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Voice - the forgotten fitness factor

by Angela Caine(more info)

listed in sound and music, originally published in issue 24 - January 1998

After a successful debut with the BBC as an emerging singer I was given a scholarship for a further year at college. By the completion of that scholarship year I was beginning to have problems with my voice. A second concert for BBC Wales was politely acknowledged with a cheque and a closed door. I anticipated the closed door knowing as I stood there in the packed hall eye to eye with the conductor that we were both thinking the same thing. "This is not good enough".

5 year old Rachel aligning herself to read
5 year old Rachel aligning herself to read

I tried in vain to make some sense of what was happening to me. My voice, always there for me, became unpredictable. I became terrified of auditions, colds, getting tired, singing out of tune, making mistakes. Within a year I gave up the rigours of life as a professional singer.

I was soon plagued by throat trouble, loss of voice and tonsillitis. As a schoolteacher that was bad enough, but worse still was the feeling that although I put my whole effort into my family, my job, playing sport and all the other activities we call "living", I never felt that I succeeded at any of them. This is not to say that I was a failure, just that I remembered the feelings I had when I sang in performance at nineteen. It was so little effort to stand there and be excellent. Where had that excellence gone? In an attempt to regain that feeling I went for singing lessons again. Over the next year I worked with several different teachers who remembered me from my successful early twenties. They gave me a couple of lessons and eased me to the door with the advice that: "Your voice has deteriorated with age, like so many. . . "

Maybe I had a voice problem. I went to my doctor. He recommended a course of Valium to relax me, that I take a part-time instead of my full-time job and that I try to "enjoy life and not worry so much". His parting shot was that I had two wonderful children and at my age most people would be content. I was 35.

I decided I had to find some answers because if I were so exhausted at 35, what would I be like at 45? The terrible thing was that there were no answers anywhere and I ploughed on through the next ten years making more and more mess of my life and gathering more and more problems – marital, social, professional, personal. At 45 in a desperate effort to retrieve some self respect I decided to have the gaps in my teeth bridged. These were caused by numerous extractions and were visible when I smiled, so I was reducing my smile. Within two weeks of the bridges being fitted my tongue had changed its position in my mouth and it articulated words differently. My voice changed. It sounded better and felt easier.

That was the beginning of an upward climb back to singing and the vocal quality I should have had thirty five years ago. The spin-off from that journey is that I look good by anyone's standards, I am fit, I am running a business which is successful, and the effort I make to achieve this is month by month reducing, thus leaving me energy for a life beyond work, beyond my responsibilities.

I have escaped from a nightmare. How had it begun?

It is estimated that 85% of babies born in the UK suffer some birth trauma which affects their structural development. When these babies get up on their feet they will experience varying degrees of postural, voice and balance problems. Nature has endowed us with a natural tendency to self-right but if the problems are too severe we have a range of approximately fifteen years in which to seek outside help. This period in which we compensate in order to cope is referred to in chiropractic as Physiological Adaptive Range (PAR). Unfortunately we are endowed with so many and such good compensatory mechanisms that often we do not realise there is a problem until pain is experienced.

I was such a case. Although in my early education I won prizes at school, was good at music, played sport well and was generally considered to be one of the high flyers, at 15 my wisdom teeth were beginning to impact and throughout my teens I increasingly injured myself playing sport. Looking back on my school reports there is a marked decline in achievement throughout 16 and 17. My deteriorating voice was the symptom of structural problems which over time seriously disempowered me; physically, intellectually, emotionally, sexually, neurologically. The voice is suspended in the throat beneath the arc of the teeth and the jaw. It hangs midway between the brain and the body the brain controls. It is operated by the breathing and all these features place the voice in a unique position to reflect existing problems and bring them to our attention.

Unfortunately the information I needed to put this right was not at this time available. But it is now. There is now a national network of clinicians asking their dental and back pain patients, "Do you also have problems with your voice? Just bounce this ball to this music. Stand on this balance board and sing a nursery rhyme". If you develop that vocal awareness it may be possible for you to hear the onset of back problems or warnings that your jaw has for some reason moved out of alignment with the skull and your jaw joints are being stressed. This stress could eventually cause head and neck pain. There are definite characteristics in the voice when the teeth do not line up and everyone can learn to recognise them.

Children begin life with this vocal awareness because they are born singing, the primary function of the voice. However, singing is not viewed by the adult population as a developmental tool, but as a talent. Current educational policy restricts singing to the music room and is satisfied with basic vocal function in every other teaching room. Vocal competency or vocal power are never mentioned. In senior school, just when personal awareness becomes paramount to every emerging individual, singing becomes an educational option. It is my experience from my work using the voice with children who have difficulty with co-ordination that speech and singing appear to be active components in our self-righting mechanism. With adults too, as soon as they feel they make a good resonant sound both speaking and singing, confidence and posture improve. They smile more and talk of a feeling of confidence and well-being. So while an efficient voice can be a diagnostic tool and a means of self-righting, I believe the most important role the voice plays in our lives is that of a developmental tool.

Using gravity to improve your reading aloud skills.
Using gravity to improve your reading aloud skills.

So what can we learn from all this?

All children must be encouraged to sing, run, skip and balance a little every day to gain postural awareness and efficient development of the upper respiratory tract. Runny noses, middle ear infection and uncontrollable hyperactivity appear to be on the increase relative to the decline of this kind of play. Parents must be made aware that good posture, efficient breathing, and a confident voice are not being developed in our society. Important developmental "windows" are not being opened in early childhood. Singing, climbing, balancing, somersaulting and tumbling stimulate bone growth, efficient breathing, co-ordination, reading and intelligence. Learning through play and voicing what you have learned is quality learning and that is the secret of a wonderful voice. Your particular childhood gives it to you – or not.

All the old street games which involved voice – and for good reasons – have been replaced by the voiceless computer game at the cost of voice, posture and co-ordination. Children need to get off the computer and back into the playground and parents need to take them there and join in. They can then observe awkwardness of movement, reluctance to sing, fear of balancing. The child can be assessed by a dentist or a chiropractor and help given early in the problem. This may mean the difference between singing and not singing for the whole of life, believing you are not good at sport, or dancing, or ice-skating. How wonderful to think that all children could go to school with the same advantage because developmental awareness 0-5 had enabled all those developmental "windows" to be opened.

Voice works must continue throughout school life if every child is to have language and musical skills and a check maintained on physical and dental development. For example, every Thursday afternoon 4b go to the gym barefoot and changed for gym work. They pair off and each pair collects boards printed in large font with poems, simple songs, common phrases, examples of maths, physics, English, Spanish – anything in the current curriculum. One climbs and reads or sings the information and the other supports by keeping the text within sight – but only just, to stimulate movement. At some point they change round. If 4b's teacher could join in, several other vital windows would open.
  • It would create rapport – teacher and 4b
  • The teacher's voice would improve
  • Class voices would improve
  • Everyone would gain confidence
  • Language skills would improve and as a result, communication skills, interviews, oral examination.
When I was young and singing came easily to me I was encouraged to believe that it was a "God given talent". That belief has gone. My voice began as an instrument of such quality that the BBC hired it. At its worst it sang a good semitone flat and my children covered their ears. It is now back as a quality instrument again. All this in one voice, in one lifetime. No one discipline could have given me my voice back again. The dentist corrected my bite and I now have a layer of acrylic on my lower right molars (a build-up) which guides my jaw evenly and efficiently into its joint with my skull. The chiropractor has unwound the corkscrew that my body became as a result of the compensation through the years of PAR. I have used singing, reciting poems and speeches to body exercises as a personal reference for the changes they have made, and made the exciting discovery that this is really what control of the voice is all about.

I can go out in front of an audience to sing or to talk about the voice, and moment by moment I am now able to observe changes in my breathing, my balance and the nervous excitement of being at risk. None of these are stressful because the central unit which is "me" is stable and well exercised. I am physically and vocally fit.

Our over-stressed population is definitely vocally unfit. No one stands up to address a group without amplification. Churchmen, politicians and headmasters have them. According to my findings vocal unfitness limits you physically, intellectually and emotionally. We must give much more importance to the voice across all ages and situations. We will then learn to be observant and unafraid of the different facets of ourselves. The voice may be more important to the maintenance and development of self discipline, physical strength and natural intelligence than the Department of Education ever imagined.


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About Angela Caine

Angela Caine AGSM LRAM 8 May 193 to 22 July 2011, Deceased. Please see Obituary at

Angela founded and deveoped The Voice Workshop in Southampton. She was a member of Cranio Group, a society for the study of craniomandibular disorders and wrote the first singing based voice exercise programme for children which co-ordinates the development of voice, posture and dentition. She was the author of The Voice Workbook and work tape, published by Hodder Headline in 1991 and wrpte the first chapter on voice to appear in a dental textbook Complementary Therapies in Dentistry published by Butterworth- Heinemann in 1997. She was a performing singer. For more information on programmes of voice please refer to

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