Honoring the Masters. Sharing the Journey.

Joan Lader

Care of the Professional Voice


Joan Lader has spent the last 40 years providing vocal training and rehabilitation for professional voice users. This was commemorated in June 2016 when she was awarded the American theater’s highest honor, a Tony Award for “Excellence in the Theater.”

Ms. Lader received a BFA from Penn State University in Theatre Arts with a Minor in Music. Trained as a Master’s level speech pathologist, she specializes in working with singers and actors, and in collaboration with New York’s top otolaryngologists, rehabilitation of injured voices. Her extensive practice includes leading actors and singers from Broadway, film, opera, R&B, rap, rock and pop.

Ms. Lader is a certified Master Teacher of the Estill Voice Training System, is a member of NYSTA, VASTA, and has extensive training in the Alexander Technique, as well as Fitzmaurice Voice Work and the work of Arthur Lessac.

She has given Master Classes at universities and summer programs throughout the country including Anne Reinking’s Broadway Theater Project, The Musical Theatre Lab at Vineyard Arts Project, and Empower Voices Now in New York City. She has been a consultant at NYU’s The New Studio and is on the advisory board of the Voice Foundation and the Manhattan School of Music. Five years ago, Ms. Lader gave the keynote address at the Northwest Voice Conference on the Art and Science of the Performing Voice. Most recently she was the guest speaker at The Westminster Choir College, the Polish Voice Symposium, The 40th Anniversary of the Center for Voice Studies (CEV) in Poland. She has contributed numerous articles in many educational and professional books on various aspects of vocal production and care of the professional voice, as well as exercises for voice therapy. Ms. Lader was also the featured guest on a NATS chat that was broadcast nationally. She is particularly proud to be a Master Teacher with the National Young Arts Foundation, whose participants so often become the stars of tomorrow.

Interview with
Joan Lader

What would you consider to be the main focus of your career, or your “specialty”? 

To understand the process in which people can achieve their artistic goals. There is no cookie cutter recipe. I know there are so many teachers who understand the anatomy and physiology of the voice, but I have always believed our job is not to convince people how smart we are but rather, to make our clients better.

How did you discover your calling for your specialty? How did it start? 

I was a performer in a repertory company and was also doing voice-over work. During this time, I decided to go to graduate school in what I believed to be speech and theater. I had no idea that I was enrolled in a program that was speech pathology and audiology. I was doing an internship at Mount Sinai Hospital when every singer who had a problem was referred to me. Trust me, I was winging it! There was a doctor at the time who operated on many famous people with very poor results. That was the beginning of my career. Social media did not yet exist and referrals were made by word of mouth. 

What do you love the most about your work? 

Although I am most knowledgeable of and have received the greatest recognition from the Broadway community, I have travelled with many recording artists throughout the United States and abroad as they prepare for concerts, albums, and films. 

I’ve even had some more unconventional jobs such as coaching “Der Rosenkavalier” with an artist from the Metropolitan Opera calling from a phone booth at the San Francisco airport.

I truly enjoy the process of providing the tools that ensure ease, endurance, and longevity anytime, anywhere.

I also love working with talented young artists in summer programs and especially as a Master Teacher for the National YoungArts Foundation. These gifted individuals very often become the stars of tomorrow.

In your opinion, what qualities do you feel make an “excellent” Vocal Pedagogue? 

I believe an excellent pedagogue is a teacher who is versed in both the scientific and creative aspects of vocal performance. They must understand the anatomy and physiology of the vocal instrument and have the ability to impart that knowledge to their students, so they are able to replicate it. However, it is most important they have an excellent ear, and perhaps, just a touch of magic.

Can you speak to the importance of having mentors? How have mentors influenced your life/career? Can you tell us about some of your mentors?

To be honest, my first “mentor” was actually Carol Burnett. I went to see her in a performance of “Once Upon a Mattress.” As soon as I stepped out into the sunlight I had an epiphany—this…  somehow, someway, was going to be my life.

I feel so lucky to have had mentors in all areas of habilitation and rehabilitation. Dr. Janina Casper introduced me to my first stroboscopic images. She was interested in what I knew about singing and I was fascinated by her extraordinary knowledge regarding all types of vocal pathology and the creative manner in which she interacted with such a diverse clientele. We worked together diligently in reviewing many cases. 

Of course, I was fascinated by William Vennard’s textbook “Singing, the Mechanism and the Technic.” He was Marilyn Horne’s teacher and was certainly considered a vocal pedagogue. He discussed acoustics, breathing, registration, resonance, vowels, articulation, vibrato, and coordination.

Jo Estill, although controversial, really gave me the tools to look at many different types of singers today, ranging from Broadway, to pop, jazz, funk, and opera. She differentiated between Craft (Physiology), Artistry (Aesthetics) and Performance Magic (Metaphysics). She clearly stated that there is “no best vocal quality.”

I’ve studied the work of Ingo Titze, Kittie Verdolini-Abbott, Kenneth Bozeman, and I continue to listen and participate in conferences and workshops given by my up and coming colleagues.

I have always been extremely interested in the relationship between the body and the voice. I began my professional career as a dancer and had many problems… Beautiful pirouette on the right but falling down on the left. Cathy Thompson was a brilliant shiatsu practitioner who worked with me and my students for many years. I began applying many of her techniques to my patients and students.  As a result, I have always worked on alignment and movement. I’ve studied extensively with Alexander teachers (Jessica Wolf), Feldenkrais (Catherine Fitzmaurice), Pilates (Lisa Love), Massage Therapy (Cathy Thompson and Tara Thompson), and worked closely and collaborated with one of the finest osteopaths in the United States, Mary Bayno D.O.

The work of Andrew Byrne, a voice teacher and the author of “The Singing Athlete” and Christine Schneider, a New York City Massage Therapist, have inspired me to continue my investigation of the body and vocal mechanism.

When it comes to breathing, what are the most influential tips, insights or research findings that you would like to share with our audience? 

There are two kinds of breathing… conscious and unconscious. Breathing is indispensable and it works best when it is effortless. However, I think it’s important to impart the knowledge of the muscular involvement in inhalation and exhalation to our students.

Although the musculature for inhalation (e.g. external intercostals, diaphragm) and the muscles for exhalation (e.g. transverse abdominals, obliques, rectus abdominis, back muscles, and internal intercostals) participate in breathing, the patterns vary depending on the type of singing being produced. Jo Estill often said,Breathing doesn’t make the sound, but must be allowed to adjust to the sound that is being produced by the larynx and vocal tract on the way out.”

When it comes to the larynx, what are the most influential tips, insights, or research findings that you would like to share with our audience? 

My concern is solely the vocal health of the larynx. However, I’m always interested in current research involving the laryngeal musculature and its participation in producing the many vocal qualities of today. For example, there is always a debate involving laryngeal position, the role of the aryepiglottic sphincter, the thyroid cartilage cricoid cartilage, onsets and offsets, etc.

My job is to provide the tools a singer needs to meet the expectations and requirements of a particular composer, conductor, or director. I love being part of the performance team. This can be quite challenging, especially with music theater performers, since they are never static but rather in constant motion and range in age and physical health.

I have a team of otolaryngologists, specializing in voice, acupuncturists, Pilates instructors, Alexander teachers, Osteopaths, and physical therapists who are essential when I am evaluating and planning an appropriate program for a particular artist.

When it comes to the vocal folds, what are the most influential tips, insights or research findings that you would like to share with our audience? 

There is no perfect larynx. Many people have a slightly thickened vocal fold, pre-nodular swellings, pseudo-cysts, large tonsils, vocal folds that don’t approximate completely, etc. and do not have to be rushed to surgery. Their slight malformation may not interfere with their ability to sing in the manner they prefer.

I am not a researcher but I’m always open to information as it’s generated.

When it comes to acoustics/resonance, what are the most influential tips, insights or research findings that you would like to share with our audience? 

Early in my career I wrote a paper and used a therapeutic technique called chant talk (something between speaking and singing) to enhance vocal performance. 

It’s only in the past few years that I’ve become interested in acoustics. I have re-visited some of the early work of Jo Estill and have been reading the work of Prof. Kenneth Bozeman. I’ve always utilized the work of Arthur Lessac, and the therapeutic work of Dr. Kittie Verdolini (LMRVT).

I am an EMT (Estill Master Teacher) and often demonstrate the relationship between harmonics and formants with the use of Voice Print. I find that students do very well trying to match blue and green lines to find overtones and enriching sounds.

When it comes to registration, what are the most influential tips, insights or research findings that you would like to share with our audience? 

Vocal register has been defined as a range of tones in the human voice produced in a particular vibratory pattern by the vocal folds. In the late 19th century, Manuel Garcia was first to develop a scientific definition “a register is a series of homogeneous sounds produced by one mechanism, differing essentially from another series of equally homogeneous sounds produced by another mechanism.”  

In other words, it is usually defined as the number of vocal tones that can be maintained in the same manner throughout a certain range. The goal is always the ability to move smoothly through the entire range so that the singer is unaware of register changes.

I don’t actually discuss registers as a starting point. However, many questions are asked by students who are worried about “breaks, flipping, belting, breathy singing, falsetto, mixed belt, etc.”

When it comes to vocal health, what are the most influential tips, insights or research findings that you would like to share with our audience? 

I have always presented students with a chart called “Do’s and Don’ts” which lists things that contrast healthy vocal habits and unhealthy vocal habits.

I spend a good deal of time discussing the importance of warming up and cooling down.

As my initial training was in speech pathology, I do detailed intakes before working with a student to assess their vocal health questions, goals, and things they believe are problematic.

When it comes to style, what are the most influential tips, insights or research findings that you would like to share with our audience? 

When I’m introduced to a singer I immediately assess the type of music they are most comfortable with and listen to them sing a piece of music as well as observing their method of warming up.

Ultimately, I have all singers cross-train and perform in many qualities. 

Jo Estill, described six qualities in great detail…speech, sob, twang, opera, falsetto, and belt.

Although music has changed since her research, I continue to discuss and work with these qualities as a means of “cross-training” and promoting vocal health, agility, and endurance.

I also encourage performers to listen to other singers from many genres, not to copy them, but to understand what is expected of singers performing different types of music in the professional world. 

When it comes to posture, what are the most influential tips, insights or research findings that you would like to share with our audience? 

The most influential tip is that we have to root down in order to lengthen. When the roots of a tree are strong, the tree is taller. 

In order to be ready to sing, the body must be aligned. I often have students close their eyes and call their attention to their skull (including their jaw), their neck, their tongue, throat, shoulders, ribs, pelvis, thighs, knees, lower legs, and feet. Attention is then directed to their breathing.

Frederick Matthias Alexander, was one of the first to discuss this concept. Alexander was an actor who lost his voice and experimented with different head positions until his voice returned.

When it comes to teaching methods or communicating complex ideas about singing, what are the most influential tips, insights or research findings that you would like to share with our audience? 

I think my greatest gift is the ability to listen carefully to the concerns of my students and to accept the fact that they may learn in many different ways based on their personalities and past experiences.

I have students who say “I don’t understand a thing you’re saying, but I understand how to feel it.” I bombard people with information and have come to learn they will choose to focus on a couple of points that make sense to them.

I also try to add some humor to each session. There is a box of tissues on my piano and I know that when a voice is free, the result is often tears or laughter.

Final Thoughts (Words of Wisdom, Books, Resources)? 

Final thoughts:

As I said in my Tony Award acceptance speech, borrowing from one of Broadway’s greatest lyricists, Oscar Hammerstein, “It’s a very ancient saying, but a true and honest thought, that if you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.” After 40 years, I believe, now more than ever, how right he was.

Book recommendations: 

Kari Ragan, “A Systematic Approach to Voice: The Art of Studio Application”

Jessica Wolf, “Jessica Wolf’s Art of Breathing: Collected Articles”

Katherine (Kittie) Verdolini Abbott, “Lessac-Madsen Resonant Voice Therapy”

Andrew Byrne, “The Singing Athlete”

Leda Scearce, “Manual of Singing Voice Rehabilitation” 

Kerrie B. Obert and Steven R Chicurel, “Geography of the Voice”

Kimberly Steinhauer, Mary McDonald Klimek and Jo Estill, “The Estill Voice Model…Theory and Translation.”

Cathy Thompson and Tara Thompson Lewis, “The Thompson Method of Bodywork”

William Vennard, “Singing, the Mechanism and the Technic”

Raymond Colton and Janina K. Casper, “Understanding Voice Problems”

Kenneth Bozeman, “Practical Vocal Acoustics”

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