The singing priest with a healing mission

GS Paul 
Fr Paul Poovathingal who has already hogged much media attention in the recent times as the only ‘singing priest', is also the only musician in Kerala to have undergone extensive training in Vocology, a new branch of science related to music. A M.Phil. Degree holder in Carnatic music from University of Madras who completed his Ph.D. under the guidance of Dr. Karaikudi Subramaniam in the same university, Fr. Paul, in an interview, underscored the urgency of introducing Vocology in the curriculum of music training institutions


Could you kindly explain what is Vocology?
It deals with the study of the production, culture and rehabilitation of human voice.

How did you come to know about it?
During my days in the Madras University as a student, I had also enrolled my self in ‘Bhrihadwani', an institute owned by my guide, for special vocal exercises. The experience at the institute was rewarding as I was exposed to a variety of advanced topics and exercises in music. And among them, ‘voice culture' caught my fancy. Surprisingly for me, a timely visit by Dr David Claman of Weslyan University , US proved providential. As advised by him I joined the music department of Columbia University , US to enlighten myself on the intricacies of voice culture. There I was trained by Dr. Gennie Gossy, a soprano singer and also a voice tutor at the Teachers' College of the university. She impressed upon me the relevance of vocology that helped one to develop a cultured voice.

What are the techniques peculiar to this branch?
There were many techniques like falsetto and vibrato. While the former helped one to scale high pitch with ease, the latter conditioned the vocal chords to produce the right voice. Also the sitting posture was very significant, as the production of voice in the human body was the end result of a unified muscular movement. The right posture helped a musician to reduce the tension on his tongue as well. The right mode of breathing was of utmost importance. In fact Vocology focuses on the ‘functional unity of singing voice'. I also associated myself with Dr Tom Cleveland of Tennessee who taught me the art of attacking the vocal chord mildly so as to utilise its potential to the hilt.

How far Carnatic music is concerned about the quality of voice?
It appears that Carnatic music is totally myopic to this aspect even though composers like Thyagaraja had dealt with it in many of their kritis. For example, in his composition, ‘ Sobhillu Saptaswara' in Jaganmohini raga, the Saint says, “Worship the beautiful goddesses residing over the seven swaras, which shine through navel, throat, heart, tongue… “. This itself was proof enough of our awareness about this branch centuries ago. Due to some reason, we were more concerned about the science of music than the techniques of voice production and maintenance of its quality. But admittedly, every professional musician has had a problem with his voice at one time or other during his career and a basic training in voice production was imperative for overcoming it.

How do you propose to help your fraternity in this area?
I have already started voice counseling in Chetana Sangeet Natya Academy , Thrissur. We hope to hold periodic workshops especially to the teachers so as to help them trouble-shoot the vocal problems of their students. As of now, I have already handled quite a few cases with success..

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