Published on August 6, 2016
Pleased to post an interview with Elissa Weinzimmer, vocal coach and vocal health educator. #fellowshipofthelarynx
1) Where are you currently based/teach/perform?
I am based in New York City. I run my own business called Voice Body Connection, in which I work with professionals and performers to communicate with confidence and ease. I have a handful of different offerings: I teach an online course called How Your Voice Works about the anatomy and function of the human voice, I work with private clients both in New York and online, I teach a voice and movement class for actors at Anthony Meindl’s Actors Workshop in the city, and I’m also developing a public speaking course for professionals based in New York. My other project is Vibrant Voice Technique, which is a collaboration with David Ley, my former graduate school professor in Canada. David and I teach people to use a vibrator for their voice to reduce muscle tension and enhance resonance.
These days I mostly teach, but I take the opportunity to perform and direct whenever I can. For instance, last year I sang a cabaret show in honor of turning 30.
2) Tell us about your background. How did you get started in your current profession? Education/training?
My background is as a performer. I like to joke that I came out of the womb singing. I started putting producing plays in my living room in the San Francisco Bay Area when I was very young. Growing up I studied acting, singing, and dancing and I performed in lots of musicals. I sang in the choir at my high school, and when I got to college at USC I joined an a cappella group. During college I also became interested in directing theatre.
The big turning point in my career happened when I lost my voice when I was 21 years old. I was pushing to repeatedly belt a solo in my a cappella group, and at the same time I was trying to enjoy my final semester of college (i.e. I was consuming more alcohol than usual!). The combination of vocal overuse and alcohol consumption led me to lose my voice. I woke up one morning feeling like I had shards of glass in my throat. It hurt to swallow and I could hardly talk. Later that day I spat up blood. Of course, I immediately went to the otolaryngologist to get scoped, and was told that I needed to take acid reflux medication and go on vocal rest for a month.
Losing my voice was life-altering. I had always been able to rely on it and take it for granted, and now here I was helpless and unable to speak. After my vocal rest, I was sent to speech therapy to learn better vocal habits. My speech therapist suggested I start studying a voice technique called Fitzmaurice Voicework®. I did, and shortly after I began to study it I decided I wanted to become a voice teacher. All this happened in 2007.
I spent a number of years doing my own study and taking lots of classes and lessons. I got involved with VASTA (the Voice and Speech Trainers Association). I got certified in yoga and in the Fitzmaurice work, and I began my teaching practice. As I was teaching more, students would ask me questions that I found fascinating. My answer was usually something like: “That’s a great question… Let me study the answer for 6 months, and I’ll get back to you.” Point being, I was eager to study and keep learning more about the voice and vocal anatomy and health. So in 2012 I moved to Edmonton in Canada to start an MFA in Theatre Voice Pedagogy. I completed that degree in 2014, and in 2015 I moved to New York.
3) If you are singer, what styles/genre do you sing?
At heart, I’m a musical theatre singer. My can do legit soprano, but I really love belting a good Jason Robert Brown song. During my voice lessons growing up I trained classically, so I sang lots of art songs and arias. These days I mostly like to perform musical theatre and pop songs.
4) You are a performer who is also a vocal health educator. Please elaborate.
Yes! I came up with the title “vocal health educator” because I realized that I’m actually a very specialized voice coach. My interest, research, and work are based on my interest in anatomy and how things work. I’ve studied anatomy both from a speech science perspective and a somatic/yoga perspective. My goal when I’m teaching is to help people understand how their voice works and also embody and experience that intellectual understanding, so they can use their voice with greater ease and improve their vocal health.
I aim to be a teacher who supports people emerging from clinical voice intervention, or ideally who prevents them from needing to seek clinical intervention in the first place! I want to empower people to learn more about about their voice. I think that as a whole, our society doesn’t talk about our voices much. When you go to an exercise class the teacher talks about your hamstrings, but in a typical singing lesson it’s rare that a teacher mentions your larynx. I’d like to change the conversation and get us talking about our voices and maintaining our vocal health.
5) What do you wish you did differently in your training?
I have to say I’ve been pretty pleased about my training as a teacher. However I do have some wishes for how things had gone differently during my training as a performer. I wish my teachers had spoken more about vocal health. I wish I’d understood my instrument better. I wish I’d never developed the idea that there was some goal I had to reach where I’d have the “perfect voice.” I know now that there’s no such thing as a perfect voice. When we try to have a perfect voice, we wind up mimicking other people, pushing, and developing an inauthentic sound. The only voice we can have is the one that is uniquely our own.
6) What do you think is lacking in performing arts education? In terms of voice?
Two big things:
An accurate and clear explanation of the anatomy and function of the voice.
And embodiment of that understanding: taking the time to truly help a student feel how their voice works.
7) Is it a stigma to have vocal injury in the performing arts field? Is yes, why do you think so? What needs to be done to change that?
I think it absolutely is. I have to say I’ve been really pleased in the past few years to see Adele and Sam Smith and Michael Bublé being open about their vocal injuries. I’m obviously sad for them that they’ve had issues, but I’m so grateful that they’ve been willing to be public about their struggles. I think in the past there’s been a lot of shame about vocal issues. After all, what is our voice? Yes it’s muscle and tissue and cartilage, but it’s also our expression and our soul. When that gets cut off, it challenges our identity. Who am I if I can’t express myself? So I think it’s understandable that shame that comes up… I experienced it too when I lost my voice.
I think the thing to do to change the stigma is to share our stories, and share knowledge about vocal health. There is no shame in needing to rest your voice and take care of it. Just like your hamstrings, your voice has limits. Another recent development in the voice world I’m really enthused about is that SAG-AFTRA has come forward in support of voice actors who are injuring themselves recording video games. There’s been a lot of vocal abuse in that world and unrealistic expectations of people’s voices. So I believe the conversation around all this is shifting.
8) Please tell us about “Vibrant voice,” what it is about, and how it can benefit people with voice problems. Where can people learn about this technique?
Sure! The Vibrant Voice Technique operates on a really simple idea: our voice is vibration, so we can improve it with vibration. In Vibrant Voice Technique we use a vibrator (yes, you read that right!) to do exercises that reduce muscle tension and enhance vocal resonance. Many voice issues come from tension and lack of movement, so the vibrator really helps people experiencing vocal fatigue. Then in the resonance exercises, the vibration can provide feedback that teaches you how to make a more powerful sound with less work. It’s truly an incredible tool for vocal health and development. We have hundreds of clients who swear by it.
9) What are some of your current projects?
My biggest recent project has been putting together an online course called How Your Voice Works. It is a comprehensive course that explains the anatomy and mechanics of the human voice. How Your Voice Works is in depth voice anatomy presented simply, because I think everyone deserves access to this information. If people are interested in enrolling, they can visit www.howyourvoiceworks.com.
10) What is your dream project?
Wow I’ve been working on my current dream project for so long, this question caught me off guard! I do have an answer though: recently I’ve started a side project about women, embodiment of the feminine, and voice, and it’s my goal to grow that project into something bigger.
11) Who are your favorite singers/performers?
Ooh great question. I grew up listening to Mariah Carey and she’s totally a vocal icon for me. Whitney Houston too. Michael Jackson is a god to me.
Currently: I love Sara Bareilles, I can’t stop listening to the Hamilton album, and I’m pretty obsessed with Justin Bieber… which I refuse to feel shame about! :)
12) What sparks “joy” for you as a person?
For fun I love going to yoga and I love gardening… I just started a garden on my rooftop in Brooklyn and it’s making me so happy. Singing, dancing, writing, and helping people express themselves more fully - these are all the things that bring me joy!