How many of us can say we love the sound of our own voice — especially when singing? If the thought of taking voice lessons has ever crossed your mind, an upcoming workshop may satisfy your curiosity.
Be forewarned: My Voice, My Heart, My Song may also change your life. At least, that’s what several students I spoke with have said about Danny Ellis’ voice-coaching techniques.
“Danny is not your conventional vocal coach,” explains well-known local blues singer Kat Williams. “Not only did I find my voice — I found out who I was. That helped me to accept this gift I have. Before, I was just making sound come out. No matter how great it sounded to other ears, it had no meaning behind it for me. And then I went to Danny.”
An interesting comment from a performer whose skill has been complimented by no less an admirer than film star Robin Williams. The actor heard her sing one night in an Asheville club and was so charmed by her voice that he invited her to perform at a private party.
Another of Ellis’ students attends his workshops for more personal reasons: “I was interested in giving voice to more of who I am,” says Gayatri, who publishes the local alternative newspaper Spirit in the Smokies.
What happens in a voice session with Ellis is “magical,” she reveals: “When Danny is explaining a voice technique, he uses metaphors and analogies which are a springboard for so much else that is going on in one’s life.” Singer Williams also cites Ellis’ use of metaphor as a powerful method for elucidating the intricacies of voice technique.
“It is pretty difficult to explain to an individual the technicalities of voice,” she affirms.
Shawn Ireland, a potter living in Penland, has been traveling to Ellis’ studio for the past year for private sessions. He, too, mentions his tutor’s modus operandi: “It’s hard to articulate what you do with your throat and muscle and air in order to make it come out as your voice and not some affected sound. But Danny’s style gets the message across very clear.”
Who is this man of magical metaphors? Born in Dublin, Ellis was raised in an Irish orphanage run by a sect of monks called the Christian Brothers. It was here — a place he calls his emotional reservoir — that Ellis mastered his musical voice scales and learned to play the trombone. When he was 16, the budding musician accepted a job with a local band and left the orphanage. For the next 10 years, he toured the Irish ballrooms five or six nights a week; his experience earned him a reputation for dependability that brought him steady work as a session musician, playing with such famous recording artists as Graham Parker. At the same time, Ellis’ writing skills earned him assignments penning tunes for Red Hurley and the Furys.
Despite Ellis’ success, however, something was missing for him. He remembers 1973 as the year his life took a complete right-angle turn. “I got into meditation,” he explains, and “then the real creative part of me started to happen. My singing started to change, my voice quality changed. My approach to music changed. I began to trust my longing to express myself with my voice.”
This longing is an essential element of the “authentic voice” Ellis refers to when he talks about his workshop. “I believe everyone has something special to express with their voice, ” he declares.
Interlacing his voice techniques with metaphors helps link students with their emotional centers, Ellis continues: “Expression is never a problem when we are in touch with our true feelings. Once we are in harmony with our being, we let go to a natural state of grace, which will literally sing through us.” In the nearly 30 years he has been meditating and singing, the teacher says he’s found some amazing techniques and insights that connect the singer to the source of inspiration in the heart.
“This connection reduces fear and doubt. It releases an energy which is both healing and fun,” he explains.
Dissecting the complexities of sound may be a relatively new practice in modern science, but sound as medicine has a venerable history. Many cultures — both ancient and modern — have used bells, bowls, drumming, chanting and other means of sound production as tools for healing.
“In order to heal, you have to feel,” proclaims Ellis, adding, “If you haven’t processed it, it lies in ambush.” He believes that making the connection ween the sound of one’s voice and one’s underlying emotion can release what’s blocked without having to talk about or rationalize it.
As Gayatri explains it: “When sounding different notes, some may sound clear, others rough. Those rough notes correspond to areas within the body … where energy may be stuck. So you can literally work on psychological and emotional issues by giving voice to those areas. And you many not even necessarily be conscious of what that was about, in terms of original trauma.”
Ireland puts it this way: “I have different breakthrough points; certain realizations, and then I progress. I think everybody can do this. It’s just a matter of doing it — and getting the proper instruction.”
Ellis’ aim is not to force your voice to “sound good,” but rather to make students feel good about where they are right now. By validating the present moment, “I try to connect them with their feelings,” he explains. “And if you connect your emotional feeling to your voice, it gives an authenticity to your sound. That, in a nutshell, is the philosophy behind the ‘authentic voice’.”
He accomplishes this by working with a person’s breath, posture, rhythm, movement and eye contact. His breathing instruction alone can get a student to a place where, after a few minutes, they can actually feel their body vibrating.
“This is the energy coursing through your being. It can get very hypnotic. It gets people in touch with what’s inside,” he confirms.
Those interested in signing up for Ellis’ workshop needn’t fear they’ll be singled out to perform — despite the personal journeys Ellis’ lessons often incite, this is decidedly a group endeavor. But why a three-day event? “A lot of research has been done that proves if you revisit new information within 24 hours, it will be retained in long-term memory. And I want my students to go away with something they remember to use,” Ellis explains.
Williams praises Ellis’ techniques as “user-friendly,” allowing her to increase her voice range tremendously via daily vocal exercises. And Ireland admits that — with regular practice — his singing voice has also improved.
“It has had a positive effect on everything I have been doing now. Danny’s teaching methods promote singing as a way to experience feeling and to celebrate life above all,” says the potter.
Sound is an amazing, untapped gift that each of us harbors. Yet, too often, we tend to forget or lose faith in our ability to use it. Danny Ellis, though, might say that it’s just a matter of remembering how to play one’s own divine instrument.