Voices of Experience, Part 1

“Music teachers can help students develop the full range of their singing voices and use their speaking voices expressively,” says music education professor Janice Smith. Sometimes, however, things go wrong.

About 28 million workers in the United States experience voice problems daily, causing them to miss work, receive disability assistance, or even change occupations,” says Susan Thibeault, director of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Voice and Swallow Clinic.

“When things go wrong, drinking tea with honey and lemon isn’t a real solution, states Jenny Price, who wrote a recent article about the UW clinic. “Fixing a voice problem relies on a patient’s commitment to make changes as much as the skill of doctors and voice specialists.”

Pediatric voice manager and singing-voice specialist Maia Braden states:  “We sometimes talk about vocal bank accounts. You can only take so much out, so you can only use your voice so much. It really becomes this hybrid of vocal techniques from singing-voice lessons and vocal techniques from voice therapy.”

At the clinic, Wilder Deitz, age 16, is learning how to scream while doing jumping jacks. The guitarist and singer in a metal/grunge band was suffering from a sore throat and voice fatigue, which was putting a dent in his musical aspirations.

The screaming regimen was not unusual at the clinic, which devotes some of its practice to helping professional and amateur singers, as well as other professionals who rely on their voices to do their job. After six visits at the clinic, Wilder Dietz is asked by voice specialist Sarah Blakeslee what he’s done to help his sore throat.

“Warm-ups before singing and bellowing,” Dietz says. “That really helps.” Blakeslee advises him, when singing, to use “twice as much air” as he usually does.

Dietz is then asked to scream as he counts from 1 to 10 as he does jumping jacks. Blakeslee’s goal is to engage the entire body so, as she says, “the throat doesn’t have to do all the work.”

This article was adapted, with permission, from “Voices of Experience” by Jenny Price, On Wisconsin Magazine, Fall 2010.

MENC member Janice P. Smith is an associate professor of music education at the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College, City University of New York, Flushing. She is also the coauthor of Minds on Music: Composition for Creative and Critical Thinking (MENC / Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2009).

Check out MENC’s Health in Music Education position statement.

—Ella Wilcox, October 13, 2010, © National Association for Music Education