Voices of Experience, Part 2

Music teachers’ voices are often subjected to overuse and abuse. According to MENC member and physician William J. Dawson, who in 2006 served as president of the Performing Arts Medicine Association, “pain should not be ignored or denied.”

While surgery is sometimes necessary to correct vocal problems, therapy is often the best course of action for most common issues, including nodules on the vocal folds.

Singers are often among the most knowledgeable patients, according to Susan Thibeault, director of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Voice and Swallow Clinic. “Singers know their range and how to work with their voices,” she says.

The clinic offers what it calls “voice boot camp,” which includes evaluation and “up to a week of intensive therapy with specialists.”

“Voice disorders can be difficult to pinpoint since they can be caused by a combination of medical problems and behavior,” says Jenny Price, who wrote a recent article on the clinic.

“To find answers, continues Price, “the clinic takes a team approach to care, starting with a complete evaluation that looks at the patient’s behavior, including diet and other habits, and his or her vocal folds (also known as the vocal cords).”

A scope illuminated by a halogen lamp is inserted through the nose or the back of the mouth to look at the structure of the vocal cords and to observe vibrations (average = 220 times/second in the adult female).

High-speed imaging can be used to observe individual vibrations, and the observation is often repeated at the end of therapy to measure progress.

In the end, however, says Maria Braden, pediatric voice manager and singing-voice specialist at the clinic, “the clinician’s ear is a very big tool.”

Try this:  Check out Web sites that show video of vocal folds in action. Your students may also be interested in these images and in the operation of the voice-production system. [Beware of occasional inappropriate comments left on these sites.]

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

Fit as a Fiddle: The Musician’s Guide to Playing Healthy by William J. Dawson

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

—Ella Wilcox, October 20, 2010, © National Association for Music Education