Monday, July 18, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): Detox Diet: Second Month: July 2011

I have not written about the detox diet for a couple of weeks because I wanted to start having a sense of the long-term effects of the absence of gluten in my diet.  I need not say much but post a few clips that are starting to tell the story.  This clips are from almost two weeks ago and I have seen even greater progress since.  I am preparing a recital for the end of October and so I should have some rehearsal clips soon. In the meantime, there is no doubt in my mind that gluten was the biggest threat to my singing:

Tchaikovsky Don Juan Serenade


Turina Las locas por amor


Tchaikovsky Lensky's Aria

Also, one of my students sent me this article on the recent successes of tennis star, Novak Djakovic, which may be tied to him having given up gluten.

© 07/18/2011

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): Detox Diet Week 4 and 5: 20 June to 4 July 2011

Many interesting experiences in the past two weeks.  I am able to wake up with a clear voice every morning.  It has become less effortful to sing in general.  My bone structure, which had become undefinably round (I thought this was a natural result of aging) is returning to a more angular, defined shape.  I had not noticed it when my friends were telling me that my face had changed, a month ago. Now I see, as I had suspected, that the change back to full health will take time.  This is indeed a detoxification relative to a substance (gluten) that had been poisoning my system for years, maybe most of my life.

It is easy for people to become overzealous with regards to an experience like this.  But while I believe that wheat, in its genetically altered form (as I understand it, several species of wheat have been combined to create a seed that some of our digestive systems no longer recognize), is poisonous to some of us, it is obviously not the case for all people. Many people have no problem with gluten.


The issue, if I were to consider a fundamental health and vocal pedagogy consequence, if fundamentally one of personal health.  Many of the problems we face as singers are due to issues of health that are experienced mildly enough that we are not really aware of them.  For instance, my personal physician this year, when I went for my physical for German health insurance, said I had the health of a 20-year-old.  Between a broad Kung-Fu/Tai Chi/Chinese Kick-boxing regimen and singing and Yoga, I do my best to stay in shape. I do not eat badly, I do not smoke and I do not drink excessively.  Growing up in a basically French-influenced culture, bread has been a part of my staple foods for my entire life.  I learned to cook Italian during my years in Italy and revel in an exceptional Bolognese and a special tiramisu recipe.  I would never have imagined that wheat would be a problem.  But indeed it was. So goodbye regular pasta and goodbye tiramisu!

Yes, goodbye tiramisu, one of my favorite desserts!  I am that disciplined.  I am a singer in the most dedicated sense.  I have been known to be a special performer, a part of my life that had to be sacrificed for the last few years when this unknown problem started to really affect my singing.  Paradoxically I discovered that I was a tenor around the time that the problem became most pronounced.

Last Saturday, I warmed up to D5 in full voice and one octave further in falsettone.  I have never warmed up so high in my life.  Yesterday, during a short warm up I felt that both my lower middle voice, which tended to be difficult and my passaggio could be addressed with more finesse (i.e. less breath pressure).  Some of that is strength building, but some of that is also healthier, less inflamed vocal folds. High C is become a regular note daily, not as much an upper limit to my range.  It will be interesting to see how far this goes.  But my dream of developing flexibility and greater dynamic range is starting to become a sensation rather than an idea.

The conclusion:  not surprisingly, sometimes our technical problems are first and foremost basic health issues.  I discovered that excessive mucous in my case has three sources: 1) inadequate hydration 2) illness, including gluten, colds, reflux (I believe I have a mild case of reflux that could be related to the gluten. It is now almost insignificant), etc 3) vocal fatigue from too much singing.

With gluten out of the way, I can now distinguish what kinds of ailments may be causing me difficulties. I can now tell the difference between vocal fatigue, lack of sleep or a coming cold.  When there is constant inflammation from gluten, it is difficult to distinguish the different kinds of minor problems.  When the chronic inflammation associated with gluten intolerance is gone, I find that the other common problems are surmountable.  Still, I must be vigilant especially with respect to vocal fatigue since I teach a lot.

Ada Finelli, my teacher in Rome, once told me (reading my palm) that my best singing would begin in my 40s and I would sing into my 90s.  I always thought she was indeed clairvoyant.  I hope she is right.  I'm starting to feel really good!

© 07/05/2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道) and Once More With Feeling: Prayers For My Sister and Fellow Pedagogue/Blogger Susan Eichorn Young

In the vocal forums and voice blogosphere, most people think that Susan Eichorn Young and I are really brother and sister.  We call each other thus!  We have each other as brother and sister on Facebook too.  We are not related by blood, but even though we have rarely met each other live, when we did it was instant love of a beautiful kind.  We already had great respect for each other's teaching and have sent each other students. When we did meet face to face after many collegially supportive blogposts and forum posts and emails, we understood why we felt such a strong connection.  We do not teach the same things necessarily but our philosophy about what this art form called singing means to us is close to identical.  There are not many teachers out there with her knowledge and thirst for knowledge, with her compassion and striving for excellence, who supports and demands more from her students. We feel strongly that our world can be changed through singing and we try to do our part.  She is my sister in the battle to restore honor to the history of our art form by demanding the highest level of excellence of our students.

Last night, I learned that she and her husband, the celebrated tenor, Thomas Young were involved in a serious accident.  I also learned that she had been airlifted to the Operating Room and just learned that she is stable.  I do not have more details than that at the moment.  I know that many of those who follow Kashu-do (歌手道) also follow Susan's Blog, Once More With Feeling.  Until Susan is back and active on her inspiring blog, all my posts with have the prefix:  Kashu-do (歌手道) and Once More With Feeling.


I believe in the fundamental power of meditative prayer.  The Universe is shaped by our faithful desires. If the thousands who read this blog and Susan's blog concentrate on Thomas' and her speedy recoveries, I believe it will happen.  Susan and Thomas are innovators in our field and tireless and warm-hearted pedagogues.  We need them back in action quickly!

We love you, Sis and we love you Thomas!  Now get back on your feet! We have work to do!

Jean-Ronald

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): Detox Diet Week 3: 15-19 June 2011

This past week has been interesting to say the least.  It was a combination of discovering how insidious this gluten problem can be and what wonderful resources I have available in my friends once I committed to resolving this problem once and for all.

1.  The Insidious Evil that is Gluten for the Gluten-Intolerant.  


It is important that the reader does not take my writing here as a personal revolution against Gluten.  Yes, I do believe Gluten is an evil and on a more profound level only one example of how genetic engineering of our food supplies is having a terrible impact on the health of many people. The saying, Do not fool with Mother Nature, is one worth following.  On the other hand, I am not suggesting that everyone must give Gluten.  Life is short and many people (many singers too) I know are not sensitive to gluten.  So why should they give it up?  It is not up to me.

2.  The resources

Once I began to share my gluten intolerance, I saw an immediate move on the part of my friends to help me find solutions.  My dear student, Adam, brought me a gluten-free lentil soup while I was teaching in D.C. last saturday.  He noticed on the schedule that I would not have time to eat and took it upon himself to find me a healthy lunch.

Another student, Leilani, who became gluten-free two years ago, helped me become aware why Thursday 16 June and Friday 17 June ended up being unpredictably bad for my health.  She told me that people who become gluten-free will often default to Asian food because of rice as a substitute for gluten-products.  She warned that this is ill-advised because most Asian foods in restaurants are cooked with a soy sauce that is not soy but rather a wheat derivative that is made to taste like soy sauce.  Unfortunately for me, I ate chinese (vegetarian fried rice) on Thursday and Japanese (sashimi with soy sauce) on Friday.  I thought I was having bad reflux symptoms because I had eaten late on Thursday, but it felt curiously like my pre-detox days.

Today, my dear friend and colleague Steve suggested Bob's Red Mill Creamy Buckwheat Cereal.  Buckwheat is gluten free!  I have to find this.

My Kung Fu colleagues, the Laba family shared with me that their son is also gluten intolerant and so the family has gone gluten-free to support him.  They recommend Flaxseed oil as an anti-inflammatory, whether the inflammation is gluten-related or not.  This is excellent since I have recently learned of the importance of essential oils, like Omega-3 and Omega-6.  Flaxseed Oil is an excellent source of Omega-3.

The lesson is that this, like any other challenge, will take a bit of time to fully understand.  But it is amazing that the moment we commit to something, the Universe works its magic to support our aim.  I have no doubt that our will shapes the process of creation around us.  This has amazing implications.

Thank you to all my friends and students who have been so supportive through all of this!

© 06/20/2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): Detox Diet: Oatmeal Not Gluten-free

It was with mixed emotions I discovered that oatmeal is not gluten-free!  One of my students and good friend wrote to me after reading the last post to inform me that I was erroneous in my assumption that oatmeal should be a healthy part of my gluten-free diet.  Thank you, my friend!

I have mixed emotions because 1) I love oatmeal!  2) This could be the reason for the small residual sensations of mucous build-up I have been feeling.  To be clear, everything is better singing-wise and health-wise.  However, it will be interesting to see what happens when I give up this last little bit of gluten. Apparently the amount and type of gluten in oatmeal is relatively benign, but gluten is gluten.  The extreme reduction of it (oatmeal aside up to this point) in my diet has been life-changing.  Let us see if total elimination of it bring me the kind of completely vocal health I dream about!

© 06/15/2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): Detox Diet Week 2: 8-14 June 2011

I took a little time to check a few things the second week.  I confirmed that fish is friendly to my body and in fact so is chicken.  But I have decided that it takes my body too long to process chicken and that then causes mild reflux symptoms.  I will remain mostly vegetarian, with the option to eat fish occasionally.  In truth, nothing feels more pleasant than eating fruits and vegetables and non-wheat grain. It is good that I love rice, corn and oatmeal.

The effect on my voice is exciting.  My students noticed it right away.  Every day gets better and I am itching to post something, but I am being patient and allowing the voice to heal totally. It is in fact getting quite easy to sing, but I perceive it is not yet beautiful enough for my taste.

My abstinence from wheat (gluten) and dairy is producing more than vocal benefits (I perceive gluten to be the main issue, but avoiding dairy seems prudent as well).  I used to have razor bumps and altogether chronic dry skin.  That is no longer the case.  My students both in Europe and New York notice a visible difference in my general appearance.  I have also noticed the disappearance of other toxins.

I wrote in an early post on the main blog (can't seem to find it at the moment) at the beginning of my blogging, some three years ago, that great technique begins with great health.  I believe this more than ever.  To be able to wake up in the morning and know that I could sing if I had to is very encouraging.  I am beginning to truly feel the level of my technical achievements now that my folds are no longer so swollen and thickened with mucous on a daily basis.  The awful part is that I had been suffering from this for so long that I did not recognize it as so awful.  I kept assuming there was something else.  Indeed my chronically swollen folds is what gave the impression I was a bass-baritone.

I anticipate it will require more than two weeks for the effects of a lifetime of gluten poisoning to be completely eradicated.  I hope it will not be a lifetime.  It is also fun to demonstrate for my tenors especially in a way that gives them further confidence in what we are working on.

More to come!  I beg your patience with the clips! I have recorded one today that I felt wanted to post, but I do not want to give any disclaimers.  I want to put something out, preferably with piano accompaniment that is in performance mode.

© 06/14/2011

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): Detox Day 6: Diet 7 June 2011

Yesterday was an unplanned change.  I rushed to the Airport in Gothenburg and bought a salad there before my flight back to Berlin.  When I opened the salad (thinking it was green), there was a piece of salmon.  I thought it might have been a sign that I should try fish and see how I react.  Since I had felt significant changes in my body and felt my voice leaning out over the past 5 days, I figured I would go with it.  There were also potatoes in the salad.

In the flight, I had a stomachache.  I have not felt a stomachache in quite a long time.  That my stomach had become sensitive again, I thought, was a sign that I had detoxed quite a bit over the 5 days. I thought that the stomach ache was either a result of suddenly eating fish after a strict vegetarian diet, or that it was the combination of the protein and carbohydrates (the potatoes).  Several diets recommend not having carbs and proteins together because it takes longer to digest.  Nevertheless, I proceeded to verify whether I had a sensitivity to fish.  So for dinner I had sashimi with seaweeds. No rice (avoiding the carbs).  I did not have a stomachache after dinner, but when I woke up this morning, I did not feel as light as I have been feeling lately.  I sense the digestion of the fish was certainly longer, and I did not feel as hungry as I had been feeling the last few days when I wake up (which I like).

I will go back to excluding fish from my diet for a while longer.  My original goal was to stay strictly vegetarian for a month.  So I am back on that track.

Also my voice had been showing verifiable signs of improvement.  I sang a little yesterday and felt as if I was a couple of days away from something extraordinary.  I tend to be dry after flying, so I did drink a lot of water yesterday.  But today upon waking up, although my voice was not raspy in the morning, like it often had been before this diet, it felt a little lower than previous days.  There are many factors here, including flying and lack of sleep.  So I will not judge the fish to harshly yet.  Still, better safe than sorry at this point.

Back to rice and beans and I will find chlorella when I get to NY in a couple of days.

© 06/08/2011