Fr.Dr.Paul Poovathingal talks to SAJEESH KUTTANELLUR about the objectives and dimensions of Vocology , a branch of Science absolutely new to Indians who ironically spin around musical reality shows which demands Voice toss and turn.
After a three-minute’s massage when spoke out in a masculine voice, Sonu couldn’t believe it at first, and his mother too. It was for the first time she hears her son speaking in a male voice. They must have thought of a divine heal or a celestial touch to the mute vocal chords which brought him only mops and mows until then. Yes, it was a divine touch. Dr.Fr.Paul Poovathingal, a seer in the pathway of the Lord, known to the State as ‘paadum pathiri’ (Singing Priest), was behind it.
[Call it irony, Tony Walsh, another ‘singing priest’ whilst encounter with criminal offenses in Ireland , the singing priest of India, Fr.Poovathingal was roping into the shoes of a redeemer for those who lost their voice to express their feels.]
“Sonu was a victim of what we clinically term as ‘Puberphonia’, a state while the nerves to the vocal chords do not open at puberty when they need to be enlarged.”, says Fr.Poovathingal. “When I was undergoing a short-term course in Vocology at Denvor, I could attend a video demonstration of this laryngeal massage and I was just trying it on Sonu. Anyways, the Great Healer was working through my hands.”
Fr. Dr. Paul Poovathingal is the pioneer of Vocologists in India where the term ’vocology’ itself was something bizarre for the ear. In his endless search through the musical highways, it was not an air of mystery for Fr.Poovathingal to land up in the Science of voice culture. Through his Guru Karaikkudi Subramanian who was a disciple of T.Viswanathan who was fortunate enough to have ample exposure to the Western culture that helped him in the nick of time.
“Though our ancient maestros in Carnatic music had advocated the significance of the right kind of production and preservation of voice, we never tried to follow up it but concentrated more on the science of music. See, Thyagaraja himself has sung of the ‘nabhee hrid kanda rasana nassa dulo..’ of producing sounds using the abdominal muscles to create base voice.”, rues Fr.Poovathingal. “Unfortunately our heritage lacks an objective and analytical approach. For us spirituality is always something mysterious and we hold a subjective philosophy over it. But in the West, they analytically follow the cause behind the voice and their approach to it is very objective in nature. However, Hindusthani music deals with it partially but we cannot own it as it has its roots in Middle East.”, comments Fr.Poovathingal , a Ph.D. holder in Carnatic music.
“In the West, the teaching methodology of music itself is different. There will be a Voice Coach for a singer or an actor to train him how to retain the voice and how to strike the different chords when situation demands. But here, if there is a problem with the voice of the student the music teacher can’t help but send him off with tears. It can be cured by the clinical approach of the voice coach.”, says Fr.Poovathingal an extensive traveler who roams around the world ‘singing unto Him among the nations’.
“Vocology is well developed in Japan and Europe. It focuses on the functional unity of vocal chords. If to define, it is the science which deals with habilitation and rehabilitation of voice i.e. to equip oneself with the aid of knowledge about vocal hygiene and vocal maintenance.”, explained Father. “It is a multi-disciplinary subject inclusive of psychology, music, physics and anatomy.” .
When came to know about such a ‘science’ from his guru, Fr.Poovathingal got interested in it and one of his U.S. friend David Claman and his wife a choir singer who introduced him to the Columbia university, New York where the he got training in Vocology under Dr. Jeannie Goffi.
“It is in fact to discipline my own voice that I went there. But after learning voice culture in deep, I thought of introducing this system in India to help those who face voice problems.”, explained Father about his Voice Clinic at Chetana Sangeetha Natya Academy in Trichur.
“As born dubious, Keralites were lethargic when I started this venture here. My target was musicians and singers. But the majority come here are teachers and stage artists. Like Sonu another young man, an engineer came here with paralyzed vocal chords after an accident. He had to undergo clinical exercises for 4 weeks and he has got his sound back. Now he is employed in Mumbai. But still he goes on with the exercises I prescribed.”, says a jubilant Father.
Besides his touring profession as visiting faculty in various foreign universities and his directorial venture at Chetana Trichur, Fr.Poovathingal is the General Secretary of the Kerala Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS) Voice Foundation, Thiruvananthapuram.
When Father Paul Poovathingal, a priest who travels through many weird paths amazing us more than once, discussed about his introducing a voice clinic at Kerala with some of the laryngologists he says, everyone was aghast at this very concept. But now every Wednesday his Chetana Sangeeth Natya Academy gets jam-packed of the patients. Many of the sagas are caught by the news channels and Father says, “I’m fed up” of the phone calls.
Asked why teachers outnumber his patients, he replied, “Teachers use their voice probably more than 5 hours incessantly. But they lack any exercises. See, if we go for a race, we start with a warming-up, and then try for a 500 mtrs, then 800 mtrs and so on. For vocal activity also we need to warm up the muscles to trigger our vocal stamina.”, elucidated Fr.Poovathingal, a previous school athlete.
Most of the people who come to his Voice Clinic at Chetana are of the Voice protection Problem. “..because, they don’t know how to produce a particular sound and how to alter it as situation demands. So they use wrong (deceptive) muscles and later these muscles are being conditioned as such.”, says Father.
If once happened something wrong to the voice, the person gets upset and then falls into depression. So counseling is the first therapy done in this voice clinic. As a graduate in Psychology and Literature, Fr. Paul Poovathingal never gets fussed at such sessions. Then he leads the patient to breathing exercises through Yoga and Pranayama.
“Those who are affected with any kind of voice problem will have their lung area weak. Here we have the software to check lung pressure. To enhance it Pranayama is the sole remedy and it has to be practiced regularly.”, observes Father.
As the next step, a 15-minutes video show revealing anatomical convolutions and dimensions of therapy is being screened for them. Then Father himself demonstrates the ‘do’s and ‘don’ts’ excerpting previous know-how. Right mode of breathing and sitting posture are the emphasized area in this session. He also urges all the music aspirants to undergo training in voice culture so as to deal with their voice problems which may happen at one time or other.
Yoga and Pranayama
Those who come to his voice clinic return home with a new voice without any crack or cramp. They also take the streak of Yoga and Pranayama along with. As a musician in search of the Ultimate Fr.Poovathingal is a right choice for the people to line up with.
“Indian music is deeply spiritual. I see it as a vehicle to take me in my search for God”, says the Singing priest.
A person inspired by the devoted life of Thyagaraja Swamy, enriched by the discipleship of Indian music legend Dr.K.J.Yesudas, made head-lines by singing ‘Vaatapi Ganapati’ inside Christian Churches and Rashtrapathi Bhavan , Father Paul Poovathingal reserves all rights to impart the
radiance of the higher notes of Yoga beyond a simple physical exercise to a genre ignorant of its own rich heritage.
Though turned to music only after the entry into the priestly paths, Fr.Poovathingal later realized it as his realm to achieve that ‘settled consciousness’ unto the Supreme. Deeply spiritual, this priest can hence leave religiosity on the sidelines accepting Vedas as the books of Supreme knowledge and identify Jesus, a Yogi. That is why he composes mass prayers in ‘sindhu bhairavi’ and ‘madhymaavathi’ ragas and perceives its awesome impact upon the devotees who track their ancestral roots right in this soil.
A musician who believes lyrics limit music, when makes us turn inward to dig out our veiled energy, we hear him saying, ‘God created man in his own image and likeness. If you believe so, find out where is that power which equalizes man with God..’.