Del Mar man masters the science of singing

By Claire Harlin

Staff Writer

Local musician Eve Selis has been a voice San Diego can’t ignore for more than a decade, and she has stayed busy with a handful of performances in Carmel Valley, Del Mar and Solana Beach within the past month. But given her notoriety and success, who would ever guess that her strong, soulful voice was once in need of repair?

“In the beginning, I had never taken vocal lessons, so I had developed bad habits,” said Selis, recalling the early days of her music career. “I was singing five nights a week, the muscles in my diaphragm were getting tired and I was singing from my throat. I was pushing notes up and straining constantly.”

One day in 1996 Selis had an emergency situation — she was scheduled to open for Crosby, Stills and Nash at San Diego State University’s Open Air Theater and she had completely lost her voice. She called renowned vocal coach Martin Grusin, 77, a longtime Del Mar resident who has developed a unique technique-based vocal science that is said to actually save voices.

“Through his technique I was able to get back 85 percent of my voice and I was able to do the concert,” said Selis. “But not only that, I was singing well after that. For about a month, I felt all-powerful.”

Selis and many other local vocalists have developed and maintained their voices with the help of Grusin, whose graduate research in vocal science and harmonics at the University of California, San Diego led him to develop a technique that is all his own. Known as laryngeal manipulation, this technique develops the pitch-making muscles by pinpointing pressure points in the larynx while making sound. Grusin, 77, has been coaching vocalists for 28 years and sees about 18 students a week in his Del Mar Heights studio. His students range in age from 8 to 60.

“What I do is a very specialized field,” said Grusin, who sang professionally in New York City in the 1960s, recording for labels such as RCA, Columbia and MGM. “I have new singers come to me, but mainly I get a lot of professionals in the studio. When a pro comes to me it’s because they are having a lot of problems with their voice.”

Grusin said he also works with lecturers from UCSD and San Diego State University who have problems with their voice carrying in front of a large crowd.

Grusin’s techniques are just that — technical. But he said it can most simply be compared to tuning a guitar, only the vocal cords are the strings.

“The vocal cords get tense and they get longer and shorter,” he said. “They are like strings, each string getting tighter as you get higher in pitch.”

But unlike a guitar, which generally plays correctly, the “human voice is the most unreliable instrument,” said Selis, who visited Grusin for regular voice sessions for about seven years.

“There could be so many factors that could hurt the voice — sickness, lack of sleep — laughing is even bad for your voice,” she said.

Selis just went into the studio last week to start recording her next album, and she said she looks forward to seeing Grusin for a “tune-up.”

“Martin is the only one doing what he’s doing out here,” said Selis. “Thank God he’s not in L.A. or I’d be driving up there to see him.”