About a month ago, I did something awful to my back. It was purely muscular, thank heavens, but it was excruciating. I'm still not sure what (exactly) I did-- I woke up in agony one morning, with a very tense, site-specific pain, as if one particular muscle was a clenched fist that wouldn't open. As the day wore on, I ended up compensating for the pain by using other muscles, which lead to my entire back in spasms. I couldn't stretch it out, couldn't relax, and ended up living on painkillers and muscle relaxers for a few weeks. Eventually, I started feeling better, and my Doctor prescribed some Physical Therapy to make sure it didn't happen again. I felt bad even going to PT, since I was better, right? Why waste their time? But I went, anyway.
This morning, I had my second PT appointment, and my Therapist surprised me by talking about my abdominal muscles. It never occurred to me that this might be part of the problem.
As it turns out, it's not at all uncommon for women who have children (I have two) to have difficulties with their "transverse abdominis", or TrA.
According to the literature she gave me, "Mid or low back pain, abdominal injury/surgery and/or excessive lengthening due to pregnancy or poor posture can cause a delay or absence in the anticipatory contraction of the transverse abdominis." She noted that it's an entirely different set of muscles than is usually referred to when people talk about their "strengthening their core", but that the function of the TrA is to stabilize the back and pelvis BEFORE arm and leg movement. In fact, she has some very visibly strong clients (classic six-packs) who have problems with TrA - because gym-style crunches don't affect it.
Bottom line, I need to retrain my TrA to stabilize everything else.
And here's where it gets musically interesting--- My Therapist then started talking about my diaphragm and showing me diagrams as to where it is located, how it works, etc... and I had to stop her and laugh, because of COURSE I know where my diaphragm is. I explained how I've had years and years of voice lessons, and that breathing exercises were just a normal part of the routine. But I wanted to be sure that the way I knew how to breathe for singing was the right way to complete her suggested exercises. Her face brightened and she said, "You know the Alexander Method?" Yep. Sure do. Alex and I are old pals.
So, she showed me what she wanted me to do to retrain the TrA structure, and I got it right on the first try. She was very surprised, and told me that most people take at least a week to even LOCATE the diaphragm and feel it and know that it's there. But, not me. I can control it like nobody's business, thanks to a very focused vocal coach.
As I was leaving, she told me that I was going to do great with this, and that I'll be much stronger all around and have even better control of my vocals in the end. Can't go wrong with that.
So this is a reminder to myself... it's not just a voice thing. It's not just a breathing thing. Its a whole-body thing. I get so wrapped up in just wanting to SING-- to emote, to feel the music running up and down my spine-- that I forget I need to take time to support that singing and exercise the infrastructure in other ways.
It's important. And I'm going to try to be better.
"Queen of Somewhere... A beautifully produced, lushly detailed sound banquet built around Julianna McDuffie’s nuanced lyrics, which explore themes of discovery, loss and longing... McDuffie delivers her songs in a rich and compelling, closely miked voice, at a measured pace that largely tracks the rhythm of the heartbeat. She is not shy to explore sound in the service of her voice, and listeners who appreciate attention to aural detail will find a lot to like here—vocal treatments spiral and eddy, trailing their way though a sonic landscape that is recorded with a fine sense of spatial possibility..."
-iTunes Review, by edgemitchell