Angela Winter is a holistic voice teacher, life coach, and singer. Her Facebook page says: “Angela Peterson Winter helps people discover and express who they really are by developing their voice, inside and out.”
Angela also offers a free 7-day eCourse “Free Your Voice | Free Your Self” which you can sign-up for here.
I had a lot of fun doing this interview with Angela because it went to some very interesting places almost right away – higher powers, chakras, tongue tension, primal screaming and much more.
My Conversation with Angela Winter
Peter: I’m very excited to have Angela Winter as my guest today to talk about some of the work she does as a holistic voice teacher and life coach. Welcome Angela.
Angela: Thank you Peter. It’s a pleasure to be with you today.
Peter: I’d like to have you start by saying a little about yourself and what exactly you do and how you got into it.
Angela: Sure. As you mentioned, I’m a holistic voice teacher and I’m also a life coach as part of that. I have my Masters in Voice Pedagogy from Westminster Choir College and I’ve been teaching voice pretty much my whole adult life.
As part of my own singing journey, I recognized that learning how to sing wasn’t always simply a technical process. It wasn’t always about learning what muscle does what and how to make that muscle do something, nor was it always simply about learning how to connect and express the music. Sometimes in order to do both those things you needed to go a bit deeper.
For example, after grad school I was pretty burnt out and was struggling with a lack of confidence and self doubt and pretty deeply rooted tongue tension. I found a wonderful teacher here in the DC area, Cate Frazier-Neely who I’ve been working with ever since. She not only was able to give me the vocal technique and exercises to help with the tongue tension, but she was able to recommend references for more spiritual and personal growth exploration.
The Artist’s Way was the first foray into that and it really opened a whole new world for me and something I was so hungry for. I think when we’re growing up singing and making art and creating there is a part of it that’s so inherently spiritual and so connected to just the flow of the universe. As we get into more formal academic training I think it’s really easy to lose a lot of that, or at least that was my experience.
You can get so focused on “you need to look this way or study this way or sing this way or do this for this audition and this for this audition”, that I think it’s easy to lose sight of why we wanted to create and sing in the first place. For me, getting back into that more connected and spiritual way of creating through The Artist’s Way and then through many other books that eventually led me to life coaching, I really was able to get to what was underneath those confidence and tension issues.
Now as I have gotten through my training as a life coach, even further exploration has come into it, especially with the role of emotions. Not just the emotions we need to express through the music, text and characters but how our day-to-day emotions either do or do not get expressed and how that can then impact our singing voice.
So all that is a kind of roundabout answer, but basically just through doing the deeper personal growth work with myself and then also with my students, I noticed a lot deeper and even faster shifts could be made with singing.
Peter: I think so many singers can relate to your story about all the non-constructive self-talk that goes on in their heads.
Peter: Could maybe say a little more about that if you’re comfortable with that – what was the root of that tension? What were some of the things that were the most helpful in providing more freedom from that?
Angela: With the tension, I’m a big believer and practitioner of the Chakra system from yoga. If we think about where the tongue lives in our throat and the 5th Chakra, it’s all about communication. So what really helped me shift that was getting more in touch with what I needed or wanted to say in my life and to others that I wasn’t saying. I was holding it in and all that lack of expression and even repression and suppression, especially of anger, really knotted up the tongue from the very base through the tip of the articulation system.
Peter: That’s so interesting. What sort of techniques or tools did you use to express your anger and become more expressed? Was it like communicating with people face-to-face or did you do a lot of journaling and writing via The Artist’s Way? What was the most helpful thing?
Angela: There was a lot of journaling and writing and also some sound healing exercises as well as visualizations. My voice teacher is also skilled with holistic work, and I remember voice lessons where I’d literally have a lump in my throat that would keep me from vocalizing.
We’d start the process and this giant lump would come up, and I remember her sitting me down in the chair and she had me close my eyes and really asked me to connect to the sound and let out whatever wanted to come out. I remember just sitting in her chair with these primal moans and lots of tears, because that seems to be how healing goes, at least for me. But it was deeply transformative to really find the sound trapped in that lump in my throat and tongue and give it a voice, even though it was unintelligible and perhaps meaningless to others. For me, I don’t know, it was like those decades-long screams that had to be released.
Then other visualizations that were really helpful were connecting with my own vision of God and Spirit and really seeing myself supported by that entity, especially while I was singing. That also really helped me feel like I could surrender and let go, and I didn’t have to do it all by myself or by muscling, pushing and driving myself through.
Peter: What a beautiful image to imagine some sort of higher power supporting you when you’re singing. What is that higher power to you? Are you able to describe it? Do you call it God or Spirit or what is it?
Angela: It kind of takes all names for me. I grew up in a Christian church and then in my 20’s fell in love with Judaism as well as a Jewish man and converted. I do have a traditional, more patriarchal, God vision. But what’s enabled me to connect more deeply is seeing that in a broader sense and not as God the man and the father, but as the Spirit that breathes life, the Creator that is present throughout the universe.
And even more than that, for those who may not be able to connect to a more religious understanding, I really think of it as flow. When you are connected to that sense of something greater and you’re able to step into this place of flow, there is this giving and receiving. For me that’s really what it’s all about and what I try to find for myself and also help my students and clients find. For me, that’s really the expression of divinity – that sense of flow and being supported and responding to that support and connecting with your soul’s expression, whatever that might be.
Peter: That’s really beautiful, the soul’s expression. I like that you used the word “divinity” because I often hear musicians say “oh this or that piece of music is divine”. I think all of us musicians have had some sort of experience with something divine or bigger than ourselves.
Peter: And it becomes a really healthy addiction in a way. And I think it why we do what we do because it’s in those moments that we feel connected to other people and other things bigger than us and there is just this incredible feeling of connection and joy that you can’t really find anywhere else.
Angela: Exactly! So all I’ve done is taken that and given it a little more depth and more spiritual explanation, but it’s all the same idea about connection and oneness.
Peter: Let’s say I’m an aspiring singer with tension and confidence issues in my performing and I come to you for a lesson – where would you begin with me?
Angela: I mean the first step for me is always an intake and understanding where you’ve come from and where you want to go. If you’re someone who wants to be an active performer than we may stay a little more traditional for awhile and see how some of the more traditional Bel Canto exercises or even some of the functional Somatic Voicework ™ exercises of Jeanie LoVetri’s method may work.
Then, if I was still seeing a lot of tension, or things weren’t quite clicking, I’d begin to take you through the deeper processes. We would talk about how tension is very often, if not always, unexpressed emotion. I would lead you through exercises to begin to deepen your awareness of your body and what tension you feel. A lot of time we walk around as giant stress balls and don’t necessarily sense what our muscles are doing. So I’d have you become aware of what you’re feeling in your body as well as what emotions were present and what your mind is doing.
Is it constantly spouting negativity? Is it constantly ruminating in the past or planning in the future? What is the nature of the thoughts that are spinning? Then I’d begin to help you connect with hearing the deeper wisdom of your body and how that’s the intuition and how that might be able to help shift some of the tension and help quiet the mind a little bit.
I find with confidence issues in particular it’s usually due to that running tape in our mind filled with judgments that we perceive from others and therefore are giving to ourselves. If we can become aware of those judgments, even the awareness itself without even shifting those judgments to a more positive place or dissolving them through what I call “thought work” and just becoming aware of them, can help them quiet and to create distance between yourself and those thoughts to help you realize you’re not those thoughts and you’re deeper, wiser and bigger than the brain computer running those thoughts.
Peter: It sounds great – I want to come for a lesson now! I’ve been a lifelong musician and have a background as a conductor, music educator and Alexander technique teacher but as I talk to different people and learn about these different methods and things people use in their teaching, I’m finding there are so many similarities. There are these basic principles like you said about awareness – it’s one of the main things we do in the Alexander Technique is we become aware of your body and how your tension is affecting you.
Alexander himself said that we translate everything, whether it be emotional or spiritual, into muscular tension. I thought it was really interesting on what you said about the emotions or the tension is just an unexpressed emotion.
So let’s say you work with a singer who has an unexpressed and repressed emotions. What would you do with them? Are you willing to walk us through an exercise right now?
Angela: Yeah let’s do it. The most common repressed emotion is typically anger, for women especially. For men, sometimes it’s anger and sometimes it’s also grief because there is this cultural expectation for men not to cry. A little less so in the music and arts community but still it’s out there.
Angela: So it kind of depends on which one but let’s say we sense there is some anger there. Very often just acknowledging that the anger is there will be enough to allow it to pass. But the first step I have students take with this emotion process is…as I said, first to acknowledge it and then to sit with it.
So I’ll have them close their eyes and really sense that anger and to stay away from any thoughts about it, any stories or reasons for it to exist and instead go into the body and just notice what’s present as they live with this anger. Is there tension in your toes or legs or your rear end or chest? Where does this anger live and what does it feel like? Get really, really curious and the more you can stay present with that emotion without judgment or attaching onto it the more it can simply leave.
This particular exercise I learned from a mind/body coach named Abigail Steidley, and she’s tremendous. So if you think an emotion is simply energy and if we don’t express it at the time, then it becomes trapped energy inside our bodies, thereby resulting in this tension. So if we can then reconnect with the energy of the emotion but this time let it express itself, not necessarily through violence or verbal expression or anything like that, but just being present and aware of what that emotion feels like in the body, then typically it’s about 90 seconds for it to shift. It does depend on how long the anger has been in the body and how deep it goes, but you’ll notice as you sit with it that it will begin to shift.
So where there was tightness in the body it starts to feel a little looser. Where you might have felt like wanting to punch something, suddenly the fists start to soften. If you sit with it long enough sometimes it will turn into other emotions, especially grief because there’s often a sense of sadness under that anger. And other times it will simply fall away and be replaced by peace. That’s probably the simplest exercise.
Peter: That’s really helpful and something people can try as they’re reading this article.
Angela: Yeah absolutely.
Peter: It’s really beautiful. I was interested that you were talking about just making these primal sounds. Last night I was in a sweat lodge and the very end was just toning and so just making sounds and whatever came out and I found myself making these sounds and I was like where did these come from?!
Peter: It was amazing. It makes me think that often times as voice teachers or singers we get stuck in this limited notion of what sound is.
Peter: What would you say about that to break out of this idea that this is the way it should sound and to have a little more freedom around creating whatever comes out?
Angela: I so agree, and it’s actually where I plan on taking my business this summer and fall. It’s really getting away from “voice lessons must create the perfect singer”, or “voice lessons must create the opera singer or musical theater singer and they’re meant for people who want to be soloists”, etc. I move instead into simply singing as a form of healing and self-expression…I mean, it’s the first form of expression for most of us as we learn to speak as young children, and sometimes even before we learn to speak there is singing, there’s humming, screaming, there is singing random little songs about your day, and we lose that as we go through life.
And to be able to reconnect to that joy, I think, can also help us connect with our healthy, functional singing. It occurred to me awhile ago: we come into this world with these perfectly healthy voices in little kids. They sing and talk and scream literally all day long and their voices are never ever tired. Yet, even as we get into high school and you go to a ballgame or what have you, and you may be screaming or talking and your voice is done, and you’re totally stripped.
Angela: And I think a lot of that is because of the emotional aspect we were just talking about. But also, I think, we have in our culture so many expectations of what good sound is supposed to be. No matter what genre it is you want to pursue there is this ideal inside our heads, and I think it’s very easy to fall into a trap of imitation and getting separated from what your true voice is.
So that is really what I try to do with my practice and where I want to take it more with sound healing and even getting into vocal improvisation, so it becomes more about…what does your voice need to say? What does your voice sound like? As opposed to, what do I want it to sound like or how do I make it fit that ideal?
For me, I fell into this place when the only teachers around growing up were at the university. And what did they teach? They taught classical, so that’s what I sang. But in my soul I wanted to sing jazz, and I loved singing jazz, but I couldn’t learn to do that, it wasn’t ‘proper singing’. Eventually, it kind of fell away, and I never took it up again because I stayed on that formal academic track. I could sing classical and it fit with my voice, but there was always this part of me that was like…why was that first love never honored by me or by my teachers?
So it’s really interesting that even with something so unique and so connected to really our essence as human beings that we get into this place of manipulation.
Peter: I love everything you just said. It really resonates with me. It’s interesting I’ve had some of the most fun times recently with non-singers. Last summer, I was doing a retreat with 10 men and we were up in the woods and, in particular, there was this one guy named Grizzly and he’s got this big long beard and very large man and pretty much a tough guy but has a huge heart.
I did some singing with them and it had been so repressed for them their whole life. When they got the opportunity to sing it was like mind-blowing for them. They just thanked me like this is incredible and I think we artists and singers take this for granted…yeah we walk, we sing, we speak and it’s just what we do. But the real gift for non-singers is you are a singer, everyone is a singer.
Angela: Yes and so often you get into school and maybe you can’t quite match pitch but instead of them pulling you aside and helping you learn, it’s “oh please don’t sing that passage”, right?
Angela: “Well you can’t really sing very well so please don’t”. I think the teachers have the best intention but what that does to a person’s soul to not be able to express it in the way they came into the world doing is…I mean, it crushes me every time I hear someone say they can’t sing. I’m like – no, you can, really!!
So that’s what I want to do more of, is do more of the coaching side of it and using the voice as an expression tool as part of that coaching process and that reconnection.
Peter: Please let me know about it and I’ll make sure all my people in my audience knows about this as well because it sounds like a great opportunity.
I want to close up here to honor your time, but you mentioned in our original call that you were working on a proposal…having to do with emotions in singing with your teacher?
Peter: Would you say a little more about that?
Angela: Absolutely. So my teacher, Cate Frazier-Neely and I have just finished it and are working on hitting that final submit button, but we’ve put together a proposal all about the emotions and their effects on the singing voice. It’s a lot of what I shared with you before but drawing on that, this is kind of an un-researched topic in the singing world, right? There is all this stuff about voice science and how the different muscles work and how they coordinate or don’t coordinate. But there is very little, if any, research on how outside factors influence that.
And so what on earth are you supposed to do with voice science if the body isn’t functioning, period? I mean, how are you going to get someone to open their throat if their neck is a ball of knots? So we’re diving a little more into that but, as I said, there’s not a whole lot of research and I haven’t got any research, to be honest, on how it affects the singing voice in particular and so we’re kind of pioneering that.
There is quite a bit of research into the mind/body connection and psychoneuroimmunology, which is a newer word in the medical field. It’s really the study about how we are beings and we have feelings and thoughts and experiences and all that impacts the body. We’re not simply a symptom that needs medication. There is a whole lot more to health than much of the conventional Western medicine currently practices.
So we’re looking into a lot of that, and there is also some interesting research in the sports arena. I came across a couple of papers regarding the attitudes of football players and how that impacted their risk for injury and getting into support systems and their overall emotional resilience and how that played a factor.
Again, it’s newer research and it’s harder to do hard laboratory science because it is so subjective and there are so many different factors that are harder to measure and it’s harder to have a controlled group. It’s a lot more experiential evidence and anecdotal evidence, and it’s been really fascinating. Our presentation will cover the research we’ve found and then it will also cover our own stories as well as providing some exercises teachers can take back to their studios to begin to help these students who aren’t necessarily served by the more traditional voice pedagogy/voice science exercises that they may be using.
Peter: Well it sounds great and I really hope you get approved because I think the industry really needs something like this and to forward this conversation and maybe some more research opportunities. It’s really a gift and something so valuable that you’re offering to singers. I’m so glad I found you and we can have this conversation and more people can learn about your work is really exciting.
Angela: Thank you.
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