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By the time she wrote her insightful new book, The Use of Voice in Music Therapy, Philadelphia jazz singer Kelly Meashey had already devoted her career to the human voice in all its variations, from teaching vocal performance to clinical music therapy serving clients with myriad physical disabilities and mental disorders. Before Meashey opened her heart and mind to what the voice could do to help people in a medical setting, she was working more than 200 gigs a year at casinos in Atlantic City and in Philadelphia’s premier hotels. She could be seen at jazz festivals and heard on film soundtracks, all while teaching voice at University of the Arts.
Meashey's personal tapestry of professional singing experience, her clinical understanding and true empathy, and her education equipped her to write The Use of Voice in Music Therapy. The truly wonderful thing about this book is that all performers who use their voice can gain a wealth of knowledge from the case histories Meashey uses to demonstrate how vocal tone, rhythm, dynamics, and tempo can affect the audience, whether that audience is a crowd in a jazz club or a single autistic listener who needs comforting.
Belting alternate melodies
Meashey explores singing at every level here. From the physical benefits of belting it out (like lowering blood pressure and increasing lung capacity), she moves to the fact that when people sing together, their heartbeats and breathing synchronize, creating an intimate connection that generates trust.
Chapter four is all about improvisation, which all professional singers who want more flexibility in their musical expression (rather than singing every song the same way every time) can use. Meashey describes how local guitarist Joe Frederico taught her what he learned from Dennis Sandole, a world-renowned musician who taught John Coltrane. The Sandole method was built around composing alternate melodies over chord progressions, many of which are similar from song to song. For instance, the chords to George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” have hundreds of alternate melodies built on them, from the Flintstones theme to Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right.”
A catalog of the mind
Meashey writes about how she incorporated the many melodies she already knew from a lifetime of singing and adapted them to composing in the moment on familiar chord changes. She likens that process to “building up an index card catalog” in her mind and in her ears: “I simply had to learn how to piece my index cards together while singing.”
One of the most interesting chapters in the book offers specific songs to use to refute irrational core beliefs, including nine that she says need undoing. Core Belief number one is “Things should be the way I want them to be," a belief that could be behind thoughts such as “why don’t people obey traffic signs?” The related emotion is anger; the song that can help in that moment is “Let It Be” by Lennon and McCartney. Core Belief number four is “I must be perfect.” The thought: “I sounded horrible when I missed that note;”; the emotion is frustration. Your prescription: “If You Want to Sing Out” by Cat Stevens.
There is so much in this book for all singers and educators. One case study follows an elderly woman named Jeanette who had spent most of her life in mental institutions and who loved to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Working with this woman for two years and singing this song at every session was wearing on Meashey.
“Then one morning as I watched Jeanette’s face, I was struck with a realization,” she writes. “I got the strong sense that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” had been there for Jeanette through difficult times … Like a little gift box, the song became a container that held her resilience and wisdom about surviving life.”
Anyone who relies on their voice to communicate should buy this book. Many singers have judges in their heads while they sing. These judges sit and scream out negative critiques of what you are doing while you are doing it. This book will help you to hear your voice in a new way, and will send those judges packing.
Catch Kelly Meashey in a live outdoor performance with Jazz on the Porch at the Scottish Rite Auditorium in Collingswood, NJ on September 4 at 7pm.
What, When, Where
The Use of Voice in Music Therapy. By Kelly Meashey. Dallas: Barcelona Publishers, 2020. 250 pages, soft cover. $34. Get it here.
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