Speech Therapist Graham D’Souza: ‘My Life’s Mission Is Helping Another Find Their Individual Voice’
The Mumbai-based artist opens up about the tumultuous year he’s had, his vocal education institute GramoVox, his future plans and more
If 2020 has been tough on most of the world’s population, it’s been nothing short of a whirlwind for 25-year-old Mumbai-based speech educator Graham D’Souza. The instructor – who runs vocal institute GramoVox – suffered three consecutive brain seizures this past February. Given only 36 hours left to live, D’Souza says, “Hanging direly onto life and God to save me, there was one thing that didn’t leave me… the memory of my work.” Being quite the humorous, positive and energetic human that he is, D’Souza made a full recovery and two months after he was discharged got back to doing what he loves best, teaching. “But this time, online!” he adds.
The artist’s love for speech, articulation and assertive vocal performance goes back to when he overcame his stammer at the age of eight and went on to win the prize for the best reader in grade three. He says, “I knew right from then that I would inevitably have an association with the human voice in some way or the other.”
Conquering his stammer gave D’Souza a sense of invincibility within him as well as emotional freedom. This feeling is what got him thinking of ways in which he could help others attain that same joy. Another turning point was the 2010 film The King’s Speech. According to the speech therapist, the movie was tailored for him. He says, “King George VI (Colin Firth) had quite the same stammer as I in terms of frequency and Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) was exactly the teacher I wanted to be when I grew up.” He adds, “It felt like Tom Hooper made the film just to represent my past and future to my present state at the time – except I was no king.”
D’Souza founded GramoVox in 2013 while he was still in college and has been teaching Voice Modulation, Public Speaking, Speech Therapy, Speaking Verse and Composition and Speech and Drama. His students range from five-year-olds to senior citizens from all walks of life. “I have a wide audience who either wish to correct their speech impediment, communicate more effectively, strengthen their voice or delve in the world of composition and phrasing of texts,” he says.
A joyous moment as a teacher is when his speech therapy students realize that they can officially speak freely without stammering. “It brings back the best memories and gives back to the little Graham who struggled to speak two decades ago,” he says.
One of D’Souza’s strengths as a teacher is his man-management skills which he’s picked up from football managers as well as voice and acting coaches. “I feel that in order to get the best work done, the student first must be treated as a priority and at all times made to genuinely feel that they are heard – because they matter,” says D’Souza. He adds, “At GramoVox, there is no room for discouragement or negativity – just pragmatic criticism which is purely constructive.” The instructor’s quick tips to better your speech include breathing, staying hydrated, yawning and taking a moment to pause.
Apart from running GramoVox, D’Souza has also taught speech and language at an NGO called Udisha Project for the past three years and has conducted workshops too. On top of that, he also lends his vocal cords as a voice-over artist for advertisements, documentaries, film dubs, radio spots and audiobooks and has been involved as a professional stage actor since 2012. He says, “Luckily with a rotatable teaching schedule, I am able to juggle my work between rehearsals, dubbing and teaching.”
The educator never imagined taking his classes online, however, he’s had to do so due to COVID-19. Although he’s been able to cope quite well, D’Souza does state that there are a number of drawbacks from teaching through a screen. He says, “There is a large portion that according to me isn’t fulfilled unless you’re physically present or you have state of the art digital resources to pull off an online class, which I don’t. All is not lost though, and my vocal practice is still hoisted high as I now am able to reach out to students from around the globe.”
D’Souza hopes to attain a Master of Fine Arts in Vocal Studies next year while also focusing on building GramoVox into an institute of the vocal arts. “The disciplines of voice culture are largely humane; setting aside its scientific and artistic approaches, I look to use that view as my driving force in making a difference to this world,” he says.
D’Souza’s literary recommendations:
Animal Farm – George Orwell (novella)
The Ballad of Reading Gaol – Oscar Wilde (poem)
David Copperfield – Charles Dickens (novel)
A Modest Proposal – Jonathan Swift (essay)
Cyrano De Bergerac – Edmund Rostand (play)
All the Short Stories of Anton Chekhov