By Corinne Mager, EMCI, Director of Certification & Courses with EVI

The last time I called myself an athlete I was 18 years old and still competing in high school sports. My athletic career stopped when I went to university, and I decided to devote my life to voice. My athleticism had always been compartmentalized to sports, and it wasn’t until I took my first Estill Voice Training course did my inner athlete wake up again. I didn’t realize at first that that was what was awakened, but I knew that it felt right and I was hooked. My mind, body, & spirit were all challenged in that first course in ways that were not familiar to me in voice training. The lack of judgment and biases from the EVT trainers floored me. I left with hope, inspiration, and above all, permission. Permission to voice. Permission to feel. Permission to make any sound imaginable. EVT belonged to me and my training and I belonged amongst like-minded professionals devoted to shifting the paradigm of voice training. In short, EVT fit like a glove.

My Personal Voice Gym

Grasping the concept in EVT that there are an unlimited number of possibilities in voice was easy; however, practicing and using new possibilities was a different story. So, I went to work. I made a choice to put all the new principles and guidelines into action and train independent of style, independent of artistic and performance expectations. I felt small things, not big. Slowed down and practiced fine movements and sensations. I cross trained. My students cross trained. Efficiency, fine motor skills, kinesthetic perception became central to my training habits, and I became a vocal athlete. I was determined to train vocal athletes at all ages and proficiencies & above all without judgment. You can say I started my own personal voice gym that I carried everywhere I went, and it stayed open 24/7. Who wouldn’t want to be a member of a gym like that! Plenty of people actually, but that is a different blog post.

Corinne Mager leading a Level 1 Course in Vienna, Austria

Rediscovering the Voice Athlete Within

Flash forward through a lot of living to me now, Director of Certification & Courses, with Estill Voice International. My job is multi-faceted as Director and an EMCI. I am actively teaching EVT, creating and developing content for our training APP, courses, curriculum and certification protocols – all in order to help others train like athletes and reach their full vocal potential. Somewhere along the way, mid-life post-pandemic me reflected one day, and realized that I lost the athletic drive for my own vocal goals. Coaching others was easier than ever and still going well, even with a hard pivot to online training. My students and clients were vocally thriving, and I wholeheartedly enjoyed every session. But after a couple of universally tough years, confounded by personal hurdles that I could have never seen coming, I found my own voice training to be stuck. Did I even have a reason or motivation to train my voice? The drive was gone, and my inner athlete who always craved training despite having a gig or not, was lost.

Training sports during the lockdowns came intuitively. We couldn’t do much else and I went all in – again exclusively training my body as an athlete for sports, but not in voice. 5 home workouts a day, sometimes twice a day if I dared to leave the house on my bike. But I beat myself down and hit a wall. For months I tried to “perform the whole show” but didn’t learn my lines. I didn’t know how to be an athlete anymore.

Lisa coaching Corinne’s son Anton

Enter stage right, champion kickboxer and owner of the Highkick Performance Center (HPC), Lisa Kössler. Beautifully strong, self-confident, badass boss, Lisa Kössler. Quite intimidating, until I watched her, worked next to her, and heard her coach. Listening to her encourage every single person who walked into the gym – me & the mommies, the kids, beginner and veteran fighters – sparked an energy in me that was overwhelmingly comparable to the awakening I felt 20 years ago in my first EVT course. Now a much older adult learner, I had to let down my guard for different reasons, accept a beginner’s mind again, feel my inner athlete again – slowly. I had never tried kickboxing before and I went in with little expectation. I couldn’t have gotten much further outside of my comfort zone too. But once I started to feel my inner athlete again, Lisa and the team at HPC could see it, and work with it, work alongside it, and I improved.

Quite quickly and surprisingly my anxieties about learning a new sport, a contact sport at that, went away. Lisa took notice, encouraged me to take more classes. So, I tiptoed to training two days a week, and then three, and then threw caution to the wind and joined an Olympic boxing class, and held my own. Today, I train 5 hours a week and can’t think of going back to just one. I loved my mommy class beginnings, but excelling while training next to veteran competitors challenged me in new ways, and my body and mind were ready for the challenge. Most of the group classes I attend are focussed on basics, techniques & fundamentals, with and without a partner – not venturing into the sparring world just yet, but in these classes is where my inner athlete thrives and feels familiar.

At HPC, acceptance, self-awareness, commitment & follow through are paramount. It’s even written on the walls. Lisa and the coaches see every single person as a member of the HPC Team. It doesn’t matter that I am the oldest in the class, have never thrown an actual punch in my life, or that in the beginning of my journey I was battling depression and anxiety. Societal pressures come and go and no matter how old I get, I still will never be in the “shape” of my life; but working out at HPC has given me a new outlook on fitness, my body, and training.

Kickboxing permits me, just as EVT does, to leave all the noise in my head outside the gym and focus on the present moment (otherwise I’ll leave with a bloody nose, right?). And better yet, I am never treated as anything less than a fighter at HPC. Sound familiar?

Beginner to Fighter

HPC is based on training concepts similar to EVT, and more importantly, Lisa’s leadership leads to shifting paradigms in athletic training. All who enter HPC are welcomed and embraced as champions and are expected to work. Lisa’s “yes” alone when you achieve a combination feels like winning a gold medal. Isn’t that what we all ask of our voice students and how we want everyone to feel leaving our courses? Adult learners are tricky though, but from the moment I stepped foot in HPC, just as I did in EVT, I knew I was safe in my coaches’ hands, and had permission to train at my own pace, honoring my own limits while pushing my body to learn new motor skills and coordination.

Beginner to fighter. Those three words written on the wall of the gym can be interpreted in many ways. It fuels everything at HPC and to me they mean acceptance and encouragement, no matter what. There is no room for ego when you are constantly reminded that training is a journey. Everyday is different. Accept where you are today. I am a beginner everyday, but for different reasons each day. I have no desire to enter competitions, but I am standing next to veteran champions and actual fighters working toward big competition goals and I am learning from them. I can only speculate that maybe they are learning from me too. Again, I ask, does it sound familiar? Voice beginners & fighters all in the same room shifting personal and global paradigms together – empowering their own voices together – Estill Voice Training courses.

Applying the concept of beginner to fighter to voice training is not novel but is central to our Level 1 & 2 courses. All ages, levels of study, professionals and students, come together to focus on being present for the basics, technique & fundamentals. Learning from each other is essential in our groups. Showing respect, grace and support is necessary for the concept of beginner to fighter to work. And afterall, shouldn’t we all be the heavyweight champions of our own practice sessions? Shouldn’t our voice coaches, teachers, and colleagues challenge us with champion mindsets every day? Too many of us though, know all too well the oppressive nature of voice training. Do as I do and don’t think too much. You do not need to know, just do. Do and sound as the greats did. Copy. Quantity over quality. But where does the responsibility to grow & learn lie? I believe it must fall on the shoulders of the learner, and the coach must make room for this. We’ve been lecturing on and pushing a paradigm shift in voice since the day Jo Estill began her pioneering research. But why is it so darn slow to shift?

Members of the Highkick Performance Team at a recent competition in Linz, Austria including head coach Samir Naffati, founder & head coach Lisa Kössler, and winning fighters Ludwig Janitzki & Caro Weber.

A Paradigm Shift in Voice Training

One day not too long ago, at the end of another exhilarating training session, hyped up on endorphins, Lisa and I had an interesting and blog inspiring exchange about responsibility. I am a type of athlete who enters the gym and assumes responsibility for my own efforts. The coaches tell me what to do and encourage me, but I control my mind, big and small muscle effort, breathing & attitude. It’s apparent not everyone is fully committed to being responsible, but this is where Lisa excels. Lisa motivates everyone with the enthusiasm of a champion and expects nothing but the best effort each session. She is always there for us, but team members have to allow for that too, let her drive them, but also take the vital responsibility for themselves to remain present and in control at every count, turn, step, jab, cross & kick.

We see the paradigm shift one larynx at a time in our group courses and in one on one sessions. Participants come with goals, often thinking of helping others before helping themselves, but leave having a whole new perspective on their own voice. Beginner to fighter is at the heart of Estill Voice Training. So many parallelisms can be made from my kickboxing training to my voice training. Training as a vocal athlete is not just an analogy that serves as great marketing. It holds intense meaning to myself and the EVT community and is crucial to the growth of the paradigm shift in voice.

Lisa lays out the road map for kickboxing success at HPC just as we lay out the road map to vocal success in EVT. As part of this episode in our Think Voice blog, I have added an interview with Lisa Koessler about training. Not so surprisingly, Lisa and I share many of the same landmarks on our journey from beginners to fighters, and now coaches (in our respective professions of course). I hope you enjoy listening to a little bit of this champ’s journey, and maybe, hopefully, your inner vocal athlete awakens a little more too.