Shula Rich is the opposite of the 'older person' stereotype.
She is a leasehold expert who, at 76, actively writes, presents courses nationwide and offers consultancy and advice services. She is also a keen bodybuilder who trains regularly at a local gym.
However, by the autumn of 2021, Shula noticed that - despite her active lifestyle and excellent physical fitness - her voice felt weak and uncontrollable and was sounding overly emotional and crackly.
"My voice had lost its usual lightness and it wasn't representing me the way I wanted it to. I said, "This is not me. I need to find a way change this.""
Through shared membership in Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce, Shula found Stefan Holmström, an opera singer and voice teacher.
As a certified Estill Master Trainer, Stefan uses Estill Voice Training, a scientific, evidence-based system for vocal development, to give people effective tools to understand their voices, sing and speak sustainably and improve their craft.
In November 2021, Shula and Stefan began working together one-to-one on a bi-weekly basis. Sessions were always practical and involved lots of fun experimentation, from poetry reading and rapping to analysing celebrities' voices and learning 'recipes' to recreate them.
Stefan also used models of the tongue and the larynx as useful aids to help Shula understand how her voice works.
"Sessions with Stefan have taught me so much about my voice. When I began, I had no idea that my throat was anything other than what I use to swallow. Now that I know more about what's happening on the inside, I can visualise my voice and control it better."
It can be a real challenge to try something that takes us out of our vocal comfort zones, but with conscious control and training of the voice, everyone can develop and improve - and it's never too late to start.
"Older people don't need to accept a croaky voice. I never thought I would be able to develop my voice and sound beautiful, but now I love myself much more when I talk. I can feel myself doing what I want."
With a beaming smile, she added: "I never thought that the sound of myself could bring me joy."
Stefan Holmström is a professional opera singer and voice teacher working with speakers and singers of all ages and abilities with a wide range of goals. He offers online and in-person vocal coaching and workshops from his studio in central Brighton in the UK. As an Estill Master Trainer (EMT), Stefan uses Estill Voice Training (EVT) as a baseline for safe and sustainable voice use.
This interview was published to celebrate International Day of Older Persons 2023.