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Born the third of four sons of working-class Italian-Americans, Gary was raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in a lively household with no shortage of music or pasta. Gary’s parents, Anthony and Caroline, regularly played their beloved operatic music on the record player to keep the peace between the four rowdy boys. By the 1960′s, the boys favored rock ‘n’ roll, pop music, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and Johnny Mathis - Who were mostly heard around the Catona household.
In junior high and high school, Gary trained hard to become an outstanding varsity wrestler. At home, however, behind the closed door of his bedroom, Gary spent his spare time studying the operatic music so beloved by his parents. In particular, he was captivated by the thrilling voice of famed pop- operatic tenor, Mario Lanza. Gary’s desire to sing steadily grew. In his senior year of high school, Gary joined the chorus and was selected to sing two songs in Latin in the annual concert. After receiving praise for his exceptional vocal ability and enthusiastic encouragement by chorus director, Lee Lynn, Gary began to study voice formally.
Gary went on to earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in philosophy from Pennsylvania State University, during which time he continued to dedicate himself to the art and practice of singing. Over the course of 10 years from his teens to his young adulthood, his passion for singing became a source of great frustration. In fact, his devotion to his voice teachers had a horrible downside: The more he studied and practiced, the more his voice deteriorated over time. He found himself moving from one disappointing teacher to the next—14 in total—in the desperate attempt to realize his vocal potential. To make matters even worse, his teachers’ ideas and techniques often conflicted with one another and caused Gary enormous confusion and anxiety. Ironically, his once-beautiful singing voice became weak, thin, and wobbly.
Despite these disheartening setbacks, Gary continued on his quest to discover the secret to a great singing voice. In 1980, he began to research the mechanics of voice production in the great music library at the University of Texas in Austin. There, while studying vocal anatomy, he discovered that the vocal mechanism is composed of specific muscles in the throat. The light went on, and interestingly enough, Gary’s experience as an athlete provided a crucial insight: If vocal muscles control every aspect of the voice, the only way to improve the voice is through vocal exercising. This simple realization was the key idea that had eluded his voice teachers and resulted in his failure as a student of singing. By researching exercise physiology, Gary stumbled upon a particular form of exercising—isokinetics—that seemed to be ideally suited to the muscles of the voice. (In short, isokinetics allows maximum resistance to be applied to muscle groups throughout their full range of motion, while keeping the movement of the motion constant.) Gary’s remarkable conclusion—that “behind the great voice is the muscular voice”—would form the foundation for his new approach, which he called “voice building.”
During this time, Gary also took special note of the writings of the legendary Italian operatic tenor, Enrico Caruso, who spoke plainly about vocal muscles and the need for singers to sing “well back in the throat”—an idea that conflicted radically with the prevailing approaches to voice teaching at the time. In fact, all of Gary’s teachers had taught him to sing forward “in the mask” and to avoid the throat altogether. Based on this new understanding, Gary created his unique voice building system, which combined centuries of Italian operatic training techniques from the old Italian masters with the modern science of exercise physiology.
Since the mid-1980s, Gary’s insights into the human voice have established him as a virtual guru and scientist of the voice. One of his first students was Johnny Bush—a Texas-based country singer, who suffered from spasmodic dysphonia, a rare and severe vocal disorder. Within weeks, Gary’s voice building exercises restored Bush’s voice to its full power and resonance. A number of entertainers followed suit, seeking guidance from Gary—some to build their singing voice and others to overcome vocal disorders like hoarseness, nasality, and vocal cord paralysis, in addition to spasmodic dysphonia. Gary’s revolutionary voice building system soon earned him a reputation as a renegade in the field of vocal development: Not only did his system represent a veritable breakthrough in developing the singing voice, it also provided a badly needed alternative to traditional—and typically non-effective—vocal rehabilitation. (With his system, surgery and other invasive techniques are often rendered unnecessary.) In this sense, Gary established the first true science of voice building. In 1991, celebrity publicist Dale Olsen reached out to Gary on behalf of actress, Shirley MacLaine, who was preparing to go on tour and wanted to strengthen her singing voice. After eight months of intense vocal building, MacLaine devoted five pages of one of her books, Dance While You Can, to Gary and his dramatic influence on her success as a singer, actress, and professional speaker. MacLaine’s enthusiastic endorsement—along with the support of other celebrity students (Babyface, Larry Carlton, Jack Klugman)—opened new doors into the entertainment world. Gary went on to teach many of Hollywood’s most successful singers and entertainers, from Whitney Houston to Andrea Bocelli. Gary’s groundbreaking system has earned him media attention worldwide, including articles in USA Today, People Magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and a feature segment on Entertainment Tonight. Most recently, Gary achieved international notoriety for his role as Whitney Houston’s voice building coach in the seven years prior to her death. When Gary met Houston, he revealed that her voice was “gone”—deteriorated by poor lifestyle choices—by the time she came to him. Gary was given credit for restoring a large percentage of her voice to its former glory, as told to multiple news outlets, including ABC’s 20/20, Anderson Cooper, Geraldo Rivera, Nancy Grace, and HLN, as well as People Magazine and Vanity Fair. Today, Gary is regarded by many as the modern-day “maestro” of voice and is committed to teaching his voice building system to the world. Gary is based in Los Angeles, California.