The Voice Produces Only What the Ear Can Hear

Dr. Alfred Tomatis once said, "the voice produces only what the ear can hear."  He had an "electronic" ear and challenged the medical, educational, and musical world with that statement.  Don Campbell, author of Creating Inner Harmony, writes about Dr. Tomatis and how he was influenced by the doctor:

I realized that I'd never been taught about the ear's ability to listen; I only understood the basic mechanism.  When he amplified specific ranges in my left ear, I actually lost track of my vocal control and felt like I was a total non-singer.  Then he switched the frequencies to the right ear, and suddenly I was in tune with myself again.

While serving as director of the Institute of Music, Health and Education, I formally tested more than 500 students with right- and left-ear stimulation and observed how the texture and tuning of their voices changed.  By looking at their audiological listening charts, there was often an obvious way to see if the students' ears were hypersensitive to certain parts of their vocal ranges.  It was in those places that the ability to sing in tune was challenged.  Often, there'd be a place where tone perception in one of the ears was weak - and it always showed up in the voice.

Dr. Tomatis told me the story of the melancholy monks at Benedictine abbey in the south of France.  He was called there a few years after Vatican II because they were experiencing stress, fatigues, and sleep disorders.  The abbot thought that there was some kind of virus slowly killing the monks.  After many specialists had examined the men, only Tomatis realized that they'd been slowly weaned off their routine of singing Gregorian chants nine times a day.  This had been replaced with only a few services sung in French in a new style.

The despondence of the monks wasn't physiological, but audiological!  Tomatis put the monks back on a full diet of chant.  Within weeks, the elongated tones of devotional praise and prayer had restored the health of the abbey residents.


As a hearing-impaired singer, I can relate to the above.  I lost my left ear and some pitches in my right ear in 2009/2010 and I went from a first soprano to an alto.  Where music had once been a coping skill for me, I was no longer able to hear in stereo and loathed songs that didn't pan all instruments straight down the middle.  I could no longer tone the same as a singer. The assault of auditory abuse in certain work environments led me on a crusade to speak up for myself on behalf of all hearing-impaired individuals and dare to ask for accommodations.  This lead to backlash from my superiors, bullying and career execution. 

Whereas I was once profoundly afraid of becoming completely deaf and have been legally deaf at times given my illness, I feel more at peace with the idea now that I have started taken sign language, have learned more about the deaf community and culture, and have met amazing people within that community.  I will still choose to make as much music as possible while I have hearing because music was always my first love. 

I remember watching a special on TV about Jackie Evancho - the singer who gained worldwide attention at age 10 when she competed in the fifth season of America's Got Talent and finished in second place.  On the news special, Jackie's vocal chords were looked at in an attempt to see what makes her sing so well at such an early age.  I remember thinking at the time, why aren't they looking at her ears instead?