School of Music, Theatre and Dance

OU voice students learn about the importance of vocal health

icon of a calendarDecember 3, 2019

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OU voice students learn about the importance of vocal health
OU voice students learn about the importance of vocal health
Oakland University voice students learned more about their own vocal health at the Lakeshore Ear, Nose and Throat Center.

For Oakland University voice students, the human voice is more than just a way to communicate — it’s also a precious instrument that must be maintained in order for them to continue sharing their passion for performing.

“Voices are like feet in a way — no one thinks much about their feet until they have a problem with them, but when they do, it suddenly becomes all they can think about,” said John-Paul White, a distinguished professor of music at Oakland University. “It’s much the same with our voice. We take it for granted until it doesn’t work right, and then we realize how very important it is.

“How much more so for a performer, especially a professional whose living depends on their voice,” White added. “Maintaining vocal health is so much easier than having to fix a problem once is has occurred.”

Dr. Drake Dantzler, associate professor of music at OU, agreed.

“For any singer, their body is their instrument,” Dantzler said. “Proper health and vocal maintenance is important for successful singing and performing. We teach our students to maintain proper hydration, to avoid diuretics, to avoid smoking and second hand smoke, and to keep their bodies healthy.

“Beyond those baseline lifestyle choices, we also work to create a vocal routine that establishes the habits for vocal longevity. Those exercises are based around established vocal science, and new research is emerging all the time.”

This past summer, Dantzler and his wife, Dr. Alta Dantzler, an assistant professor of music at OU, participated in the National Center for Voice & Speech (NCVS) Summer Vocology Institute at the University of Utah, where they completed the first part of a three-part certification.

“Vocology is the study of the habituation of the human voice, or how we use our voices for singing,” Drake Dantzler said. “It contains detailed studies in vocal health, anatomy, physics and applied practice.”

OU voice students learn about the importance of vocal health

Recently, more than 40 Oakland University voice students had an opportunity to learn more about their own vocal health when Dr. Adam Rubin and Dr. Juliana Codino from the Lakeshore Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Center treated them to a free baseline videostroboscopy on Nov. 11.

“Videostroboscopy is an examination that uses high-speed light flashes that enable the scope (camera) to see the vocal folds in slow motion,” White said. “The vocal folds vibrate very quickly, much too fast for the naked eye to see. For example, at the pitch A 440 they vibrate 440 times per second. Stroboscopy enables the laryngologist to see the condition of the vocal cords in much greater detail.”

Dantzler called the procedure “a tremendously valuable tool” for performers.

“All performers, like any athlete, will experience some form of distress during their career,” he said. “By having a baseline stroboscope, the doctor that evaluates their vocal folds will be able to make a much more detailed analysis of the chord movement, and hence a more accurate diagnosis. To be able to provide this to our students, free of charge, is a wonderful opportunity, and we thank Lakeshore ENT for their expertise and time.”

Caroline Roberts, a senior vocal performance major with a pre-med concentration, was among the OU students who underwent the procedure on Nov. 11.

“It was fascinating to see how my own vocal cords operate, along with the amazing technology used to track vocal health,” she said. “This visit was especially exciting for me because I hope to be a laryngologist in the future. I believe my education as a vocal performance student will set me apart in this field, since I can empathize with my future patients.”

OU voice students learn about the importance of vocal health

Also in November, several OU voice students had an opportunity to visit the Gross Anatomy Lab in Hannah Hall, where they were able to view an excised human larynx, as well as breathing musculature, with Dr. Rebecca Pratt, a professor of anatomy in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine.

“The anatomy lab was a remarkable opportunity for our students to gain a detailed idea of the physiology of the human voice,” Dantzler said. “While our students have seen models and drawings, there is no replacement for a physical larynx.

“The student’s excitement and wonder was palpable, and there was no question that high level comprehension was present,” he said. “Students were connecting questions and ideas from their Voice Tech classes, as well as gaining a broader understanding of the instructions they receive in lesson.”

Voice student Gillian Tackett, who visited the anatomy lab on Nov. 12, said the experience was “amazing.”

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I would feel being in a room with deceased donors and looking at body parts, but being able to see and even touch the parts of the body that are extremely vital to what we do as singers was life changing,” she said. “When I was holding a human larynx in my hands, I realized that this might be the closest I would ever get to really touching my instrument.”

For performers, maintaining that instrument — their voice — is critically important.

“Vocal health begins with awareness,” Tackett said. “Once we have that knowledge, we can begin to properly use and maintain a healthy voice. Here at Oakland, we’re very fortunate to have voice faculty who are so supportive and eager to help us learn every aspect of what it means to be a singer — and that has to include vocal health.”

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