Vocal damage in CLASSICAL singers: It’s not just pop singers that get hurt

Good food for thought for *anyone* considering studying voice (even professional voice users who aren’t singers). Whatever tools we have at our disposal to practice our craft should be carefully cared for. It doesn’t matter who you are, a solid technical knowledge and workout for your voice will only help you in the long run. It doesn’t mean that you will turn into an opera singer; a good vocal technician will help you uncover your instrument, learn to understand it, and in the process, figure out how your voice best operates in a given genre of music or as a speaker.

Matt Edwards

Natalie Dessay My last post about Meghan Trainor seemsto have started some great online discussions about vocal fold injuries in professional singers. However, it became apparent that many of my readers are unaware of how common vocal injuries are in classical singers. The problem is that most classical singers are so ashamed to be diagnosed with a vocal injury that they are not willingtalk about it. It is a secret they carry around and only share with their doctors and perhaps their closest friends. Finding news stories about opera singers who cancel due to injury is nearly impossible. However, with a little research I was able to find a few sources that should be of interest and help lay to rest the notion that classical singers are immune from voice disorders.

NBC newsinterviewed world renowned laryngologist Dr. Steven Zeitels (Harvard Medical Center) for a story about the life span…

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Vicki Cobb: The Demise of the Artist-Teacher

This is what frustrated me about my time in public school. While I was blessed to work with creative administrators who supported my sometimes crazy ideas, I saw other districts where teachers were required to stay on the same page on the same day with little regard for the human beings the district was charged with educating. I saw so much giftedness and creativity in my brief time in the Syracuse City District, and I am concerned that that will be lost in the coming generations with the test prep mindset that is currently fostered. Encourage exploration of the unique creativity of those around you – not just children. We will be a richer society through supporting the artists within.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Vicki Cobb, author of many children’s books about hands-on science, recently spoke at a children’s literature conference in Florida. She was disturbed to meet a new breed of teacher: teachers who had grown up in the era of high-stakes testing and scripted lessons. Too many thought that this is the way school was supposed to be, because it was all they had experienced.

She attributes the change to the takeover of education policy by non educators:

The business and government suits, who have hijacked educational policy in a top down approach, are not professional educators. Their knowledge of education comes primarily from what they themselves survived (endured?). Most do not know what good education looks like. Their idea of a well-ordered classroom is rows of desks with students quietly bent over a test. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost in the preparation of the next generation of…

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Exploring the sacraments: WS 3149 – A Place at the Table

Hymn Society fellow Shirley Erena Murray of New Zealand wrote the contemporary hymn “A Place at the Table” (aka “For Everyone Born”) out of her call to support human rights, especially those turned away at the Communion table. A full text of the hymn is available online at Hope Publishing for the reader’s consideration, or the UMC Worship and Song hymnal at #3149. I will only include my devotional thoughts on the lyrics here.

In verse one, Dr. Murray outlines the basic needs for all humanity: food, shelter and clothing. My personal thoughts turn to friends living in the more challenging areas of Central New York, and the food deserts in which I worked. Knowing that we as one of the richest nations on the globe have children starving and veterans living on the streets puts an immediate face to a worldwide problem. And an immediate face to the friends I have made in those places – whom have taught me finger knitting, creative ways to have fun in a church parking lot with the varied pieces of sports equipment and outdoor toys to be found in a mission closet, and who are the best examples of the Acts church, sharing all they have. As we become a global culture, we in the United States are becoming more and more aware of how life exists in other places on this planet. In January, I will be traveling with a group of classmates to India as part of our cross-cultural awareness education. We were told at the last class to be prepared to see images that will leave an indelible mark on our lives, both beautiful and intense. As I type in my warm apartment on the MTSO campus, as hard as it is to be a graduate student again, I have food, shelter and a safe place. But that is not true of everyone.

Verse two divides along the two traditional genders considered in the world: woman and man. We continue to examine stereotypes, and the verse suggests dialoguing with each other to figure out what is fair. It reminds me of my maternal grandparents’ relationship: they kept Christ at the center of their relationship, had a regular devotional time together and talked to each other – dividing their shared living along lines that might not always have been looked upon as normative for their time: my grandfather did the cooking and my grandmother kept the finances. It worked for them. They made it work, through lots of hard work with the love of Christ to guide them. I only hope I am as blessed one day.

Verse three creates opposites with age divisions, and shares that voices are not always heard because of one’s age. As was the case with the prophet Jeremiah, some can cry to God “I’m too young! No one will listen to me!” I have witnessed the opposite in listening to some stories at nursing homes: “I’m too old! I no longer matter to society!” We all have a place, no matter where we are in life. One only need consider the Pixar film Up, with cranky Carl frustrated about being shipped off to an assisted living facility, and wanting nothing to do with a world he believes no longer wants him, and to which he is no longer useful. He thumbs his nose at the facility drivers as his house lifts off with innumerable helium balloons to fly to South America where he had always hoped to travel with his now-deceased wife. He thinks he is alone, but enter one Russell: a Wilderness Scout seeking an elderly person to help so he can get his helpfulness badge. Through adventures with Dug the Dog and Kevin, a rare bird, Carl learns that he does belong, he does matter, and becomes a grandfather to Russell whose own father ignores him. Countless real-life examples come to mind for me as well – and hopefully for you the reader. Some of my dearest friendships are with those who are of a different age than I – my adopted grandparents who continue to teach me yet show me a deep love at the same time. And my young friends from the Bible Notes choir back home – willing to learn any style of music thrown their way, and willing to vision for the choir. Thank God for both ends of the spectrum willing to learn and grow with me.

Verse four is perhaps the most difficult to accept for some congregations, or for some people pending world circumstances. However, if God’s grace is indeed perfect and open to all who will accept it, we have to be prepared for abuser and abused at the heavenly Table. While we know the circumstances surrounding Hitler’s death, what if there was somehow, someway that in his final moments he realized everything he had done and asked like the thief on the cross: “Remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” Would we be prepared for our worst enemy – our hated Samaritan to be in heaven with us? I have to believe that that’s what perfect grace is – otherwise I too fall outside of acceptance. God can redeem all if we allow redemption to occur.

Verse five does say “For everyone born” – not some – everyone. No fear, but freedom to live and work and worship as God calls us. A full living into God’s kin-dom.

The Hope Publishing link includes a verse 6 that is not in Worship and Song , but is important to consider in the current UMC struggle towards an open and affirming congregation. It addresses family and friends who are LGBT  in our society – those who have been excluded from the sacraments simply because of who they are and who they love. God grace is open to all, as represented by the theology of an open table in the United Methodist Church. The message was driven home to me on my first visit to MTSO. I had just discovered I was gluten-free the day before I drove out, and hadn’t had the time to think through the ramifications for any aspect of my life, let alone Communion. It was November, and the services were sponsored by the LIFE group here on the MTSO campus. Deeply moved by the classes I had visited, I went to chapel and was confronted with the communion elements for the first time as a gluten-free individual. My heart sank, thinking I was separated from the table forever. However, after the words of institution, the presider turned to the congregation and said, “On behalf of our guests, we have one common gluten free loaf for one body in Christ.” I didn’t know about anyone else in the room, and the school didn’t know about my need. Yet grace provided a way, and through the hands of an elegantly dressed woman from a transgender congregation who was a communion server, the Table was opened back up to me. Someone who had likely been barred from the Table became the hands of Christ to me that day.

God will delight in our hands working for justice in joy, compassion and peace on behalf of those around us, often in the most mysterious ways. And praise God we are not alone.



Exploring the Sacraments: The Closing Eucharistic Prayer from Service of Word and Table I

As a child, I loved Communion Sunday because my grandfather would occasionally bake the bread, and nothing was better than some of my grandfather’s bread. However, as I grew, Communion became important to me in deeper ways. My hometown has always had a strong sense of community, and Communion was a way of cementing those ties that bound us together. As in the previous post, the sacrament of Holy Communion is not just a snack we get before heading to coffee hour in the Fellowship Hall to get the real goodies. In the act of Communion, we are called to remember our baptism and take our gifts into the world. This is no more apparent than the final prayer in the Service of Word and Table I (BOW, p 39), which can be said by the elder, or recited in unison by the congregation:

Eternal God, we give you thanks for this holy mystery

in which you have given yourself to us.

Grant that we may go into the world

in the strength of your Spirit,

to give ourselves for others,

in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


God, giving such a personal divine gift in coming to us as Jesus Christ. It’s mind-blowing that God should think of us this way, no matter how bad we think we are. We only have to accept this gift in recognition of the divine connection that already exists, before we know we need it – or even when we think we’re outside of that acceptance. We are called to go into the world – all of us, not just our ordained brothers and sisters. We all have the gift of God’s Spirit present with us, and as Father Mulcahy shares in a brilliant monologue from the episode Blood Brothers of the popular TV show M*A*S*H, we aren’t here to be patted on the back, but to give of ourselves for others in recognition that we are created in imago Dei – in the image of God.

Praise God that we can be here for each other – to be a reminder of all God calls us to be and do with our communities, in the name of Jesus Christ.

And for anyone from the Baldwinsville First United Methodist Church that reads this, while the Communion Table upstairs is the primary sacramental focus, do remember to visit the Panera Table in the Dining Room downstairs. The money raised goes towards hands-on-mission projects – part of our extension into our community – and an extension of our Table of grace.

Exploring the Sacraments: The Eucharistic Feast in the United Methodist tradition

This post utilizes the United Methodist Book of Discipline 2012 (Para. 104, Article XVI – Of the Sacraments, p 67; and Article XVIII – Of the Lord’s Supper, p 68), and the United Methodist Book of Worship (p 13 – 32). 

Throughout history, the Last Supper has been remembered by Christians through many names: the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, Holy Communion – even Passover by some denominations, in recognition of the feast which Jesus Christ and his disciples were observing. Early Christians were know to practice a communion ritual through accounts in Acts, and Paul even famously condemned the Corinthian Church for allowing the practice of Holy Communion to become somewhat of a bacchanal, and admonished them to serious self-examination before partaking at the Table. The practice of Communion has varied through the centuries, at time reserving the sacrament for the clergy only, but John Wesley was among those who reclaimed Communion for the laity, taking it back into the world as a means of grace for all who would partake. Wesley even suggests that one participate in communion as often as one can, leading us to wonder how he might have been frustrated with quarterly communion on the American frontier, or even our monthly services today. Weekly communion is even slowly making its way back to the United Methodist Church in some areas.

United Methodist services of Holy Communion have come to be known as Services of Word and Table. This renaming reflects the desire of contemporary Protestant liturgical theology to place the sacraments at the focal point of a worship service. The second of the two United Methodist sacraments, Holy Communion is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace through which God calls us into the economic community of the Trinity in the body of Jesus Christ, broken for us so we can know we are members of God’s family. We are joined with God at the same time we are joined with each other as part of a great community throughout time and space, extending into eternity. There are four parts to the communion portion of the service (BOW p 27 – 31):

1. Taking the Bread and Cup, which can be preceded by a UMC deacon bringing the elements forward from the community  with the offering. An elder then takes them to the table to prepare them for the meal. The type of bread is influenced by the community, and with the growing number of food allergies, one can sometimes find options to open the Table up, which are outlined in greater detail at the bottom of this post. It is also a Methodist tradition that rather than wine, the elements include unfermented grape juice in support of recovering alcoholics, the inclusion of children, and in support of the church’s continuing stance on abstinence from alcohol (BOW, p 28).

2. The Great Thanksgiving, in which the elder blesses the elements with the words of institution, invoking the presence of the Holy Spirit, and praising the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, Mother of Us All is often the language used, in the tradition of medieval Christian mystic Julian of Norwich), followed by the congregation praying the Lord’s Prayer together.

3. Next, the bread will be broken and the cup raised, and the congregation will be invited to the table.

4. The fourth part of the communion service is the giving of the elements to the congregation. In the United Methodist tradition, the Table is open to all who come forward with a heart for living a Christian life, and no one should ever be denied the sacraments.

Article XVI of the Methodist Church in the Book of Discipline notes that we aren’t just to gaze upon the sacraments, or carry them around with us, but we must use them. In order to use the sacrament of Holy Communion, Christians can explore ways to let their gifts shine through many lay servant/lay speaking classes at BeADisciple.org or contact their conference or district committee on Lay Servant Ministries for information on in-person classes. Bridging one’s gifts to the world is the greatest way we can be in service with our communities, and not only offers the opportunity to give, but to receive in ways that will transform everyone’s lives. As with the sacrament of baptism and the small group book Come to the Waters detailed in an earlier post, the UMC has a book entitled This Holy Mystery for lay study. It is available here online, or here as a downloadable pdf, and print versions may be obtained through Cokesbury or by asking your pastor.

Services of Word and Table have been crafted to reflect the different seasons and communities throughout the United Methodist connection. For a deeper exploration of the breadth and depth of our tradition, one can find multiple forms of the Great Thanksgiving here and a growing collection of Open Source Liturgy Project offerings here, all of which are under the Creative Commons license.

As awareness of food allergies grows, in an effort to make the Table open to all, the GBOD has provided this resource thanks to Tracy R. Merrick, a lay member with a wife who deals with celiac disease. The best option is working to find a loaf safe for all to consume, which is a struggle for those that deal with multiple food allergies, but worth the dialogue and effort for every worship team. Many churches have different stations, or the option to tell an usher that one needs an alternative form of communion. However it is done, the grace with which each effort to extend the Table has moved me deeply. It doesn’t matter whether the loaf is free of the eight major allergens, or if a congregation offers up the only gluten free food in the church to make sure I was able to participate in the table – peanut brittle for the church’s candy sale. To know that all are welcome with a loving, thought-out gesture of Table grace can make even those of us that feel unworthy to be included in the divine grace know they are part of God’s family, no matter what. If your congregation is seeking an allergen free mix, Breads From Anna has bread mixes worth considering, or check out the cookbook resources through your local library (don’t forget to ask your librarian about interlibrary loan possibilities!). If those of you that read this have other suggestions, please dialogue with me in the comments section so we can learn from each other.

Exploring the sacraments: UMH 607: A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition

An online version of the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer may be found here. This prayer, while not directly by John Wesley, is in the Wesleyan tradition, and is even typically paired with UMH 606 “Come Let Us Use the Grace Divine” that we looked at in the previous post, as the hymn was designed for the New Year’s Covenant Service still practiced by some United Methodist Churches (BOW 288 – 294). As others have paraphrased the original prayer into a modern style, I present a way to analyze this in contemporary-Lisa-language:


God, I can’t live by my rules any more; I need you.

Let me work in a way that brings you glory; give me family, friends, colleagues and strangers to work with that you know will bring me closer to you.

If I get to do really cool things for you – awesome!

If I suffer and it brings me closer to you, that will be a blessing.

If I work or if I am unemployed, let what I do glorify you.

If people celebrate the gifts you have given me through how I use them for you – cool.

If people hate me because  they know I’m connected to you, I accept that.

Whether I have everything I could ever need or want, or have nothing, let my life be for your use.

God, you are awesome, and I recognize you as Parent, Son, and Holy Spirit, One God beyond all we can understand with our human language.

You have called to me, and I am answering, I am completely yours.

I know this prayer and these promises are being witnessed by one great cloud of witnesses – the entire host of heaven. Amen


No matter what, we need to keep our whole being focused on God. Go to the link at the top or read the version at UMH 607. Some of the language is different for a modern voice. How would you rephrase the original prayer so you know that you are always within the scope of God’s love? No one and no circumstance is outside the scope of that love. The first formal public covenant we have with God is typically baptism. All who come forward in faith to be in covenant with God are by grace in covenant with God, no matter your circumstances. Baptism is a mark to everyone that you recognize that outpouring of loving grace. God turns no one away. While we can’t fully know God in our human understanding, knowing God’s perfect love is always there before we know we need it is amazing to me, and makes me hungry to learn all I can. And I can only do that in connection with the body of Christ. That’s the promise of baptism.



Exploring the sacraments: UMH 606 “Come, Let Us Use the Grace Divine”

Hymnary.org is a great resource for exploring the rich congregational song repertoire of any number of denominations, including the Wesleyan tradition that exists in the United Methodist Church. No. 606, “Come, Let Us Use the Grace Divine” is from the extensive song output of John Wesley’s brother Charles, and uses an early English tune harmonized here by noted composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Verse One: It’s interesting to think about the Wesleyan focus on social justice and the use of Jeremiah 50: 5‘s phrase of joining “in a perpetual covenant… to Christ the Lord” in the first verse of the hymn. From the very beginning, one participating in worship through this hymn can note God’s prevenient grace reaching out to one great cloud of witnesses: from the Jews in exile in Babylon returned to God in a time before Christ; to the lower classes of society reached by John Wesley’s ministry at the time this hymn was written; to a time when we too didn’t recognize the love of God active in our lives; and to times and places whenever people of all walks are shunned by human society and seen as outside the scope of God’s love. God’s love is for all, therefore, baptism is for all, and this is something that can unify the body of Christ. It’s not about us; it’s about Christ and his work through us for the greater glory of an awesome God. Baptism is indeed a sacred hour that changes our lives forever.


Verse Two: Baptism is a covenant with God and with the body of Christ. We need to do all we can to remember what this promise means for us and for those around us: that we act because of the love of God to all we meet. The final phrase of this verse may make some think that God isn’t near us (or even provides prevenient grace), yet as the saying goes, it is we who step away from God, so it only feels like we need to ask God to come down and meet us. As we learn through the Psalms, however, the God who loves us so much can take the full range of expressed human emotions, and our worship can and should express that. God loves each of us, right where we are.


Verse Three: The Trinitiarian forumula of baptism is present here, in “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” waiting for the totality of our beings to respond to divine amazing love. It also acknowledges that the covenant sung about earlier is in the presence of one great cloud of witnesses as the lyrics refer to God “present with thy celestial host” to acknowledge each covenant made with the blood of Christ taking away our sins, writing our names in the Book of Life.

While some language is centered theologically within the time period Charles wrote this hymn, it speaks to an eternal covenant with a God who is there for all, in the name of Jesus Christ. We can do nothing to earn this divine grace, we just need to accept and use it.