David Sorrin Collyer began teaching me his Controlled Relaxation Technique in 1981. How did I find this master teacher? The best way, by asking a singer you respect and admire and would like to sing like, “who do you study with”? And thankfully I got a referral, because at that time David’s studio was nearly impossible to get into without a referral. I began to teach David’s technique in 1991, a decade after studying with him myself, using the technique on Broadway and on tour. Adding to the blessings for me and my students, David would come to my studio in New York to teach master classes.
David’s Control Relaxation technique is real inspiration and mastery. He knew so much, long before others put things together. David was a holistic thinker and he wove together the best of Yoga, Eastern energy work, proper vocal technique, ancient wisdom about how humans make sounds, and the state-of-the-art Western medical understanding of the vocal mechanism and its relationship to the bodymind and to the world. He fused three of the most important aspects of health into his method: movement, breathing, and sound.
Movement: We know that movement is so vital to relaxation, control, and energy. Without movement, life degrades and dies. Any voice teacher that asks you to warm up while standing still hasn’t yet understood how important movement is to learn how to sing. Its not enough to move the jaw and larynx, every joint in the body needs to move, every muscle needs to get turned on, every bone needs to feel itself move through space. Space itself is filled with movement. It is our electro-magnetic energy field and it connects every-thing to every-thing, and then some.
Breath: We live because we take our first breath in the world. We die when we expire our last breath. Breath is essential to life. Good breathing is good life. Freedom of breath is freedom to think, act, and relate. One deep, wonderful breath can reduce stress tenfold. Try it, take a really deep and wonderful nasal breath right now and exhale it gently without force and feel the calm come over your body. Nasal breathing is key to health and vitality. Teachers who emphasize nasal breathing while singing give their students a multitude of advantages.
Sound: Sound is a natural healer. This has been known for many centuries. Sound can induct us into the ether world, the quantum world, the world of our inner life that deeply connects us to the nonphysical world. Ancient people knew sound was a link to the gods. They made magical sounds and found the sounds that would connect to infinity. Sound, as in music therapy for example, can resonate into our inner core and change the frequency of our cells. The frequencies of sound reverberate and assist us to align coherent waves that create calm, peace, harmony, health and vitality. David’s unique sounds round out his technique with precision.
Besides these attributes of health, David didn’t teach nutrition, but he lived it and his students got it vicariously. His studio was in his lovely home just off Central Park in the heart of the city’s West side. When we went into his house, we got the pure joy to wait in his kitchen for the current lesson to finish before we got started. His kitchen was infused with herbal teas, bone broth stocks, and amazing aromas of whatever he had cooking that day. Nutrition was a top priority for David.
David also was always well dressed and always the joker, teaser, and flirt. Perhaps today he would have changed his demeanor as the culture has shifted, but no one that I ever came into contact with seemed to be offended by his charm. He was all innocent fun and serious as hell about the work. David was a consummate professional. His work with my youngest students, elementary school aged, was inspiring. He was firm but always supportive. He joked with them just as much as with the older students and the kids loved working with him.
David was as kind and as old school as it got. For example, after I studied with David for a little over a year, I had to stop performing and have knee surgery. That surgery became a nightmare scenario for me because the orthopedic surgeons in New York City did not know how to fix my knee, even though they were hailed as the best dance doctors in the country. I went to three different doctors the city and on Long Island accompanied by referrals. After three surgeries I was told I might just have to accept the fact that I will never run again, let alone dance. Thankfully, as a last resort, my doctors sent me back to East Lansing to work with the world-famous Dr. Lanny Johnson, who had been my orthopedic surgeon when I was a teenager. After two years and four surgeries, my knee was finally fixed. But rehab would be another year in the making.
Of course, at this time, I ran out of money from the Broadway tour I had been doing. My workman’s compensation was running out and the NY State doctors said I could work in an office, so they cut my comp money in half. I was in a desperate situation.
Shortly after my first surgery, realizing that I could not afford the $50 half-hour lessons (in 1982) once a week as I had been doing, I simply did not show up to my lesson with David one week. I was too young, immature and embarrassed to actually let David know. He called me immediately that morning and in his deep baritone he chided “where are you? Why aren’t you here for your lesson?” I explained to him I would not be able to afford the lessons any longer because of my medical situation. He replied firmly, “get your ass down here and do your lesson, I will collect from you when you can”.
I went downtown to my lesson, he took me in late. He simply said, without any extra words, “you keep up with your lessons. When you go back to work and save money you will pay me then”. That was it. He didn’t bring it up again. After a year of this, I spoke up one day and said, “David, I don’t know when I will be able to go back to work and its been a year of no payments already, maybe I should stop my lessons”. He said, “you keep coming”. That was it.
David carried me for over three years without payments. He kept my spirits up, he inspired me to practice and use my time away from dancing to improve my singing skills, and he was always upbeat and encouraging. And, he never mentioned the money. I ended up owing David over $3000, a large sum of money for a novice actor in 1985 that lost all of his savings because of medical bills and inability to work.
But that was David. He was a human being first. A singing teacher second. When I finally finished paying him back, after a few years, he simply said “thank you”. I will never forget his humanity and immense generosity. I follow his footsteps as much as I am possible. I am here today, teaching his technique, because he believed in me, supported me, and insured I stayed on the right path.
I include some links that address and verify David’s work: