Queen of the Scream: Vocal Coach Melissa Cross An instructional DVD/CD set called The Zen of Screaming targets a very specific clientele: singers who literally scream for a living. Voice coach Melissa Cross talks to Robert Siegel about a method she has developed to help vocalists belt out their lyrics -- without ruining their voices.

Queen of the Scream: Vocal Coach Melissa Cross

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The other day, I spoke with vocal coach Melissa Cross, who has released a CD/DVD called THE ZEN OF SCREAMING.

Ms. MELISSA CROSS (Vocal Coach): Like a monkey. You've got to have a little H there.

SIEGEL: It's called that because Melissa Cross has cultivated a special clientele, screamers, rock singers who literally scream for a living.

(Soundbite of Cross giving a lesson)

Ms. CROSS: The monkey he-he exercise helps people to physically understand what head resonance feels like so that they can imagine it when they perform it. Regardless of whether they are making that actual sound, the imaging of making that sound helps to produce efficient vocal production, even if you're screaming.

SIEGEL: Do you find that rock singers are typically receptive to this kind of training and instruction?

Ms. CROSS: Absolutely, because it's hilarious. They're so afraid in the beginning that I'm going to be one of those very straight laced teachers that are basically going to convince them that they have no future in using their vocal cords, and I completely obliterate that in about five minutes.

SIEGEL: Now, I want to play a bit of a group that you work with.

(Soundbite of Cradle of Filth)

SIEGEL: That's the group Cradle of Filth, singing the song Babylon AD on the Abracadabra label. You worked with that group.

Ms. CROSS: Yes, I did.

SIEGEL: Are those people destroying their larynxes with what they're doing there in that record?

Ms. CROSS: Not after I teach them. That particular style of singing, I call that pharyngeal singing. It's screaming. And there are no vocal cords that should be used for that. That's actually using the upper pharynx or the upper throat and the sinuses so it sounds more like -- They get into trouble when they mix their vocal cords into that.

So what I do is I teach them how to separate their awareness of their vocal cords and that upper pharyngeal squeeze so that they don't hammer their vocal cords to bits.

SIEGEL: Do you ever tell somebody, I could work with you, but essentially, you've shot your vocal cords? You're done. You're toast.

Ms. CROSS: I don't ever get the situation where someone decides that they want to leave Cradle of Filth and sing Carmen. So it's not, a person who has damage in this sense has an easier time of recovering, just getting the swelling down and getting to the point where they do vocal rest, they take their medications, they do the exercises that I give them, and they're back on the road and hopefully doing it in a way that they're not going to injure themselves again.

SIEGEL: Let's hear another of the singers you've worked with. This is Andrew WK, and I believe this song is, It's Time to Party.

(Soundbite of Andrew WK)

SIEGEL: Well, Andrew didn't leave anything in the dressing room there. He certainly lets it all out.

Ms. CROSS: He does. These guys are letting it all out. And in doing so, they are hurting themselves, and that's where I come in. It's not necessary to hurt yourself to express yourself in this way. The idea is to gain some physical awareness to have the control so that you can do this for a living.

Andrew WK, by the way, is now singing -- is able to sing a beautiful Barry Manilow ballad at the piano, as well as do what he does now.

SIEGEL: Thanks to you.

Ms. CROSS: Well, you know what, he was afraid of his voice. And he was also afraid that singing in any way might be considered old fashion or contrived. And he enjoys it so much, and he is impressing all of his friends with his newly found textures in his voice.

I have an amazing job. I have an amazing job.

SIEGEL: Well, Melissa Cross, thank you very much for talking with me today.

Ms. CROSS: Thank you so much. What an honor. Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Melissa Cross, whose instructional DVD is called THE ZEN OF SCREAMING.

We were so intrigued by the idea of a certified screamer who has found his inner Barry Manilow that we got in touch with Melissa Cross's satisfied student of three years.

Mr. ANDREW WK (Singer): My name is Andrew WK and I've been studying with Melissa for, I think, it's been about three years now.

SIEGEL: She claims that in addition to your screaming and doing that and getting use to your own voice you have now developed a taste for singing Barry Manilow.

Mr. WK: I've enjoyed challenging myself by singing material performed frequently by many different singers, one of them being Barry Manilow, whose voice I've enjoyed quite a lot.

SIEGEL: Well. Could you go for it?

Mr. WK: Okay.

(Singing) Oh, Mandy, well you came and you gave without taking, but I sent you away, oh, Mandy. Well, you kissed me and stopped me from shaking, and I need you today, oh, Mandy.

SIEGEL: We've heard different things that you're singing now, different kinds of things. But when it comes to say, screaming It's Time to Party, do you that differently now than you did before your coaching from Melissa?

Mr. WK: Melissa has helped me become more aware as a person and as a performer and as a vocalist. And just treating this as an instrument is one thing, but treating it as an all encompassing aspect of your life, something you're putting time into. She has helped me continue to push forward and to not lay dormant or sit on the porch, so to speak, of what you've done, but to always be taking risks hopefully.

SIEGEL: So to end up screaming is an appropriate--

Mr. WK: Yeah, to scream your head off at the same time.

SIEGEL: Can you tell us what your current project is?

Mr. WK: Yes. You can see the results of this focused screaming on my new concert DVD entitled WHO KNOWS? And it's in stores now.

SIEGEL: Andrew WK, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. WK: Thanks very much. I'm happy to participate.

SIEGEL: And you can see more from Melissa Cross's CD/DVD, THE ZEN OF SCREAMING at our website NPR.org

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