You know, that doesn’t make scientific sense. Well, it actually makes really important scientific, because you’re training your brain to predict something positive to predict that this is going to work out or that this is going to be okay. Because it’s that disconnect that causes problems.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 47:49
Yes. And this is a question that I was really keen to ask you. Is there a difference between the mind and the brain? Yeah.
Heidi Moss Erickson 48:01
So I would, there’s two answers I can give you I would say, scientists struggle with this question. Mm hmm. I definitely have read the camp that says no. And I definitely understand the camp that says yes, how I feel about it is, I think the mind the brain is an organ that has a function. The mind is defined by your brain and your body in the outside world. And those, because your mind is constructing all of that. What I said the prediction, the interactions, the spiritual, of course, there are chemicals in your brain and pathways in your brain that do. So I think that’s where some people because it is all your brain making those calculations, but I think, I think it’s the role, I think the mind is much more about relationships between yourself and your body, yourself and yourself and yourself in the world and yourself and other people. And that has this otherness to it. If that makes
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 49:09
Yes. And as a scientist. So let’s put the science hat on for a second. When people say to you that your intuition is smarter than your brain. What what does that what what do you think about that?
Heidi Moss Erickson 49:30
Yeah, I mean, I think sometimes what gets us in trouble is when we intuition I feel is a much more spontaneous, organic reaction to something that feels right. And sometimes our brains are not skilled at processing such that we can tie ourselves in knots or create something that’s not there or even intuitive. It’s It’s like overthinking or ruminating, I think. So sometimes you have to go with your gut with your gut as they say, or, or, because sometimes that is where truth lies in that, you know, initial thing. And I think where we get into troubles when we second guess, and when our brains are allowed to create different networks, and because there are networks. And so if it’s like taking a fork in the road that takes you in a maze, you know, versus the fork versus the path that’s direct. And I think intuitions really direct. And I think the alternative is sort of amaze. So sometimes it’s useful to just take that direct route. That’s quick.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 50:43
Yeah. So when we talk about neuroscience, we’re specifically talking about the brain and science.
Heidi Moss Erickson 50:51
Yes. So I actually even hate the term neuroscience because it leaves out some of my fate, because neuro means is referring to neurons, which are cells, but the brain is so much more than neurons, you know, there’s glia in there, which are more popular, so. But of course, the field got its name, just like other names, you know, so it is how the brain does, how the brain oversees everything that you are, you know, and everything that you do, and I think is, from this, there’s two perspectives in my life. One is this, you know, the psychological and the self, and the, the being and the identity. And then there’s the singer. And I think it informed me understanding the brain better understood both of those things much better. And I realised that that’s what we’re lacking in the field. That’s what we’re lacking as singers is the understanding of, of how our brain does this amazing thing, right? How does it do it? We focus on okay, my larynx is here. My breath is here, my tongue is here. But what what’s telling those things to coordinate? Over 100? There are over 100 muscles to sing. And then you have a motion? And then you have, you know, there’s so many. And then you have text communication and music. There’s so it’s the most complicated behaviour that’s that humans do? Yes. So I think if we do not learn about how the brain creates this incredible, complicated thing, we were missing out on a huge part of what singing is. Yes.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 52:32
How does that inform your teaching? Say on a daily basis?
Heidi Moss Erickson 52:37
Yeah. Um, I think it’s funny, because every time someone who studies with me who hasn’t studied, I definitely feel like I’m a rebel a little bit like that. Yeah. And I think I teach I break it into two parts. First of all, I’m a very positive teacher, I think that’s number one. We know that learn. So when I like the neuroscience of learning. So it takes sort of, we need to be allowed to make mistakes to learn, first of all, so you have to make a mistake to sort of learn, you also have to be in a positive environment to sort of, to learn because there’s dopamine involved in creating, yes. So so that’s another thing. And then I am big on attention. So in the early beginning of the lesson, we tend you like you can only think of one thing at a time. So will attend to something really reductionist and simple sort of like my P exercise, right? So if you take that little P exercise and put that into a different context, as a singer, it may seem tedious at first, but it’s actually fun if you make it playful, because I’ll say there’s no right and wrong, just like you know, feel where your voice is at this end of the spectrum or this end, and then we’ll find the Goldilocks and see if you like that, so it’s giving a student agency to sense different things. And then the latter part of the lesson is always play is always rooted in you know, because my theory is, I like evolution too. So we’re wired to sing why are we wired to sing to communicate right to communicate emotion so in classical singing, though, and I’m sure other genres, sometimes if you’re singing a sad song, that’s really emotional, with and you need that authenticity and when we I am giving a talk on what is authenticity. People forget that you will always your subconscious will always infuse a song. You know the text, you know, the emotion, you know, the context that will never leave you. But sometimes I need a singer to experience an energy level that the literal does not give. Because if I’m literally sad when I’m singing a sad song, that will be reflected vocally because we’re wired that way. Yes, I will have them sing it like, you know, a Baptist preacher or like a tiger in the forest or something totally off the wall. Because what you discover is that your brain sends these awesome signals for a cool vocalisation. And then your brain will remember that muscle feeling. So that then when you go to the authentic performance, your brain says, You know what, when I sang it, like the tiger that was really cool. But you’re not thinking that consciously. It’s a motor Association, right? So it’s, like, granularity in, in emotion, right? granularity and singing, the more inputs your brain has to a motor skill, the more powerful it will be. So when singers experience this song in a weird way, that gives them a sound that they’ve never had for that song. And they like it. Their brain will remember it, and it doesn’t matter that it came from something crazy.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 55:56
I love that. Yes, no, I love all that. Because what I feel that you’re doing is humanising the singer. And that is one one thing that I worry about. And this is just my own personal thoughts and views on voice signs, is sometimes that it can get in the way I feel it could can possibly get in the way of forgetting that the singer is more than just a larynx.
Heidi Moss Erickson 56:27
Absolutely. And I always say that, like, I’m obsessed with everything I teach anatomy and physiology, I think it’s so important to know that, but that’s not what you do when you teach it or when you’re singing. And so I think it’s that understanding that those two universes are important. And, you know, as I said, I love teaching my singers about acoustics and all of these things, because I think it’s important, but I think that’s not that’s very different than what you do to get at a sound, you can’t think you actually literally cannot think about that. It’s it’s counterproductive, because even things like and I’m probably this is going to be blasphemous. But for example, I do not teach breathing mechanics ever. Okay, and I think that shocks people, and yet this, but the reason is, is because I after studying the brain is like as long as I am relaxed, and you know, in a good place. If I intent what I’m if my instruments efficient, and I intend to phrase the breath actually gets recruited properly. And there’s they’ve been scientific studies on like, when they measure these things, everyone’s different anyway. So we’re trying to you know, so there’s that’s one shirt. Second, there was a study one of my favourite studies, I think it goes like this, they asked a Singh a person to say, like, pass the salt, and calculated kind of what breath when a person knew they just had to say past assault versus like, a monologue of four score and seven years ago, or what not. The breath is, is calculated based on your intention. So if you have enough intention of what you want to sing, and the length of the phrase, or I’ll have people do a gesture for it, and that can solve breath, rather, because we’re not wired to think about the mechanism. I call it cart before the horse teaching. Where if you go to every culture around the world that sings, they are not teaching, they’re not worried about where their stomach is, right? They’re singing. And I think we got a lot of people. But yeah, we’re really hung up on some of these, what I call downstream things. And I was one of them. I mean, I did all sorts of breathing. I even taught that way. And I decided with a couple students, I was like, You know what, I’m gonna see what happens if I don’t teach breath. Just it was his experiment. And I told him, I was doing that. And it worked. And so now it’s it was just one of those random things, because I knew that that made me anxious when I was always worried about do I have enough air? Do I have enough air? Do I have an affair? And then I just realised that the brain doesn’t work that way. Yeah. Actually not having an affair if it panics about not having an affair. Yeah. That’s the ironic thing, the more you worry about it, the faster your heart rate, you’re going to take a higher breath, you know, when you in and also when you inhale, your heart rate goes up, right? When you exhale, your heart rate goes down, which is why if you want to feel relaxed, you extend an exhale. But if we’re always worried about the inhale or hurt, it’s gonna go up and it’s
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 59:43
anyway, that’s right. That is right. Yeah. I don’t want my telling a scientist she’s right.
Heidi Moss Erickson 59:51
But I do want to point out that because I have to be careful because many teachers teach breath and it works beautifully. And I think the thing is The take home message is there are many, many, many, many ways to get at our art. And sometimes we get too focused on what is right and what is wrong. But if it works, it’s about communication between the student and the teacher, because you are trying to coordinate 100 muscles and a brain and creativity. So we really can’t say there’s one way, this is how I do it and it’s worked. It doesn’t mean that if someone else’s teaching breath that it won’t work, because I do know plenty of teachers who teach that way. So I give that caveat. I just found it interesting that, that that was something I discovered.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:00:37
Yes. And I feel going back to a statement that I made earlier, is that we are messed up as singers, and having so much to think about already. We’re already in our heads, the less we can eliminate from that self criticism point of view, I think the better. And to be perfectly honest, I teach a lot from like a more of a primal approach. And then it’s from the need to sing. Yes, exactly. Give it intention. And everything I find that is a lot quicker way to, to fix something, is to give it an intention. Why am I seeing this? And how would if I was to say it, how would I say it? So why am I singing it? If I’m asking a question, a question is going to sound like a question. Then when I sing a question, why do I sound like I don’t even care what it is that I’m trying to find out about? You know, so?
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:01:44
Yeah, and I agree 1,000%. And that is how that’s why I love like the why we sing. You know, I think that’s something we don’t we we work on the how, but we need to also bring in the why? You know, and I think once you do that it’s sort of it gets really fun, you know, and that’s, that’s ultimately what I think everyone wants out of this, you know, and there’s I think we’ve also gotten towards a dangerous, you know, whether it’s photoshopping or anything else, the perfection idea because there is something beautiful about imperfection. I’ve had this classroom where people will get emotional when they’re singing, and it’s like, their voice will crack a little bit. It’s like we’re all bawling in the room. And then I say in the the person who sang is like, I’m sorry, I lost it. And it’s like, no, this is why we’re singing. Yes. Why do you look at everyone in the room? Everyone is Tyria. You know, teary eyed?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:02:44
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:02:45
It’s not about perfect. It’s about expression. And I think if we can give that to our students that when you’re authentic and expressing and with intention, that that’s enough. Yeah. Because your voice will be where it is for where what out because I love teaching adult amateurs because I feel they’re, they’re in a way the most judgy sometimes and so I love liberating them because they learn that they are where they are and what where they are is enough. And they can move people with what they have. Rather than always chasing the gold standard. Yes.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:03:22
I had a very big CCM performance Korea. Yeah, that’s been 35 years.
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:03:30
And I but you are 35 So you start off
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:03:33
Sorry, I’m 21 Oh, am mocked up the figures. I’m clearly not a mathematician. 21 You’re scientists. But what I was going to say was that through that experience, I learned that an audience will forgive imperfections. If you’re delivering your authentic self, and they feel connected to your performance. You can get up and sing simply so something so perfectly right and it is. I’m going to use my swear jar bowl game. That shit boring. Exactly. Okay, yeah. We both
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:04:20
now we have one in there. Yeah, you check one.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:04:22
We have one. Yeah. But just saying, you know, I learned that and I love that other teachers, and now allowing themselves to say that we’re all daring to say that and those imperfections I believe, our unique voice.
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:04:41
Absolutely. No, we don’t want clones. You know, and I think and I think in the classical world, it’s it’s, it’s really I don’t know about I mean, CCM you’ll have to tell me I do feel like there’s this desire to have a perfect sound. I don’t know whether it’s because of recordings that have Yeah, or in the classical Ronaldo romantic. Yeah. And everyone starts sounding the same. And they’re totally disconnected from what? That’s why I even encourage movement. I mean, how many students get in? Like, you don’t like what you know, it’s like nothing moved. But I think it’s that idea of, you know, have them move and because our bodies and musicality are connected, and if we’re telling people, I always say you’re not going to go on stage, just because you’re moving now and dancing while you’re singing. They fear like, Oh, I’m going to I’m going to get into that habit and do it on stage. I said, No, you’re not. No, that’s a, that’s a prediction that your brain made. That’s not going to happen. What’s going to happen is if you try to stay still, and then your hand has sort of like a twitch because it wants to move and you’re trying to inhibit, those are where the awkward gestures come from. It’s from inhibition. It’s not from allowing, and then when they go on stage, the gestures are natural, and they’re authentic, because their body has been permitted to go with whatever the music is doing.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:06:10
That’s it. In CCM, I just when I teach my students, I just tell them to feel the rhythm in their bodies. Just feel it in your body. And it’s really interesting with CCM. There is a particular sound that’s out right now. Right? That sound is 100% Totally manufactured in studios. They’re now stripping away all the natural acoustics in the voice and layering them with all these vocal effects, and I’m most disappointed in Ed Sheeran. So Ed Sheeran if you’re listening to this podcast fast food I’m very disappointed in you right now because you now some sound like Justin Bieber, Sean meth is and every other singer that’s out there. You don’t even sound like Ed Sheeran anymore and I’m very disciplined
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:07:04
on my I love that. You said that my daughter’s a really talented she’s 14 Talented CC. I mean, I don’t know how to teach CCM, although I do feel like we can all teach voice but it’s that idea, I guess. But she’s a great singer and songwriter. And we were listening to Ed Sheeran, I think in the car and she was saying they’re all starting to sound alike. She
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:07:26
no they are. They are specific sound.
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:07:29
Yeah. And then we started talking about how that became a thing aesthetically. And I introduced her to castrati. So we were listening to Chris strati. Which are the operatic singers who got their Yeah, their balls cut off. I can say that as atmosphere jar thing. Sorta. Yeah. Anyway, yeah. And so we were making that comparison, because she said, That’s what those are artificial guys sound like this. She said, they sound like they got their fricking balls.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:08:00
Well, maybe they need to, then they have a legitimate reason. No, no, it’s all it’s all manufactured right now. And the hard part about that now finished, I’ll wrap this up. But the difficult part about that is that when CC, new CCM singers come to your studio, they want to sound like those recordings, but they don’t have a hope in hell. Because it’s all created in the studio. It’s not a natural sound. So they’re turning themselves inside out to make a sound they will never ever be able to make.
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:08:34
Right? No one and the same with classical because you know, it’s this perfectly even resonant tone because they can fix any imperfection in the studio. So I think that’s something we have to impart is embrace imperfection and authenticity.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:08:49
Yes. Now I’m going to change the questioning just a little here. I have so many other questions, I want to ask you that I feel you need to come back, because I really would love to know more about neuroscience. There’s so many questions around that. But what I do want to ask you a few things. Firstly, I know that you love all the old pedagogical that historical pedagogy pedagogical texts. Yeah. When you read those books, do you think to you to yourself? What were they thinking? And I asked Dan mitten, the same question. What were they thinking? Or you as a scientist? Do you respect their natural curiosities?
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:09:38
Yeah, I love that question. I think what, as I said, What I love about science, and I put these work scientists in the same same category is that science evolves, right. So they knew they made conclusions with what they had at the time. And there’s something fun about it’s like the earth being flat, right? It’s like when They found out it was round. It was like holy shit third this round what? And I feel like I Oh, yeah, see? Exactly. So I feel like, I feel like invoice I look back and I say I can’t believe they thought that. But I know I don’t blame them for that because it’s it’s part of the history but I do think what’s different about singing this and basic science is that there are a lot of voice teachers that hang on to what I call are these old texts that are just snapshots in time. Yes. And they forget that it’s evolved since then. So they will say, Well, Richard Miller said this in, you know, 1982. And it’s, you know what, it’s different now. And I even have Richard Miller, I’d say the one thing that he did change his mind on that still in his text, and it had to do with me, we corresponded, he used to say that you needed to lift here to get higher resonances. So he has that in his book, and people have published that since you need to lift your zygomaticus to get an operatic thing. And I, when I got this as it Richard, I can’t do that. But I have my higher resonances, and he said, You know what, that was never really proven. And then I did control it. So, but it’s in all of his texts, and people still believe it. So anyone out there who still believes that we it’s been disproven, you know, and now the reason is more emotional, is now we know when you’re happy. And I did this with brass players, I had brass players do an experiment where they thought a happy thought and they also got higher resonances. But they’re not smiling. Yes. sociation with joy and brightness, that makes higher resonances, not the physical necessarily. Anyway, so that was one of those things where all those texts have little things like that that are overturned, but people are still like, you’re said it, Bernard said it, you know, it’s like,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:11:52
yes, yes. Yeah, I could say something really politically, politically incorrect right there. But I was gonna say it’s probably all the Trump supporters. Yeah.
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:12:05
No, I mean, it goes back to the brain, the brain likes to predict and it will believe, untrue crap. And that’s the problem. And people nowadays will believe what they want to believe. And it’s scary, because I think if people knew about neuroscience and knew that we can we construct our realities, that we’d be a much better society, if people like I have this nice, that’s like learning the planets, right? And it’s, like, don’t teach you the planets, teacher fucking neuroscience, because that’s what she needs. Because we’d be better people if we knew you know what I’m constructing this reality right now. And I will believe with certainty, when we don’t know with certainty, what is right now, 50 years from now, they will look back and laugh like, how did you believe that? You know, I was part of the discovery that DNA is looped, by the way. So that was my big paper. Up until then, my even my textbooks in graduate in, in school, DNA was linear. Well, so we, we overturned a belief just like the Earth is flat so that I’m actually more well known for that. So the end of DNA is looped. So now all the textbooks, the DNA is loop. So that generation did not know that I was taught that DNA is linear. So even at that level, there’s things that are overturning and changing. And that’s going to happen 50 years from now, so we can’t be so hanging on to these truths. We have to be curious. We were talking about curiosity earlier. Yes. It is so important and being able to, I was wrong and, and embrace, embrace, like, oh, yeah, that’s so cool. I was wrong. But people don’t do that right anymore.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:13:51
No, they don’t. People don’t embrace their mistakes. They don’t embrace things being wrong, but that’s how you learn. Absolutely. I think. Yes. What are the projects you’re working on right now?
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:14:05
So right now, I’m sort of going through I cut back at the Conservatory, I’m only teaching one class because I’m trying I Love You know, I wish you could get paid for just like reading papers and writing and thinking but you can’t, unfortunately
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:14:20
hearing you girlfriend,
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:14:22
like, oh, so I did launch a website. It’s in its infancy, but I’m starting to teach more. I love telling stories about distilling complex neuroscience for the general population and singers in a way that makes sense. So I’m starting to teach more singing in the brain I call it like your brain and bio hacks and and things like that and journal clubs bringing mainstream neuroscience research to the voice community in an accessible way. I call it minding the gap. Where, where, you know, us cuz, and that’s where I got that 10 Second, you know, memory thing because that’s a paper voice teachers will not find it’s a, the wording of it is really complicated. But if you extract that information, all voice teachers should be doing that kind of thing in the studio, you know, because that students learn. So I’m trying to bridge these worlds be like the translator in a way. Yes. Love it. Yeah. And I keep up to date, you know, because neuroscience is one of the most rapidly evolving areas. So new stuff comes out all the time. So I translate that and apply it there’s, there’s just, you know, whether it’s the vocal learning, I have this whole great thing. Eddie Chang at UCSF who does articulator motor signalling, we have to laryngeal motor cortices, there’s just all these great things that can be translated to practical things for a voice teacher. So that’s sort of where I’m at is, is trying to create either courses or, you know, consulting or give lectures on that intersection. So that, that that paradigm can be overturned in some of these areas.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:16:12
That’s fantastic. Yeah. And we will share your links in the show notes. So we will share where people can find you, where they can join the journal club. I want to join your journal club. I honestly, I love the work of Dr. Daniel. Amen. I think, and Carolyn leaf, and a lot of those people that are that are doing some fantastic work in the field and making it accessible to the general public. So I’m, yeah, absolutely geeking out on that. And that’s why I’d love to have you back. And maybe we can talk further about this. And great. So based on your knowledge and your expertise, what’s one thing that teachers should learn about when it comes to neuroscience? What’s one thing just one thing, one,
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:17:04
just, okay, I would say smaller chunks. I think when singers have to do, you know, everyone wants to come into a lesson and sing the song from start to finish with all the words that are, you know, they want to do everything because that’s the end result. So I like this idea of chunking. In in a fun way. It’s like taking a smaller segment and playing with permutations of it, whether it’s inverting some of the notes, so that they can or transposing it so they don’t feel registration. So it’s sort of like play within a smaller chunk. And that is related to vocal learning. So I have students who take a songbird lesson, we call it a songbird lesson, where they’re not allowed to look at the music because I think sheet music we need to learn to read music, but it’s bad for the singer brain on Absolutely. They think a high note is up and it’s not it’s your brain has no people even forget that like half steps are wider as you go up because it’s a log scale. So that’s why half steps are really hard as you go higher. You know, so I think that idea of being more like songbirds sometimes and and really embracing our songbird brain
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:18:29
I love that I want to be a songbird. I think I was more like a crow though.
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:18:36
You know? That’s everything make make all sorts of noises, you know?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:18:42
Yes. Okay. Um, only one more, one more question out promise Allah to go. Based on your personal experience, what is the best advice you could give to any body in terms of physical well being?
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:19:01
That is, I have to say, sleep. Um, I think we take that for granted. But that is where your learning occurs. That is where your motor imprinting and your well being and everything else will follow. You know, the exercise, the eating, the positivity, all of that, but if you’re not getting good sleep, nothing will work. Nothing. Fundamental. You know, there was a great some near sleep scientists, I know you’re gonna have so everyone listened to when the sleep scientist comes on your show, that they said, how do we know that we weren’t designed to sleep and that being awake is sort of our exception evolutionarily. Like why do we assume sleep is sort of the the state that’s not nor you know, that sort of like the anyway, so it’s sort of an interesting idea that being awake is The evolutionary newness that we were, you know, for our species anyway,
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:20:04
that’s crazy. All right. Well, I’m going to let you go. And please come back. How much? How much money did we put in the switch? I
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:20:14
actually think we did pretty well.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:20:17
I think we did based on your past. I grew up I grew up in New Jersey with the mafia. I watch Real Housewives. Have you? Ever really scary? Yeah. Yeah. So. Okay, well, look, take care. Thank you so much for being so generous with your time and your knowledge and your experiences, and being vulnerable with us on the show and talking about your Bell’s palsy journey. Really appreciate it. And we look forward to seeing you on social and we will share your links and people can come and find you. And we’ll catch up very soon. I’m sure that sounds
Heidi Moss Erickson 1:21:01
good. Thank you so much by the alright take care
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:21:05
bye. Hey, I hope you enjoyed this episode have a voice and beyond. Now is an important time for all of us to spread positivity and empowerment in our singing voice community. It’s time for you to invest in your own self care, personal growth and education. Use every day as an opportunity to learn and to grow. So you can show up for your students feeling energised, empowered, and ready to deliver your best. Be the best role model and mentor you can possibly be and watch your students thrive as you do. Thank you so much for listening to this episode. If you enjoyed it, please make sure to share it with a friend or a colleague who you think will be inspired by this. Copy and paste the link and share it with the people you think will enjoy listening to this show. Please share it on social media and use the hashtag a voice and beyond. If you would like to help me please rate and review this podcast and cheer me on by clicking the subscribe button on Apple podcast right now. I would love to know what it is you enjoyed the most about this episode. And what was the biggest takeaway for you? I promise you there are many episodes to follow as I’m committed to bringing you more inspiration and conversations just like this one. I’d like to finish up with my final thoughts. Remember that to sing is more than just learning how to use the voice as singers. Our whole body is the instrument and our bodies echo what we feel physically mentally and emotionally. So singing is not just about the voice. It’s about a voice and beyond. Please take care of yourself and I look forward to your company next time.