Jo Estill

It is with great sadness to tell you of the passing of the singer, teacher and voice scientist, Jo Estill, a true pioneer and innovator in the field of voice research. In 1992, the Voice Research Society, the previous incarnation of the BVA, first brought Jo Estill to the UK to present her unique approach to voice training, based on an extraordinarily lucid and practical physiological explanation of vocal function. Those of us present at that first five day course were witness to nothing less than a revolution. 

Josephine Antoinette Vadala was born in Donora, Pennsylvania on April 25th 1921. Her parents’ families were from Italy and she was very proud of her Italian roots. Music was in the family and she always sang, even as a small child, accompanying her father who played guitar while she sang Italian folk songs. There is not space here for me to list her many achievements as a classical singer but after many years singing (including a tour of Europe in the 1954) and studying singing she decided to return to college to begin academic study of the voice before teaching.

"Everyone has a beautiful voice"

Jo Estill

Despite reading all the literature available on voice and the teaching of voice, she remained unconvinced by the lack of physiological based instruction presented. I remember visiting her several times in Santa Rosa in the late 1990s and flicking through the books she had by other renowned teachers, and being amused as well as impressed by the pithy comments and criticisms in the margins. She was a woman of sharp and discriminating intelligence, questioning everything that wasn’t backed up by sound science or practice based on physiological knowledge. There was not much that escaped her penetrating and disciplined gaze and she was fearless in challenging those teachers who took refuge in the worst kind of fanciful imagery over clarity and knowledge. She was the most well-read teacher of other teachers’ works (and scientists) that I have ever come across.

Her great contribution to the study and understanding of voice, The Estill Model, is a peerless explanation of vocal function, that connects physiology to a narrow range of predictable acoustic results, accessed through simple exercises that anyone can learn and practice. It gives not only understanding but control and with that the ability to produce the voice, either singing or speaking, ‘on demand’. 
I am not the only one to mourn not just the loss of a true mentor and great teacher, but also a much loved friend. She had a wonderful sense of humour and one of my abiding memories will be of how much we laughed together. However, I am sure that all of us also share a tremendous sense of privilege that we in turn have such an extraordinary legacy to give to our students and that we owe her a very great debt of gratitude.

Thank you Jo,