One Small Voice:- Petrina Kow

Published on 26 July 2017

Voice coach PETRINA KOW explains how psychological fears can affect your breathing and voice.

By Jo Tan

While I’ve always made my living as a deejay and/or voiceover artist, storyteller and/or actor, I never considered my voice an asset, because unlike many contemporaries, I never joined the choir, or otherwise sang in school. But I always knew how to talk to and connect with people.

It was only recently that I discovered the importance of voice in that connection. When I started voice coaching about five years ago, I realised that while I could effectively help others with stage presence and articulation, there were also certain things I instinctively knew how to do with my own voice that I wasn’t completely sure how to teach.

I realised there weren’t that many voice teachers outside the realms of singing. Then when I was in Los Angeles three or four years back, I chanced upon this teacher of a technique called ‘Fitzmaurice’ and went to meet him out of curiosity. It was this weird transformative experience when he made me lie down and breathe in a certain way, and suddenly, I started crying. I started exploring more voice and speech techniques, and I realised one thing about the human voice: the more you learn, the less you know.

I know now that many barriers to the voice are psychological. I’ve had clients ranging from performers to company chief executives, and people all have the same fear of being judged and not being accepted. These fears often traumatise people through events that they might not even remember — even in the form of innocuous-seeming comments — and physically register in your body.

Certain muscles clamp to protect you from perceived threats, and that affects your lungs and ribs, which control your breathing and your voice. Sometimes, your nervous system is affected, and certain triggers send it into overdrive so you find yourself in this mode of panic that you don’t understand.

I always try to sense how best each individual can become more aware of their breath and their physicality. One key to being a good voice coach is to be a good listener — listen for their body language and what they are not saying. Sometimes this even inspires my clients to end up pouring out their life stories and finding release in that way.

That may have influenced me to begin my true-story-telling initiative, Telling Stories Live. Whenever I ask people to be part of it, they invariably say their life is boring, but truth is stranger and more moving than fiction — everybody’s life story is interesting if you know how to tell it. The stories foster empathy between people so they stop blaming each other. They help people understand that everybody has traumas and you don’t have to carry yours alone. That’s how my vocations all tie in to each other: communication — as a performer or just as a person — is essentially the purpose of voice.

PETRINA KOW is known for being one of Singapore’s top radio deejays. She has hosted shows on Class 95FM and 91.3FM, among others. Kow is also one of Singapore’s leading voice actors, a voice coach and a respected stage performer. She will be a keynote speaker at the Voice and Speech Trainers Association conference in Singapore from 4-8 August, themed ‘The Art of Storytelling’. See vasta.org for more information.

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