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Voice Movement Therapy Center

The Voice Movement Therapy Center

Foundation Information and Programs

The Norma G. Canner Foundation for Voice Movement Therapy, a not-for profit 501c3 organization promotes this work through an intensive training program, shorter classes, concert-demonstrations and special projects. Tax deductible funds and gifts are allocated through scholarships to enable highly motivated individuals, regardless of economic circumstance or geographical location, to attend our foundational training, The Voice Unchained, and to carry out further work and study directly related to the discipline of VMT. All contributions and gifts to the Foundation go directly to program, not buildings.

The Foundation Training is registered with both the Internal Revenue Service and the US Department of Immigration as a small training school, the purpose of which is to teach individuals to be practitioners of VMT, a creative discipline designed to be therapeutic and healing. We welcome applications from any individual, inclusive of race, religion, sexual or gender orientation, who has a strong commitment to train in this work and who is emotionally ready to undergo an intense and demanding program. We do not discriminate in educational programmatic or scholarship policies and all scholarships are need-based. The International Association for Voice Movement Therapy (IAVMT) registers practitioners and oversees and promotes this work and its code of ethics.

The name of the Foundation stems from its two sources of inspiration and the purpose for which it exists which is to facilitate the teaching of VMT in terms of the principles and practices set forth by its founder, Paul Newham, but in a more holistic and grounded way, as exemplified in the work of Norma Canner, ADTR, Prof. Emerita and pioneering Dance Movement and Expressive Therapist.

VMT - as conceived by Newham based on the pioneering methods of vocal facilitator Alfred Wolfsohn and influenced by the theatre work of actor and director Roy Hart; the acoustical analysis of otolaryngologist Dr. Paul Moses; the characterological bodywork of Wilhelm Reich; and the psychological principles of C.G. Jung - is, to the best of our knowledge, the first in-depth creative therapeutic discipline which employs the human voice as its main modality and includes neutral, objective terms for discussing qualities of voice across a broad spectrum of backgrounds and cultures. Based on the metaphor of a continuous and flexible vocal tube and the identification of ten vocal components common to all voices, it uses movement extensively. Since the voice is the only instrument wherein both player and played upon are contained within the same organic form, a flexible, versatile and durable voice can best be developed and achieve its fullest expression when firmly grounded in the body. This work is therapeutic in that it requires an in-depth exploration of oneself and one’s issues through the contours of the voice and through the creative enactment of one’s personal story in movement and song.

By carrying on this work, from which Newham retired in the year 2000, Brownell, Christine Isherwood, other teachers on the training and the practitioners who have completed its program seek to honor his creation, but also to infuse it with a philosophy, spirit and way of work which is respectful of individuals within the context of a developing group dynamic. Not only do we conduct the entire training in the presence of the group as a whole (with the exception of individual conferences held at the end of each module), but we also require that students live together in shared housing during training modules. Most importantly, we endeavor, within a developmental frame of reference, “to honor the child in each of us--the original and primary source of our creativity--by providing a supportive if challenging environment in which people may dare to take the risks necessary to change and grow….Respect for each individual, awareness of the importance of the group as a basis for social interaction, and a deep and abiding belief in the creative potential of each human being to effect their own healing and contribute to the well-being of others,” are principles exemplified in the life and work of Norma Canner which we, the teachers of this Foundation that bears her name, seek to uphold and convey. Statement of Purpose, Norma G. Canner Foundation for Voice Movement Therapy, Anne Brownell, Oak Bluffs, MA, 2004.

Watch "A Time to Dance: The Life and Work of Norma Canner"

Watch Video

Sing for Joy Kentish Town Health
Center Choir, London, UK, in performance

The Foundation also contributes funding and expertise to several ongoing projects and research into the use of Voice Movement Therapy in different areas and with different populations.

Sing for Joy, the National Hospital,
Queen's Square, London.

For Example:

The “Sing for Joy” community choirs for people with Parkinson's Disease and similar conditions, their friends and carers, led by the legendary Blues and Jazz singer/songwriter, performance poet, vocal animator and teacher Carol Grimes. Research into the role of Voice Movement Therapy in theological training, Jungian analysis and learning disabilities is also being done.

Foundation Programs

Anne Brownell, MA, VMTR, is Director of the Norma G. Canner Foundation for Voice Movement Therapy and has led, taught and supervised on The Foundation Training in VMT: The Voice Unchained, in Martha’s Vineyard Massachusetts, USA; and South Africa and is currently starting a new training program in Marion, MA. After training in the Expressive Therapies with pioneer dance therapist Norma Canner and noted author and clinician Penny Lewis, Anne’s search for the vocal component for a movement-oriented therapy led her to be the first American to study and qualify in VMT in London with founder Paul Newham and then to teach and supervise on the English and American trainings. She has consulted in schools for children experiencing developmental and language delays, presented at conferences, conducted a private practice and established the Foundation Training. Prior experience included working in Early Intervention programs, supervising graduate students of Dance Therapy on the therapeutic use of the voice, and conducting music and movement groups with Ms. Canner for people who had experienced homelessness, substance abuse and living with HIV/AIDS.

Anne has served as a scriptwriter and executive producer for several films on the Expressive Therapies, including A Time to Dance: The Life and Work of Norma Canner and Going to the Source: A Study of Group Process in the Natural World.

Anne enjoys working in VMT with different populations, including children and adults with special needs, developmental delays, brain injury, mental illness, PTSD – in short, anyone for whom giving voice is or has become a struggle. In a different vein, she loves exploring and performing different vocal genres and soundscapes.

Other Programs

Intensive courses, internships and supervision for practitioners. Work with children and adults with disabilities, those at risk, their providers and parents.

William Charles Freeman, Ph.D., BC-DMT, (Board Certified – Dance/ Movement Therapist) is an educator, movement therapist and consultant, specializing in work with children and adults with and without disabilities, their families and those who serve them. For over thirty-five years, William has designed, directed and facilitated professional development, parent education and direct service programs in movement therapy and the expressive arts. He maintains a practice with individuals with and without disabilities and provides consultative services and teaching for education, mental health and arts agencies. He conducts seminars for professionals and parents, and retreats for individuals interested in personal growth and spiritual development.

For many years, William has been active with the Norma G. Canner Foundation for Voice Movement Therapy, including serving in the roles of guest teacher, internship supervisor and consultant for the Voice Movement Therapy Foundation Training. From 2012 - 2015 he served as Managing Consultant for the Foundation. Now, William serves as Senior Consultant and also undertakes special projects. He is an Associate Member of the International Association for Voice Movement Therapy (IAVMT) and in 2015 was co-chair of the IAVMT conference in Vermont, USA.

William attained a Ph.D. in Movement Therapy and Expressive Arts in Education from The Union Institute (1998) and previously, a M.A. degree in Movement Therapy from Goddard College (1981). He also holds educator licenses from the Vermont Agency of Education in the areas of special education, school social work, counseling and psychology, dance and administration.

In addition, William is an ordained minister and certified spiritual director. At Saint Michael’s College, he completed a Master of Arts degree program (2009) and post-graduate Certificate of Advanced Specialization (2014) in Theology with a concentration in Pastoral Ministry and Spirituality.

For further information, contact movement@sover.net or vmtusa@aol.com

Supervision for practitioners and introductory weekends in Castle Acre, Norfolk, United Kingdom with Melanie Harrold, Melanie Harrold, VVMTR, UKCP, Singer/songwriter. Melanie began singing in the seventies and had a long career performing and recording before she decided to train in the Expressive Arts Therapies. She worked with Paul Newham in the early nineties and then as his assistant on subsequent trainings in Voice Movement Therapy. She has been developing her work in The Singing Body for the last fifteen years and has qualified as a Body Psychotherapist aligning the work of Reich, Lowen and Gerda Boysen with her knowledge of the creative embodied voice, while also serving as guest tutor on the American ‘Voice Unchained’ Voice Movement Therapy Training run by Anne Brownell and Christine Isherwood in Martha’s Vineyard MA, USA. She was also senior supervisor to the students on the South Africa VMT training. For the last 15 years she has been leading large groups of singers in various formats under the banner of Raise The Roof while continuing her expressive therapeutic work co-running annual training workshops with Anne Brownell and on her own in Norfolk, UK. She is also the resident teacher for Body Awareness at The Centre for Psychotherapy Training and Education in London. She returned to the stage to celebrate a re-release of albums she recorded in the seventies and currently is a member of Daphne’s Flight, a dynamic vocal performance group. For further information, contact Kathryn_melanie@gmail.com.

Supervision and Workshop Venue, Norfolk, United Kingdom.

In Memoriam: Norma G. Canner, 1918 - 2012

Professor Emerita, ADTR, Supervisor Foundation Training,
Honorary Member IAVMT

“I used to think that only special people had talent and the need to explore their creative feelings. I didn’t know that a large group of people could dance together and feel as one or that you could dance alone and still feel part of a group…. When Barbara (Mettler) said that everybody had talent and everybody was creative, she just turned my mind around, upside down. She taught me a huge lesson that literally changed my life and my idea and conception of who people were and the creative power in each human being, and it was all in how it was presented.” (Norma, from the film “A Time to Dance: The Life and Work of Norma Canner” BTI Films, 1998)

Norma came to creative dance in the 1940’s from the competitive world of the New York theatre where she had been an actress. Her experience there was tempered by her involvement in the left-wing plays of the 1930’s where she added to her ability to be fully in the moment, in a highly sensitized and disciplined way, by learning what it meant to build a community of shared experience through work and relationships based on principles of mutual respect and support. From Mettler she learned the art of creative body movement: a whole vocabulary of natural movement and a way of working improvisationally within a specific structure or problem: a dance focusing on hands, for example, in which, as her teacher would say, “You move the way you want to, according to your feelings, discovering for yourself your own form of expression.” Both the movement vocabulary and the improvisational style were key to Norma’s way of working in the evolving field of Dance Therapy in particular and the Expressive Therapies in general.

When, in the 1950’s, Norma’s husband moved the family from Boston, MA to Toledo, Ohio, Mettler suggested she could teach there. Although Norma had never thought of herself as a teacher, she offered a course for children at the local Y and - having learned her lesson - said on a TV program that “Anyone can dance.” Confronted in her first class with a child with cerebral palsy and full leg braces, she found a way to include her through dances built around body parts the child could move. This led Norma to work in hospitals where she encouraged children to move and be creative, focusing on what they could, rather than what they couldn’t do. When she began to give workshops, people would ask, “Can you work with deaf children, or blind, or retarded children, and she would answer, “I don’t know, but I could try,” and she did.

Norma and her family returned to Boston in the 1960s just at the time the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health was establishing a pilot pre-kindergarten program for children with disabilities. She was hired by Director Louis Klebanoff because, as he said, "We were looking for people who knew early childhood, not retarded, and who would approach these children as children rather than patients."

His principal, Dorothy Tucker, pointed out that at that time people weren't so interested in helping children, especially children with disabilities, experience their lives, but rather in molding them according to preconceived ideas. Klebanoff and Tucker knew that teachers concentrated on instructing children to learn; they were looking for someone who would help them "experience" by claiming what they did, and thought, and felt, as their own. As Tucker said, "You can't own something if it's pushed on you or if you don't have to use yourself to do it. The way Norma worked, anything the child did, the child owned."

Soon there were over a hundred such schools in Massachusetts which became the model for what is now known as Early Intervention. During this time, Norma taught in many different college and university programs around Boston which led her to write her book, "….and a time to dance," exploring how creative dance can enrich the lives of children with special needs. She also worked with children in poor neighborhoods in the North and in the American South in Head Start Programs.

"The making of something," working towards the expression of health and wholeness through the creative impulse and dealing with feelings head-on, in the moment, became hallmarks of Norma's work. Not only was there no failure in creative dance; the ability both to express and to safely contain volatile, even violent feelings within these improvisational structures caused Dr.William C. Freeman, ADTR, Movement Educator and Associate Member of the IAVMT, to remark that "If people, including children with disabilities are allowed to express themselves fully, within safe structures, they won't need to act out later on, and many crises and hours of therapy could be prevented."

The ability Norma had to sense what these children were feeling carried over into her work with adults. In 1974, she was invited to begin the Dance Therapy department at Lesley University where she taught for fourteen years while also expanding her work through programs in Israel, Switzerland and various parts of America. Beginning in the 1980's, she travelled annually to Kansas where she worked with Dr. Freeman at the Kansas State Department of Education and Accessible Arts, Inc. teaching teachers, paraprofessionals and parents to use the Expressive Arts with children and youth with disabilities.

From the mid-1980's into the early 21st. century, she maintained a private practice with adults, combining dance and movement with imagery, enactment, sound and voice to encourage expression and integration of the self. Norma considered sound, especially human sound, to be one of the basic materials of dance, "the kinaesthetic made audible," and adored the singing voice in all its forms. After being introduced to the new discipline of Voice Movement Therapy in 1994 by Anne Brownell, Norma became supervisor and visiting teacher on the Foundation Training in Voice Movement Therapy: The Voice Unchained. The Norma G. Canner Foundation for Voice Movement Therapy was established in her honor.

One of the ways Norma worked with adults was by connecting them back to the child within through creative movement which rekindled non-verbal memories and provided an opportunity to access the creative spontaneity of childhood. "The body has a memory and if you're working in therapy and you move, it will just come out and you can work with it and it begins to heal. You can't defend that place the way you can in verbal therapy." But you could transform it. Norma would initiate and guide a person through deep life issues, using movement and sound to access memories locked in the body either prior to the acquisition of language or because the nature of an experience had made words inaccessible or inadequate, and then she would encourage you to express and shape them in new and creative ways which would help change how you felt about them.

And Norma was always playful. "Play is the way children learn and it's a thing adults have forgotten and that gives us our spirit and wonderment. We need to play all our lives and for children, it's their way of learning to be social creatures." It is also a way of re-socializing people who have been held back in their development by childhood issues. It could be said that art is the highest form of play, and Norma had the ability to access all those dark and scary places, the monsters really, and help you transform them by re-experiencing and then expressing them as characters, songs, and dances: a part of oneself, but not the only part. I came to work with Norma because I knew I had somehow to connect my mind to my body, to my whole feeling self, and that changed my life.

Barbara Mettler would say, "Let the movements grow out of each other, with your whole self in it, and the more your mind, your body, your spirit are integrated in it, the more meaning it will have, the more alive it will be." Norma said, "That's why I love dance and creative movement so much, because it employs the whole self, not just part of the self. If we don't know something with our whole selves, we don't really know it. We need to reconnect with that childlike sense of discovery, because ultimately that's how we learn and grow. Movement takes us to deep places and it's vital to create a sense of community and trust to contain them."

And so it is passed on, this gift of doing, of making beauty: in creating a dance; in rebuilding a life; in learning to play. Norma's fifty-years-plus commitment to Dance Therapy and the Expressive Arts was documented in the film "A Time to Dance: The Life and Work of Norma Canner," by Ian Brownell and Webb Wilcoxen, as a testament to the power of the Expressive Therapies.

"To say Norma will be sorely missed, both by those who knew her for years and those who came into contact with her only briefly, is an understatement. Her compassion, respect for each individual, reverence for nature, artistry and ability to reach out to those most cut off from social interaction will never be forgotten." (Dennis Livingston, composer, writer and Norma's son-in-law.)

"I think the power and the magic of Norma has to do with her ability to see the spirit and the love inside of someone and connect it with her own energy. We can help nurture that spirit in others by the medicine of who we are. The greatest therapeutic medicine is another human being." (Stan Strickland, jazz musician, teacher, dancer).

The theatre honed Norma's feeling for character and motivation; Mettler's creative movement gave her the essential tools for her work; and she combined them with her own faith and belief in what she called "an empathetic love for the client." As Mettler was an artist of aesthetic individual and communal dance, so Norma was an artist of human relationships who exemplified the Zuni quote which hung in Mettler's studio:"We dance for ourselves and for the good of the city." The "city" - all of us in our various places around the world whose lives Norma touched - feels an emptiness, an absence, because a wonderful, unforgettable, greatly loving person has "moved over." At the same time, we are aware of a richness which remains in what she taught us and the gift her work and her presence brought. Let us remember her when we dance.

- Anne Brownell, Feb, 23, 2012

A Time to Dance: The Life and Work of Norma Canner can be purchased from www.btifilms.com/atimetodance.html


Check or money order (USA) can be made payable to the Norma G. Canner Foundation for Voice Movement Therapy. In the memo section, please be sure to write “Donation” and mail to the Norma G. Canner Foundation for Voice Movement Therapy, c/o The Marion Institute, 202 Spring Street, Marion, MA 02738.

Meridian University Interview

As part of the telesummit on The Mystery of Embodiment hosted by Meridian 20 University, a conversation between Anne Brownell, VMT practitioner, and Melissa Schwartz, Dean of Studies, was recorded on Dec. 4th 2011 and is available by link on www.iavmt.org/audio/brownell.mp3

Music DVD
Dedicated to Norma Canner
With appreciation for the Voice Movement Therapy work of Paul Newham
List Price: $12 (USD), includes shipping

Mail in your order
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Check or money order (USA) made out to: The Norma G. Canner Foundation. In the memo section, please write “A Journey in Song”.

The Norma G. Canner Foundation
c/o The Marion Institute
202 Spring Street
Marion, MA 02738

A vocal journey through different genres including ballads, blues, work songs, Appalachian mountain songs, art songs, and opera "embodying a quest for a whole voice of extended range, flexibility, durability and versatility, with which to express different aspects of life such as love, work, hope, death and spirituality, through a variety of musical sources and styles".

All proceeds go to The Norma G. Canner Foundation for Voice Movement Therapy Scholarship Fund.

Recorded at Parr Audio,
jparr@parraudio.com, Oak Bluffs, MA, March 2008
Produced by Christine Isherwood, Jim Parr & Anne Brownell
With thanks to James Bean & Eva Campbell-Haidl
Designed by Sitka Creations
Photos by Cathy Peters

Marion Institute Voice Movement Therapy Center |202 Spring Street, Marion, MA 02738 | vmtusa@aol.com