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ix. here, where I landed

hi readers, It’s great to be back and writing again! As I finished school last week, the last several months were filled with practicing, performances, studying, exams, goodbyes, see you soons, decisions about the next step of life, and celebrating with special people. I now officially bear the title staatlich geprüfte Atem-, Sprech- und Stimmlehrerin. (State-certified breath, speech, and voice teacher and therapist). Yay! I truly believe I've landed in the best profession there is. I stumbled upon it in Berlin.

It was 2019.

I had been teaching elementary school music at a school whose culture was, well… loud. The students were loud: loud in the hallways, loud on the playground, loud in the classroom… The teachers were loud, too, for the most part, so as to be able to exert some level of authority and keep order in the classrooms. Stress and burnout culture reigned extreme. In my third year of teaching, after catching a cold and developing the classic hoarse voice that goes along with it, I continued to teach. After more than two weeks, my voice was still hoarse in the classroom, and one of my co-workers noticed, commenting that my voice quality was different and that I should consider seeing a HNO-Arzt (ear, nose, and throat doctor). The doctor diagnosed me with hyperfunktionelle Dysphonie (hyperfunctional dypshonia: a voice disorder in which the exertion of muscular energy of the laryngeal muscles is more than it should be or more than is healthy) and sent me to voice therapy.

By a happy coincidence, I landed with a great therapist who was a singer herself. She began the process with me of untangling muscular tensions that were the result of years of habits and experiences. Firstly, as a teenager singing passionately but with no idea of how to navigate register switches, then, as a music student studying singing and experiencing major technical problems, and finally, starting my teaching career in such a loud environment, and, what’s more, in my second language: a language which requires a different type of articulation than my mother tongue and that I first truly began speaking daily as a teacher in this loud, strenuous, and stressful environment. This therapist understood what the dysfunction of my voice meant to me, and how distressing the experience is for a singer. She told me once in a therapy session that a singer could sit for hours in psychotherapy and discover and work on every possible wound or trauma imaginable; however, if her voice were having problems, she would still be sad. I felt very seen and understood by her. She recommended me a voice teacher in Berlin, speaking very highly of her skills. I worked with this teacher for around a year. She was a highly skilled teacher, extremely musical and technically savvy, and had an amazingly keen sense of people and how they tick. Through her dedication and passion, I grew a lot. 

Yet, I still struggled. I often came to lessons after the school day, exhausted and unbelievably stressed. I felt like my voice was trapped under a layer of tensions, stories, fears, and old traumas, and that uncovering it would mean first having to dig through all of these and resolve them. My four years as a teacher in Berlin taught me more than I could’ve imagined possible about teaching and life. About how to build relationships and trust. How to be clear, honest, and straightforward. How to weigh one’s options. How to be detail-oriented. How to have everyone in a room simultaneously within view and perceive their energies without completely losing track of oneself. How to find humor in places where chaos is taking over. How to think on my feet, improvise, and create a new plan spur-of-the-moment. How to prioritize. How to truly listen and make space. 

How to have patience. Due to the nature of the working environment, teaching music, my actual job description, was always second, if not third priority. The primary priorities included ensuring the classroom was a safe environment for the kids and building relationship and trust with them. These two things took most of the energy of the first two years of teaching. By my third year, many of my classes were able to spend the majority of the music lesson actually making music. 

Nevertheless, despite the valuable life and professional lessons I learned, progress I saw in my classroom, and rewarding moments I experienced in relationship with my students, this phase was entangled with a lot of stress and exhaustion. When I considered the 23-year-old freshly graduated music student with the hopes of professionally directing choirs and someday singing repertoire like Beethoven’s 9th as a soloist, I faced the fact that my life had drifted pretty far from my initial vision of where I’d hoped. I spent most of my free periods and lunch hours at the school where I taught trying to practice singing, or at least turning on music I currently listened to and singing along so as find some time for my own music in my day-to-day work life, but this feeling of being vocally and psychologically trapped under these stressors presided. 


In 2020, in a lesson with the voice teacher recommended to me by my therapist, I expressed my dilemma: I loved teaching, but I wanted to work more specifically with voice and couldn't envision myself in the classroom forever. “Hast du von Schlaffhorst-Andersen gehört?”, she asked me. (“Have you heard of Schlaffhorst-Andersen?”) “Das könnte echt was für dich sein.” ("that really might be something for you.") I googled Schlaffhorst-Andersen when I got home that evening and spent about an hour on the school website. 

The introduction captured me immediately. (copied from the english website page: https://www.cjd-schlaffhorst-andersen.de/ein-konzept-wird-zum-beruf/english/#:~:text=Clara%20Schlaffhorst%20and%20Hedwig%20Andersen,psyche%20are%20all%20closely%20linked.): Clara Schlaffhorst and Hedwig Andersen were both born in the 1860s. In 1897, they translated Leo Kofler's book "The Art of Breathing", and developed from it a holistic approach: Voice, breathing, posture, movement and psyche are all closely linked. They form a system of mutual interdependencies, individual to each person, which also determine how one communicates with others (voice production, language, way of speaking, posture/attitude etc.).

It follows that any dysfunction in this system can only be considered and treated sensibly within the context of the whole. I decided to apply to the program almost immediately, and last week, after three years of nearly forty-hour weeks plus additional practice, rehearsals, and studying outside of school, I completed my last week as a student. Three years. Years of intensive coursework. Of deep, life-changing friendships. Of tears, laughs, and moving emotions. Of struggles, too: many doubts and questions and doctor’s appointments to try and figure out various answers to a variety of uncertainties. Years of putting one foot in front of the other, of taking things one day at a time. Years of digging, processing, healing, coming closer to myself, figuring out who I am, and learning to lean on the wonderful people around me when things became too much to deal with alone, trusting that I would be caught, held until I could lift myself up again, and left stronger because of it. Schlaffhorst-Andersen’s concept meets and embraces the whole person: the person as she is as a product of her biology, experiences, and choices; yet, also, the person she could be, the potential that resides within her. Schlaffhorst-Andersen allows for space: space to show up as one is and grow toward where one is headed. Space after each exhalation to let the energy one has inhaled sink in and settle, helping one to grow stronger before the process of receiving begins once again. Several days after finishing these intensive years and looking back on the experience, I crave this breath pause now, this phenomenon we call the Atempause: the time to let it all be, to let it do its thing. So right now, I allow it all to sink in. I feel that it is working in me and through me and is finding home in deep places that I will be able to access when I work with my students and clients in the future. It’s in me now and will grow in me the more I come into contact with it. When I breathe, this concept accompanies me. When I sing, it accompanies me. When I lay a hand on my chest and feel the expansion of my lungs and do nothing but listen to the dove that is cooing outside my window as I write this, it is also with me. No matter the depth of the layers separating us from our true selves, from our art, healing is possible. Healing craves room. Healing can happen a millimeter at a time, can be in the form of tiny little movements that set life-changing things into action.

Space. Time.

Breath. Inhalation, exhalation, pause.



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7月08日

What an interesting and revealing blog. I enjoyed it immensely and it made me wander through my memories of teaching. Yes, it was loud and explains why I enjoy my solitude and peace of mind through my daily meditations. It took me awhile to figure it all out after my retirement so I am happy that you were able to figure this out much sooner with help. You have an amazing life ahead of you! God Bless! Chriss Martinez 😇

いいね!
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