This Is A Voice

Overcoming vocal shame - how singing teachers & vocal coaches can support their singers

December 05, 2023 Jeremy Fisher and Dr Gillyanne Kayes with Lisa Perks Season 8 Episode 7
This Is A Voice
Overcoming vocal shame - how singing teachers & vocal coaches can support their singers
Show Notes Transcript

In This Is A Voice podcast S8 Ep7 we're diving into the sensitive topic of shame in the singing world. In this wide-ranging conversation with Dr. Gillyanne Kayes, Jeremy Fisher and special guest Lisa Perks, we explore how shame can shape and limit a singer's journey, regardless of their background. 
Whether you're an amateur vocational singer or a seasoned professional performer, you need to know about this crucial hidden aspect of vocal artistry. 

00:00 Shame used as a weapon
01:41 Lisa's journey
03:13 The impact of voice problems
04:21 The role of shame in singing and teaching
05:35 The impact of shame on singers
06:45 How teachers can help manage shame
08:17 The dangers of objectification in singing
09:20 How shame in singing manifests
10:46 "Name and shame"
19:57 Social censorship
25:59 The importance of compassion in teaching

We'll be unpacking the impact of vocal shame in singing and how it can inhibit a singer's true potential.
Guest insights from Lisa Perks about her personal journey with vocal shame and how it influenced her singing career.
Dr. Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher provide their professional insights on how to navigate and overcome shame in singing, and how singing teachers and vocal coaches can shape and support a healthy, shame-free learning environment.
Real-life anecdotes and strategies for singers to deal with and move beyond shame, enhancing their vocal expression.
Fostering an environment of acceptance and understanding for all voices, regardless of genre or background.

A must-listen episode for singers, singing teachers, vocal coaches and choir leaders, essential for anyone in the vocal profession seeking to understand and overcome the barriers of shame.

Find Lisa Perks at 

Here's Lisa's interview with John Henny 

And here's a PDF of the article on Voice Shame by Tiri Bergesen Schei and Edvin Schei

Book a coaching session with Jeremy or Gillyanne and explore what matters to you
If you want to discover if our singing teacher training programme works for YOU, message us - we can share the process for joining Cohort24. Sign up for the Vocal Process newsletter 

We're on the NATSCast list!

We've also got this ↓ 
The 12 Hours to Better Singing Teaching course online, with voice coaching techniques, vocal articulation exercises and a LOT more for the up-to-date singing teacher is here 

For the best self-guided learning, check out the Vocal Process Learning Lounge - 22 years of vocal coaching resources (over 600 videos) for less than the price of one private singing lesson. 
Click on the link and choose a Level 

Get the One Minute Voice Warmup app here, it's got a 4.9star rating 
Google Play  
Check out our brand new Voice Journal, written with Rayvox's Oren Boder 
Find us - follow us on the socials! 
🐦 Twitter -   
📸 Instagram -  
📖 Facebook -

This Is A Voice podcast S8 Ep7 

Overcoming vocal shame – how singing teachers & vocal coaches can support their singers


This idea of shame being used as a weapon. It's being used as a social censorship weapon. It's being used to stop you doing something. Yeah. And it absolutely stops people in their tracks because this is the thing about shame being a collapsing thing. You collapse in on yourself.

You stop doing what you're doing and you go inside and you then start to censor if you take it in. If it's, it takes a strong mentality to go. No, that's nonsense. And you brush it away and then you don't collapse. You stay in the space that you're in. But people are using shame. Singing teachers use shame.

Musicians use shame. Vocal coaches use shame. They use shame to stop people doing something that they aren't comfortable with. And that's the point. 

This is A Voice, a podcast with Dr. Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher.

Hello and welcome to Season 8, Episode 7 of This Is A Voice. The podcast where we get vocal about voice. I'm Jeremy Fisher. And I'm Dr. Gillyanne Kayes. And we have a very special guest with us. We're so looking forward to this conversation. This is Lisa Perks. From Melbourne, Australia. Absolutely. Hi Lisa.

Hello. Two of my favourites, although I shouldn't say that because they're all my favourites. Not allowed to have favourites. It's a good way to start. It's a good way to start. before we sort of dig into some of the deep stuff let's find out who you are. So tell us a little bit about yourself.

Okay I am born and bred in England originally from London, and I moved to Melbourne, oh, 18, 19 years ago, followed my heart here. Little backstory there, I used to dance across the map of Australia when I was a kid, and I vowed, this is intuition for you, I vowed that one day I would live there.

Not only would I live there, I'd live in a blue house with a white picket fence. And I moved to Australia and bought a blue house with a white picket fence. There you go. Brilliant. Love that. Um, I grew up singing in bands. I started I always, I got away with murder basically when I was 13, I was professionally going into clubs and, calling tunes to jazz bands and standing up and yeah, just audaciously singing in front of crowds and singing was yeah, it was just my lifeblood really.

It was everything to me I, I just loved performing I loved getting a bit of attention. I had a lot of fun. I did a bit of music theatre that I actually started with music theatre and then went to jazz when I was around 13, 14 and then studied it and yeah, just had a really good time until a certain point.

I'm going to pick up something straight away, which is you're talking about it in the past tense. So you're talking about I did, I had, I used to, I loved. Okay, so let's talk about this, what happened? I, that's a really good question. Lots happened. So physically things started to really go downhill for me with my voice.

So, I guess I sort of lost control. Like I, I developed a very big vibrato. I could hardly hold tune. And when I look back now, I go, I wonder whether there was some psychological stuff going on at that point for me. I actually, I can't quite pinpoint when things went horrendously wrong for me as far as, oh sorry, I can say when I think things started to go wrong but I can't quite pinpoint when it was. So I don't, I mean we, we could talk about the vocal injury now and I'm more than happy to if you want me to but on the other hand it's Yeah it's difficult for me to pinpoint exactly what went wrong.

I think that's interesting because if you don't have a diagnosis, you don't always know. And the thing is that you have spoken about this at length, haven't you, in the podcast with John Henny, and we will point people towards it. But I think what's interesting is that... Jeremy was saying in the past, and I think it's taken you on a particular journey that, we talk about quite a lot, which is how singers, the business, and teachers treat each other in the voice profession if something goes wrong, that there's a sense of shame that we can carry. I mean, You know that I had a voice problem in my early 20s, which, I was told it was a psychological thing for me. I don't think it was. And I carried that shame for decades. And we still see it, don't we, Jeremy?

We see this shaming. Teachers we were working with yesterday actually in a pedagogy practicum was saying, I can't tell you how many people come to choir, who've been told they can't sing, they should never sing. Yeah. And you know this is an ongoing thing, and I would love you to talk about where you think this comes from and, how is it showing up this shame?

Why? And what can we do about it? Yeah so I run a small course where I invite a, like a small group of people To on a bit of a journey really to talk around this subject, sometimes directly to the subject but often it's around the subject because actually shame is that phenomenon that is there for us always at some, you know, to some degree or another, but it's, it's, it's very hidden.

It's a It's almost like you have shame of having shame. So people don't like to talk about it directly. So, what I notice is that if you can share spaces where you can talk around some of the painful things that happen that you see people come alive in that.

They, yeah, the willing it's... Okay, I'll use the vulnerable word. People are, if they're put in the right position, they're very happy to be vulnerable. anD so what I can say is I have ideas around where these things might start. I think that we have a massive responsibility, as far as teachers and leaders to, dare I say, acknowledge that when we look or listen to other people, or look upon them, gaze upon them, listen upon them, that they will, to some extent, be feeling some form of judgment or critique that's taking place.

And it's holding that space very responsibly as a teacher and as a listener or an audience member. So holding it responsibly and compassionately, simultaneously. it's not like here's a thought. I don't know if I'm right, but here's a thought. We're never going to lose this. This is something that, that is always going to be there.

And as teachers, it's our job to, to listen in and to help people and assist people with the things that they, they want to improve upon, let's say. Because we're guides. That's right. We're guides and that's what people come for. However, I do have a very strong opinion that we must be aware of the potential that we hold with everything that we say.

 The potential to make someone feel ashamed or criticized or whatever. I mean, I, I, I've mentioned this before. I mean, Some of the work that I'm doing at the moment, I'm thinking around the ideas of objectification, for example, when we have a singer come in, they are a person.

They are a living, breathing human being with a heart and a soul, and the voice is often thought of or considered by us singers as part of ourselves. And so if we as leaders or trainers or whatever are not really aware of this in a very deep and compassionate way, we really do run the risk of objectifying the people in front of us.

And dare I say it, treating them as such, and I'm not, I think most of us in our industry are genuinely lovely people who just want to help, but I really think that it's important that we know this. It's very important, actually. Oh, there's so many places we can go with this. Yeah, I would love to say some things about, just from, my experience, ways in which I've seen shame, Manifested.

One obviously is what we talked about, which is that people are told from a young age to mime or, that they can't sing and then they carry that with them for a long time. And usually the reason why they don't move out of it is the shame because they're shamed in front of other people.

That's right. That's one of the worst things. Being told that you have a psychological problem, that there's nothing wrong with your voice, it's you. Teachers putting each other down because oh, don't go to that person because they're a survivor of a voice problem. For me, to be a survivor of a voice problem is an advantage.

Absolutely, because you have an understanding. Yeah, I never want to hear that sound in my studio again. Oh, yes, we've heard that. Yeah. In public master classes. That's all very well but if you go on singing like that in 10 years time your voice will be gone. Yes. Yeah. I think you have a voice problem.

This is just listening to someone in a masterclass. I think you'd better go to see to see an ENT specialist etc. I have several things I want to talk about. Shame. And we're talking about shame being hidden. And I think that people experience very powerful emotions in circumstances like the ones you've been, we've been describing.

But they don't always have a label for it. They don't even know that it's shame. It's actually just, I'm bad, or something's wrong, or the world is terrible, or whatever. Or I'm not good enough. Yeah. And so even naming it as shame is a very powerful thing to do, because then you can take control of it and do something about it.

And Lisa, you've taken training as an an NLP practitioner, haven't you? Yeah. And I know that in the NLP model and probably in other psychological models, shame is considered the master emotion. That's right. Yeah. Yeah. That's that's a quote by, here we go. Michael Lewis. He said that. There you go. I did it.

I found my quote. Yeah. So it is considered by many in psycho psychoanalytic. world psychology. It's a master emotion. We navigate it, yet we don't know it's there. And that's exactly what you were saying Jeremy it, that it is hidden. And, I recently ran a workshop and I...

I had a mixed cohort. So there were some ex professional singers in there and some amateur singers, hobby people. And as I said, I saw within the workshop, I navigate around the S word for a while. And then at one point it's dropped in. So we go every which way round and then I drop it in.

And it's interesting because the people I notice in the workshop who are ex professionals or professionals will go, oh yes, and then they'll talk about varying experiences similar to the ones that you explained, or women often reflect upon the way they look as a professional singer.

Or aging and so on and so forth. That's a, it's a very image driven profession, especially for women. So we get those kinds of conversations going. Genre specific conversations around that interesting within the jazz world, music theater, rock, classical so we get conversations happening around that.

But the interesting thing is that the hobbyists who have... only had lessons with one or two people, myself included, will go, I don't know what you're talking about. I don't I don't feel shame. And that was very interesting. It was a little, I drew back a bit because I was like, okay, but then when we dug a bit deeper, of course, they realized that, because I said okay, if you were in a par at a party right now and somebody said, oh, you're a singer, would you like to sing?

I said, how would you feel about that? Oh no, very uncomfortable. I said, Oh and what about have you ever gone to a lesson and felt like you've opened your mouth and made a funny sound? And then you've gone, Oh and you've censored yourself, in front of somebody else. And they'll say, yeah.

And I'll say, that's shame, and there's, yeah. Maladaptive and adaptive shame and in some schools of thought, it's seen as like a drive. Some people consider that you need it, I've got years of. PhD work ahead of me to figure out where I sit on that.

I've got my opinions, but I'll keep them to myself. But there is, there are theoretical schools that says, you, you need it. It's a necessary. I want to jump in here. Yeah, this is very interesting in the spirituality world shame is the lowest vibration of all. And so, in order. To move yourself up from shame you have to move up a level, you actually have to reorganize it so that it isn't shame anymore because shame in its purest form is a pure debilitator.

It weakens you in an extraordinary way. And so in order to move from shame you actually have to get to anger. Because anger is the motivator. Shame is not. Shame will make you contract. Anger will make you expand. Good or bad. Yeah as I said, I'm going to, just in the interest of academia, I'm going to stand back and not necessarily, I had pretty, yes, I know that that's a theory and I love the fact that you brought up the spiritual stuff there.

 It's such a a huge subject and there's so many schools of thought, the psychoanalytic, the psychologists, the sociologists. There's all kinds of thoughts and theories around where it lay in the sort of hierarchy, but I, okay. I do agree that it's a master emotion. I think it, it dictates a lot. of, Of how we, we move and manoeuvre. And as singers there's actually I will mention Tiri Bergesen Schei, or S C H E I defined voice shame. she, She defined a specific type of shame and called it voice shame.

 Effectively it talks around things like the censorship uh, changing the way that we sing and adapting ourselves in order to fit in to an idea of a norm that exists or doesn't exist. It could be the norm that we have in our heads. Or the, maybe the voice of somebody else from the past or the future or whatever but adapting the way that we sing or present ourselves as singers in order to fit in. 

It's self censoring, being aware of being looked upon and feeling like you are being, you are ridiculous, basically. You know, you, you have. Yeah, yeah, and it's painful. It's a horrible thing, you know, it is. I mean there's a couple of things I'd like to say first of all, in terms of shame being a driver.

I can see it because you know having gone through the PhD process myself. You can get to a stage where you've got to get it right because heaven forbid that you should stand up at an academic presentation and somebody shoot you down. And so you then worry about getting it right and that's actually, it can be a positive driver because it means that you want to have everything tied up nicely, which is actually what part of what allows you to pass your PhD, that you tie everything up neatly. There's that. And I think the other thing is, and I can say for myself, as a 67 year old, that there are many times when I will do a demonstration now in one of our group sessions and I'll go, Oh, that wasn't very good.

Oh oh my voice is older now. And I'm very aware that you know my speaking voice has changed my singing voice has changed. I sort of know why. And yet, I want to self censor. Because There are people in the room and they might think she's a bit crap. And they're all teachers who want to work with us, I love. Full disclosure.

Yeah, but I love you for that. And that's one of the reasons we're probably very good friends because you allow yourself to say that. And I think that the more. that people of your caliber are willing to say that kind of thing. That's where we start to open up this whole new world of how we regard each other and how we hold things like Aging, for example the changes that the voice makes.

I know that obviously there's that wonderful book Singing Through Change. There's some special moments in that book that, I've read and I really resonate with, pun intended. if we need people to come forward and to talk about it in really candid ways and actually admit how hard this is like really hard.

 There's something about the level of expansiveness in music that is Absolutely extraordinary. And music can encompass so many different things. Why are we censoring? This makes no sense to me at all. I'm a professional collaborative pianist.

I play with hundreds and hundreds, I've played with thousands of people. And therefore, whenever anybody steps in and goes I want to work with you. and I'm playing for them. This is the same in auditions. I will go, what are you bringing? I'll see if I can work it. I'll see if I can match it.

I'll see if I can support it. I'll see if I can expand on it because that's the purpose of it. And that's one of the main things in jazz is that you all come together and you go, what can we bring? What can we expand on? What can we share? What can we grow with? And it makes no sense to me that you would then start censoring stuff.

So that's the first thing. Second thing. was this idea of shame being used as a weapon. It's being used as a social censorship weapon. It's being used to stop you doing something. Yeah. And it absolutely stops people in their tracks because this is the thing about shame being a collapsing thing. You collapse in on yourself.

You stop doing what you're doing and you go inside and you then start to censor if you take it in. If it's, it takes a strong mentality to go. No, that's nonsense. And you brush it away and then you don't collapse. You stay in the space that you're in. But people are using shame. Singing teachers use shame.

Musicians use shame. Vocal coaches use shame. They use shame to stop people doing something that they aren't comfortable with. And that's the point. yEah. Can I say something? Yeah, about this social censorship and it's something that happened to me 18 months ago some discussion on Facebook and I forget what we were talking, I think that it was around healthy singing.

Oh, yes. You must not use the term healthy singing. Of course. That is something that does need to be reflected on in terms of who's in charge of your health as a vocalist, who is there to say whether what you're doing is healthy or not. And therefore it was suggested that term should not be used by members of our profession any more.

And I spoke up and said I would still use it because it's about what is sustainable for that voice and that person in the situation that they're performing in. Yeah. Oh my lord, you should have seen some of the responses. And frankly, I was livid. And in the end, I went in and I said, look, nothing takes agency away from a singer more than having a voice problem or a voice injury that stops them from singing.

So this is our responsibility as teachers, we're not medics, but our responsibility as teachers is to have that discussion with our students and to point them in the right direction as needed. And if we're, if someone's making a sound like a heavy metal sound and you don't know how to Growl and teach growl.

Go find someone who does and refer your student to them and maybe sit in on the lesson. But we will not address this problem if we cancel the word healthy voice, healthy singing. that will not work for us. My memory of that situation was... Off the hobby horse now. No, let's just stay on it for a moment.

My memory of that situation was that there were agendas going on behind the scenes and we had an agenda and they had an agenda and the agendas were different. Yes. So their agenda was healthy singing is classical and we must stop that because there are other things and we're going actually we agree with that because...

There are some heatlhy, there are some classical singers who aren't singing healthily and there are some health and so on. But healthy is not bound up in beautiful sound. Please can we get rid of that one? You can make some horrible sounds but still be healthy because they're repeatable eight shows a week for a year.

So our thing was Is it repeatable? Is it contextual, as usual? And can the singer basically do that and then carry on and do other things? It's not a fixed thing. Yeah. Is it working for the singer? Is it working for the singer long term? If it is, it's healthy. It doesn't matter what it sounds like.

Yeah. And the thing about the healthy voice. I, yeah I need to, I, I'm chewing but, sorry, this was not on the agenda for today. And there's noisy thoughts going on because I think if anybody knew you, they would know that there is no way that you're I don't think that you're putting other people down for, I don't know, maybe not singing healthily or not having a healthy voice.

There is nothing about you, Gillyanne, that, that would ever cause me any alarm in those discussions. And this is the thing when you're online and you're giving, whatever, even if it's a five paragraph answer to something. There's no room for nuance or the real humanness of the person that's writing that response.

And so when everybody goes in and with their agendas and they're on the opposite side of the fence, it can get really ugly. And the shaming continues. I think that there's space for all of those conversations, right? . But how do we hold them health in a healthy and respectful manner without casting shame upon one another?

How do we do that, in a very exposed medium, like social media. How, the very essence of going onto social media is very exposing if you want it to be, right? So if you're going to answer those questions or take part in those discussions, you are opening yourself up to a vulnerable situation.

And there may be sticky conversations that take place, but I'm not entirely sure that We're really good at disagreeing on such matters. And also okay, so one exercise that I do with my group is to, again, slight diver, diversion but talking about the healthy singing or whatever, I want people to feel like you can make all the sounds that you need to say or need to express and that you are witnessed for your vulnerability, your honesty your personhood, your selfhood that you have put on the line and you have don't you've given so generously. I want to be in a space where people can witness each other and their voices without holding such close judgment on function or sound or genre or all those things.

Going back to that story about how I got criticized for sounding a certain way. There is a vast spectrum of sound out there that we can make. And as you say, like some of it might be healthy, some of it might not be healthy. What's healthy for you, Gillyanne, may not be healthy for me. And so on.

Contextually, it may or may not be healthy. I don't know the answers to all those things. Never will I. In fact, I'll give them to you, Gillyanne. So if people want those answers, they can go to Gillyanne or Jeremy, that's fine. But what I want to see is people who are leading this industry, leading it in such a way that is deeply compassionate.

And holding those vulnerable spaces in the most beautiful and delicate and holy. It's it's sacred. This is a sacred sharing. When I open my voice or my heart, I am giving you something from me. And you indeed, as listener, as instructor, as expert or whatever. You are in turn receiving and giving at the same time and this constant need for rightness or wrongness or cancelling, which is where you were going with that, I think, that's never going to get us anywhere.

That's actually just going to make us go around in circles. I don't want to see that anymore. I think I'm just sick of that in my life. Yeah, I think the canceling, they call it the cancel culture. Yeah, we'll call it that. In fact exacerbates polarization. Of course it does. And that is dangerous.

There is so much that we can talk about. There's so much more we can talk about, but we're going to have to finish this episode. So we are going to invite you back for the next one. Ah, and I'd love that. Thanks. So we will see you next time. Bye. Bye.

This is A Voice, a podcast with Dr. Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher.