Voicewize Blog

Scientific & Philosophical Musings on Voice, Speech & Singing

Barbara Interviews Kendall Ramseur

Ramseur & his cello

Ramseur & his cello

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with musician Kendall Ramseur, who will be performing at Paradise Cafe in Dedham at 9:00 pm this Friday October 18, 2013. Mr. Ramseur shared with me his passion for his craft and how it has transmuted over the course of his young career.

Ramseur’s new album is called T.I.M.E., an acronym for “Truths in Many Experiences”. I asked him about the meaning of the title. “It’s all about embracing your experiences,” he explained. “There’s some truth to be learned from every experience” whether the experience is subjectively “good” or “bad”. To Ramseur, this applies equally to his life experiences and his musical development.

At the age of seven, Ramseur’s father bought the family an upright piano. While he enjoyed playing the piano, his passion did not truly ignite until three years later when he was given the opportunity to play the cello in his school music department. Ramseur loved the cello’s warm tones, which he refers to as “the closest instrument to the human voice.”

He dreamed of becoming a professional solo cellist and persisted despite his family encouraging him toward more seemingly stable careers. He worked diligently in his practice, often 6 – 8 hours a day. Completing his undergraduate studies in cello at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, he engaged in numerous high profile performances. Unfortunately he was unable to overcome performance anxiety during his graduate school auditions and was rejected from all of the programs to which he applied. Ramseur admits, “I felt defeated.”

After this personal failure, Ramseur took time to reassess his future. He worked in customer service at the airport and lived with his cousins. This was a low point for him and he rarely picked up his instrument.  He recalled, “A part of me was beginning to die.” His cousins wouldn’t let him give up, however. They impressed upon him to continue and eventually he began to practice again.

As his confidence grew Ramseur secured an artist-in-residence position in Los Angeles, which provided him with opportunities for personal and professional development. By the time he re-applied for graduate school, he was able to successfully complete his auditions and was accepted to every program to which he applied.

He relocated to Boston University and was surprised to discover that “my dream of being a solo cellist just didn’t tickle my fancy any more.” Feeling diverted from his only dream was disconcerting to him. Casting about to reignite his passion, he discovered singing.

Exploring his new skill, Ramseur joined the gospel choir and made recordings with friends. He discovered that when playing and singing simultaneously, his performance anxiety was reduced. He describes a “feeling of completeness and wholeness in using both” instruments in tandem. “I won’t say I don’t ever get nervous…I’m able to go to this special place…there’s just no room for the performance anxiety.”

Ramseur is enjoying developing the connection with his audiences that singing adds to his work. Learning to sing and play simultaneously with equal skill has been a joyful challenge, though difficult at times as he needs to balance “two solo instruments competing for the spotlight.” He plans to further increase the blending of the two instruments in his next album.

Ramseur admits that he never would have predicted his musical ambition would turn him away from solo cello performance, but he feels his life has been enriched by it. In his performances, he says, “I want people to leave transformed. It’s not about just going out and singing another pretty song.”

Kendall Ramseur’s album T.I.M.E. can be purchased from his website: http://kendallramseur.com/music/, iTunes, Amazon.com and cdbaby.com.

Intention in Singing

Choosing an intention when you are singing anything – whether it is merely a vocalise or a song in performance – is crucial to the communicative power of singing.

Recording an Album, Part 1: Self-Confidence and Fundraising

Enjoy this guest post series by our teacher, Rachel Rynick!

As a solo performer, the line between self-confidence and self-indulgence can often feel dangerously thin.  If you aren’t assertive enough to share your art with others, no one will ever hear it, and you will never grow as an artist.  And yet to assert to other people that your music, your voice, your instrument are worth their time, attention, and money can be a terrifying prospect.

Over the past few months, I have begun the process of recording my first studio album of original music, and have found the need to face my self-doubt head-on.  This is the first in a series of posts that will explore all of the ups and downs and ins and outs of taking original songs into the studio to turn them into “real” music.  I’ll discuss the weirdness of singing into a microphone instead of an audience, the fear of figuring out how to communicate what you want to an incredible drummer with what seems like ten limbs, and singing harmonies with a recording of your own voice!

The first step, however, is fundraising.  When you aren’t signed to a label that is covering your costs (and often controlling you creatively), working with a professional studio and producer is incredibly expensive, but with good reason!  First, the amount of time and money that needs to be invested to create and maintain a recording studio is enormous.  Really nice microphones (that can pick up all of the subtle textures of a live voice) are really expensive.  Putting a different microphone on every single piece of a drum kit (so it can be perfectly mixed in the recording) requires a lot of microphones.  Not to mention the costs of amps, cables, software, hardware, and maintaining the space itself.  And then there is the expertise of the producer, who (if you get someone good, like I did) has spent years and years listening with an incredible level of attention and learning how to construct layers of sound that blend perfectly and yet maintain their individuality.  His time is valuable, and you want his full attention on your music!

In addition to those basics, you also have to pay musicians to play on the tracks.  A professional drummer who has performed with the likes of David Bowie is way better (and way more expensive) than your friend who is just learning and can mostly hold one percussion pattern through a song.  And once everything is actually recorded, you have the cost of the physical copies of the album, as well as the mysterious process of “mastering” that puts the final sparkle on the mixed songs.  All in all, with the friend discounts I’ve been able to muster, I’m looking at between $5,000 and $8,000.

It is a struggle to make a living as a professional musician, and that is not the kind of money that I have lying around, so I decided to ask my family and friends, who have always been incredibly supportive of my work, to support me a little bit more concretely by contributing money towards the project.  I set up a website at indiegogo.com, a crowd-source funding site, and began the very awkward process of asking people for money.

It is terrifying.  To tell both loved ones and strangers that they should give their hard-earned money to allow my dream to become real feels like the height of selfishness.  And yet, I firmly believe that music is something created in the context of a community, and carries its value in the people it touches.  I have happily paid for the music I love all my life, thrilled to be able to support the creativity of those artists who have so moved and affected me.  While I still feel somewhat outrageous claiming that I have any place among those giants, I try to remember the Martha Graham quote I often share with my students:

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening
That is translated through you into action
And because there is only one of you in all time
This expression is unique. If you block it
It will never exist through any other medium and be lost.
The world will not hear it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is;
Nor how valuable it is;
Nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly,
To keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.
You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.
Keep the channel open.
No artist is pleased.
There is no satisfaction whatever at any time.
There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction,
A blessed unrest that keeps us marching
And makes us more alive than the others.

Keep the channel open.  This is my work, my calling, my life, and it is my responsibility to bring it out of my brain and into reality.  I am actually doing it.

And along those lines, my fundraiser runs until December 20th.  If you would be willing to spend what you can to help me bring this music into the world, I will be incredibly grateful.  You can find the campaign at:  http://www.indiegogo.com/rachelrynick

Next time… Writing Songs and Choosing Feel

Barbara Interviews Anime Voice Actor Greg Ayres

On Easter weekend in April 2012, I attended Anime Boston with my sister, mother and daughter. At the end of the Con, I had the privilege of interviewing renowned anime voice actor Greg Ayres. Greg has voiced many popular characters for their distribution in the United States, including Pope Alessandro XVIII in Trinity Blood, which was my intro into anime fandom. In his “spare” time, he’s a world-class DJ. He recently announced that he will be voicing the role of Ganta in Deadman Wonderland. Greg was very generous with his time and experience. Below are excepts from our great discussion.

 

Barbara: It seems you fell into the whole voiceover business.

Greg: I was working as an IT guy at a law firm, but my voice – the insanely youthful sound of my voice – was really what happened. We can’t really hire children to play children because of labor laws and whatnot and the job is actually pretty tedious and repetitive, standing in a dark room just saying the same words over and over again. So when you have the role of a child, you always have to have an adult that can sound like a child. At the time they mainly had just women who did young boys’ voices, but this was a villain. So they had to have someone with enough of a boyish sound that they could believe. He’s the last big villain in the show. So my friends one day they were just like, “Dude you have to call our friend who works at a law firm. He sounds like he’s 12. He’s in his thirties. Just call his voice mail after he’s gone at work and listen.” And that’s exactly what happened. My audition was just the, you know, “You’ve reached the desk of Greg Ayres…” and that’s all it was.

 

Barbara: What have you done to develop? Had you been an actor before?

I’ve been acting professionally since I was seven years old. My brother kind of came out of the womb with a top hat and a cane. Like he’s one of those guys who just knew he wanted to be on stage from the time he was a baby almost. So, as the little ADD brother, I just kind of followed. I followed him onto stage and did a bunch of stage work when I was a kid. Then I stopped. Being as easily distracted as I am, I stopped at about 17 or 18. I fell out of acting for a while and it was nice because as an adult I would come back to acting, but not as an actor. People that act for a living just have to take every single role, but I had this nice cushy job. So, when I would act. It was only a show that I really felt strongly about or a role I was really interested in. And that’s kind of how I got back into stage acting. Now unfortunately, between going all over the country doing Cons and my recording schedule. I don’t really have the 6 weeks free to do rehearsals and set up for a stage production.

 

Barbara: What’s the voice you’ve done that’s the furthest away from you real voice?

Negi Springfield, probably – a 9-year old British school teacher. Sadly, it’s the only voice I can’t do for kids at conventions because in recording, the truth of the matter, the director pushed my voice too hard. She just really had a certain sound for it and she didn’t understand that there’s a ceiling you get to with your voice and anything past that is dangerous. So, even in recording it was really tough. Then they gave me the check disk so I could get used to the voice and I didn’t realize they had pitched it up electronically. So when I went back in, that’s what I was trying to match. It’s just an insanely high voice. The accent work people think it’s because of the accent work. I love the accent work. It’s just unfortunately that voice is so high; so away from my real voice. Now the nice thing is I can enjoy watching that where I have a really hard time watching anything that sounds like me. One of my favorite roles is unfortunately just my normal voice. It’s this show called Beck where I not only have a big role in it, but he ends up being a singer in a band. So, I have to not only hear myself talk, but sing. So, I’m just like ahhhh I can’t watch it. But I like Negima because I don’t identify with that voice I can enjoy it.

I’ve been doing it long enough now so that when somebody starts pushing my voice I’m like, “No, this hurts. I’m not doing this any more. I’m not going to blow my voice on somebody else’s show just because you want me to scream louder or whatever.” There’s a certain amount of discipline you have to set for yourself. Directors direct – louder, louder, louder.

 

Barbara: You made some interesting comments about microphones yesterday in the panel and how they really change things. I go through that a lot with students, especially with the teens who don’t realize when they’re listening to something that they’re not going for that sound because there are mics, there are effects.

Yeah. The mic work is probably the thing I had to get used to the most because I was a stage actor. So, they [the mics] cost more than the house my parents live in. They pick up even air bubbles in your throat that you don’t hear, but you hear it on the take. Singing into those kinds of microphones is almost impossible. Because when you’re on stage or in a recording studio, a lot of time you have the air between you and the mic and the air and a little bit of distance is very forgiving on a pitchy note. Into a microphone [like these]? No cleaning that up you just have to do it again.

 

Barbara: You mentioned the role where you were whispering more than anything.

Yes. They just gained my voice up. It’s so weird because I’ll tell kids that and they’re like, “but do the voice” and I’m like, it’s a voice that only exists through technology. And that’s tough. Also one of my bigger roles as Chrono in a show called Chrono Crusade has a little form and this big demon form. They didn’t want it to sound like it was electronically pitched and so they used this really neat technique that I could never do live. It’s called voice doubling. What they do, when you lower your voice beyond it’s standard pitch you get graveling. You get these pits in your voice. Well they take your take but they take an exact duplicate of that sound file and they just ofset it slightly so it fills in the pavement, it fills in all the little dips. So, it’s all my real voice, but it’s only achievable through this weird technique they use and it’s really interesting and the geeky guy in me gets fascinated every time they do something like that.

 

Did you have any kind of specific voice training?

Just years and years of voice class. I had tons of singing experience. Most of what I did was musical theatre. So I was always in voice classes from a young age doing vocal warm ups and then in theatre a lot of times you’ll have a vocal call before the show, especially if its a real heavy singing show. So that’s really my only training, but I do remember back as far as like 8th grade. My drama teacher we did an assignment where we had to do a radio drama where we had to do all the voices and I do remember even back then my teacher saying “Wow. You do some really weird things with your voice. You should really look into doing that.” And at the time I was going to be a visual artist. So, I was like “oh yeah whatever.” But it’s funny how full circle that would end up being.

 

Is there anything you see when people are trying to come in and do voice acting that you want to say to people?

Well it’s a really hard industry to get into first. I try to be really honest because there’s a bunch of really scummy actors trying to make a living off the fact that kids want to do this for a living. Which is gross to put it easily. But the one mistake so many of them make is they think that by doing a popular voice like a Homer Simpson or a Smeagol from Lord of the Rings it’s going to get them where they want . My brother deals with this all the time. He’s a director and he’ll have someone come in and they’ll do the Cartman voice and he’s like no no no, somebody already does Cartman. I just need to hear the way your voice naturally sounds and then they do Homer Simpson. Then they use all these affected voices. There’s only a few of us – and I’m weirdly one of them – there’s only a few of us that spend more time in a strange voice than we do in our natural voice. A lot of what kids think is that they’re going to have to imitate something, but very little of what we do is imitation. And usually when we’re imitating something we’re parodying it. So, it’s not a true imitation.

And the one thing I try to tell every kid that wants to do this is get as much professional training as possible. And not from the person who plays your favorite ninja, but from somebody who makes a living teaching. Because the best actors don’t make the best teachers and sometimes the best teachers don’t make the best actors but the teachers teach for a living. They know how to communicate and they know how to do things that an actor doesn’t and since so many young kids are into this, I tell them sign up for your theatre arts program [at school] you get all the free training in the world.

But I definitely don’t think being an actor is a lazy profession if somebody’s like “I don’t like taking classes”, then I’m like “you probably won’t like being an actor then.” I just try to be realistic.

Is It A Vocal Fold Polyp or Cyst? Part 4 – Prognosis

I’m sure those of you who have been following my series discussing the features of vocal fold polyps and  cysts have been itching for me to get to my final point . You’re asking, What does this mean for my voice? If I get a vocal fold polyp or cyst, what is the prognosis for returning to full, normal function? What about singing? The answer to these questions is based on the information I’ve discussed in my previous posts. So, let’s break down some of the considerations.

First, the bottom line in terms of voice recovery is going to be determined by how close to normal the shape and flexibility of your vocal folds are after treatment for your vocal fold lesion. The characteristics of the lesion will influence this recovery.

Size

Vocal fold lesions distort the vibrating cover of the vocal fold. The larger the lesion, the more distortion there will be. This may come in the form of stretching of the cover or hardening of portions of the vocal fold cover, for example. In this sense, the larger the lesion, the greater the possibility of residual scarring. Generally, larger lesions are considered less likely to resolve with voice therapy alone. Therefore, surgery is more likely to be recommended.

Shape

I’ve mentioned that some vocal fold lesions are broad-based, while others are pinched together at the base or are connected to the vocal fold with a stalk. These shape characteristics influence the treatment that will be recommended. With broad-based polyps (that are smaller in size), voice therapy may be recommended before surgery is considered. Polyps that are pinched at the base or on a stalk are often recommended for surgical removal as they are unlikely to be able to be resolved with therapy alone.

Depth

Vocal fold lesions may be found at the outer vibrating edge of the vocal fold, or they may be embedded in the vibrating cover of the vocal fold. Polyps are more likely to be found at the surface, while cysts may form either in the outer edge of the vocal fold or embedded into the vibrating cover. When a cyst is located at the outside of the vocal fold, it is more easy to remove without permanent voice damage.

Sometimes, a cyst is located deep in the tissue of the vocal fold. This is much more challenging for the surgeon to treat, as removal of the cyst may leave a gap in the vibrating tissue of the vocal fold. When there is a gap, then the vocal fold cover will not vibrate well and voice after the surgery may be poor. There may be similar concerns in removing a polyp if the contents of the polyp are pushing in toward the deeper layers of the vocal fold cover.

Encapsulation

In a previous post, I discussed the issue of encapsulation. Cysts are encapsulated fluid in a ballon-type structure, polyps do not have a capsule. Generally speaking, cysts will be recommended for surgical removal. There are cases where the cyst spontaneously deflates, but this is often not ideal as it sets the stage for it to sporadically reinflate. Therefore, the problem is not truly solved.

Bottom Line?

Size, shape, depth and encapsulation all impact the type and amount of damage there may be to the vocal folds. Issues regarding chronic or acute phonotrauma, as discussed in Part 3 of this series, should also be addressed however as vocal hyperfunction (muscle strain) may leave you at risk for recurrence of a voice injury.

Many patients are so eager to get rid of their vocal fold lesion, that they pressure their medical team toward immediate surgical intervention. This is not always wise. While modern surgical techniques are quite good, a risk of surgical scarring still exists. Some would say there is always some surgical scarring in the vocal fold cover, even if it is very small. If there is a reasonable chance that your vocal fold lesion can be treated with therapy alone, it is worth trying that option. What is “reasonable” will be determined by all of the factors I have discussed in this series…and more. A good voice-focused medical team will help you sort through them all.

 

Is It A Vocal Fold Polyp or Cyst? Part 3

Recently, more professional singers have been honest with the public when they are experiencing a voice disorder. This has not always been the case. Until recently, and still in some circles, negative assumptions were made about singers’ injuries. Singers were regularly accused of “abusing” and “misusing” their voices. The contempt laid upon a singer who developed a vocal fold lesion was thick. Just the language itself calls up images of having “Laryngeal Protective Services” knocking down the door of some unsuspecting singer and plopping her vocal folds into protective custody.

Geez guys, singers don’t get hurt on purpose.

Okay. We know that certain vocal behaviors are not conducive to optimal vocal health, but singers are not usually the ones who demonstrate a blatant disregard for the limitations of their instrument.  Some critics move on to assert that particular styles of singing are inherently “abusive” and proceed to implicate every kind of singing they don’t personally do. I’m sure you see where I’m going with this…

What are we really referring to here is the question of whether or not a particular injury was caused by phonotrauma. This occurs when the forces acting on the vocal folds cause tissue damage of some sort. This damage may occur quickly as in the case of a hemorrhage or over a period of time. The term phonotrauma makes no prejudgements regarding whether or not the singer is some kind of miscreant. A medical team that is oriented around diagnosing and treating phonotrauma, rather than abuse and misuse, will seek to understand the nature of the injury and the factors that led to the vocal mechanism being overwhelmed instead of being sidelined by assumptions about your voice use.

By orienting oneself around the idea of phonotrauma, rather than abuse and misuse, we also open ourself up to the possibility of a lesion being “idiopathic.” in medical jargon this means “out of the blue” or from no specific cause – stuff happens. There are many vocal lesions that are idiopathic.

In days of yore, it also used to be that polyps were considered to be phonotraumatic and cysts were considered to be idiopathic. This assumption was largely based on the observation that there are some people who just tend to get cysts in various parts of their body and others who do not. Vocal fold cysts have been noted in infants, for example. The formation of polyps was always assumed to be due to the shearing forces of phonotrauma.

It appears that this distinction of vocal fold polyps being phonotraumatic and vocal fold cysts being idiopathic, is not necessarily a truism. There are now phonotraumatic theories of cyst formation. So, when we are diagnosing vocal fold lesions, we often do not make this automatic assumption any more.

Stay tuned for the final installation in my vocal fold polyps versus cysts series: prognosis.

Is It A Vocal Fold Polyp or Cyst? Part 2

This is the second installment of my series considering the diagnostic differences between vocal fold polyps and vocal fold cysts. Since both polyps and cysts present as an outpouching of the tissue of the vocal fold(s), it can be hard to tell the difference between them.

In the first article, I discussed the fact that bilateral lesions don’t necessarily indicate nodules, but may still represent the presence of  a polyp or cyst. Today, I will talk about the question of encapsulation.  Encapsulation provides a clue that can guide the medical team in planning the best treatment.

The term polyp is somewhat vague, it can refer to any fluid-filled bump sticking out of the surface of the vocal folds. Polyps can be broad-based and hill-shaped, soft or round and taut. They can be filled with clear fluid, or with blood (in the case of hemorrhagic polyps). They can be attached along an entire edge of the vocal fold or attached by a thin stalk. Size is quite variable.

Cysts are somewhat more consistent in that they consist of a balloon-like, fluid-filled capsule – thus the terms “encapsulated.” Size can remain quite variable. Cysts are most always round, though at times there can be surrounding swelling in the vocal fold that hides its true shape.

The cyst capsule may be fully visible at the surface or nestled deep inside the vibrating cover of the vocal fold (called an “intracordal” cyst). The depth of the capsule can have significant implications for treatment. When the cyst is at the surface of the vocal fold, it may stretch and deform the epithelium (the surface layer of the vocal fold) but it is generally easy to surgically remove. When the cyst is sunk into the vibrating gel of the lamina propria, it can leave a disruptive gap if removed.

Historically, polyps and cysts have been considered less amenable to voice therapy than vocal fold nodules. Therefore, surgical intervention is often recommended. Today, the decision to remove a polyp is based more on size, shape and consistency, with smaller more broad-based and soft polyps responding to therapy treatment more easily than large round or stalk-like polyps. Cysts continue to be referred for surgical excision, unless they are very small or so deeply embedded in the vocal fold that removal itself would present a high risk of further vocal fold damage.

Encapsulation also impacts a surgeon’s technique when removing a lesion. Both polyps and cysts are typically removed using microsurgical techniques. Operating on an encapsulated cyst, however, can be quite challenging as it is important not to pop the capsule during removal. If popped, the capsule will deflate and adhere to the rest of the tissue in the vocal fold such that it can’t be removed – but it is liable to re-inflate later. Therefore, working with a surgeon who is skilled in this microsurgery is important.

Stay tuned for Part 3 in this series that examines the role of phonotrauma versus idiopathic lesions.

Is It A Vocal Fold Polyp or Cyst? Part 1

Since long before I started studying speech pathology and specializing in voice, there has been controversy about the classification of vocal fold lesions. Strikingly, there are vastly different opinions between the ENT’s I have worked with over the years in terms of what to call the various lumps and bumps we see in laryngeal stroboscopic examinations. I get many questions from patients and other interested people about this. So, I thought it would be helpful to outline some of the professional considerations we take into account in attempting to classify vocal fold lesions.

As there are a number of different considerations, I will break this discussion down into several parts. In this post, I will discuss the question of bilateral versus unilateral lesions.

In medical terminology, unilateral refers to something that is present or occurring on one side of a structure. Bilateral means something is present or occurring on both sides of a structure. In the larynx, there are two vocal folds positioned in a “v” shape at the top of the trachea (breathing tube). The top of the “v” opens when you breath and closes when you make sound. If there is a unilateral lesion of the vocal folds, that means there is a lump or bump on one vocal fold. If the lesions are bilateral, there are lumps or bumps on both of the vocal folds.

Prior to common availability of stroboscopic examination of the larynx, the only way a physician could visualize the vocal folds outside of the surgical suite was with a small dental mirror. The image was small, poorly lit and could not reveal what happens to the vocal fold cover during vibration.

It is important to recognize that the inability to see the movements of the vocal fold cover as it vibrates makes it virtually impossible to understand the dynamics involved in the sound. Since the vocal folds vibrate faster than the human eye can see, this information is lost in the absence of a stroboscopic examination. Historically, this was a serious limitation on the ability of physicians to specify lesion types during an office visit.

In that era, any time a physician saw benign, bilateral lesions (non-cancerous bumps opposite each other on each vocal fold) the patient would be said to have “nodules.” Given the information they had, the presence of lesions across from each other on each vocal fold was assumed to be the result of impact stress force during phonation (strain in speaking or singing). The unfortunate side effect of this assumption was the implication that the patient was somehow responsible for their condition; that they had “done something” to injure themselves. If the patient was involved in singing, even on a peripheral or amateur level, they were informed that cause was singing incorrectly. To this day, I receive some physician orders with the diagnosis of “singer’s nodules.”

The availability of stroboscopic imagery for voice allowed us to see the details of vocal fold lesions and their dynamics. What clinicians began to appreciate was the variety these lesions represented. We are now able to see subtle asymmetries and differences in consistency or stiffness in the lesions on one vocal fold versus the other. We are able to witness the impact that these factors have on the vibration of the vocal folds.

One conclusion drawn from this new information is the fact that a lesion can be created on the vocal fold by hitting a lesion on the opposing vocal fold. That is, there may be a lesion on say, the left vocal fold, but the right fold develops a reactive lesion from hitting the lesion on the other side. This is very different than saying a person is misusing their voice and therefore developed bilateral vocal fold nodules.

It is significant for treatment when it becomes clear that one lesion is in fact a unilateral polyp or cyst and the other lesion is a reactive nodule. In treatment then, you would not be surprised if the reactive lesion disappears with voice therapy alone, while the primary lesion needs surgical removal.

So, the question of whether a patient has bilateral lesions of the same type or bilateral lesions of different types is diagnostically significant in terms of discerning polyps, nodules and cysts. It may guide voice therapy treatment as well. Prognosis is certainly impacted by this distinction. It can no longer be assumed that simply viewing bilateral lesions is indicative of nodules, while polyps and cysts are mostly unilateral. If the detail of the vocal fold is not examined in great enough detail to distinguish between the two, the likely outcome will be suboptimal.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series, which will discuss distinguishing polyps versus nodules based on the presence or lack of a surrounding capsule.

If A Child Wants to Sing…Teach Them to Sing

There is a lot of crazy information out there about teaching (or not teaching) children to sing. Outside of the physiological misinformation that makes the voice pathologist in me cringe, the most absurd has to be the idea that children should study another instrument before being allowed to study singing.

Telling children they need to learn another instrument before studying singing is kind of like telling cardiologists they have to spend ten years practicing urology before working with heart disorders. Do doctors need to have a basic understanding of the areas of specialities of other doctors? Sure. Do they need to perfect their neurosurgical technique before opening their dermatology practice? Um, no.

The arguments for forcing children to study instruments that hold no interest to them appear to be based in a number of incorrect assumptions:

1) Most children who study singing will go on to higher level musical training in college.
Many of the well-meaning colleagues I have spoken with about this express concern that children who study singing will be at a disadvantage when they are in college competing with kids who have more experience with instruments and music theory than they have. The problem with this argument is that most children will not go on to study music in college. This is of course true for instrumental students as well, but there is some strange mythology that all young singing students will all go on to study seriously when they are older. This is simply not true.

2) Children can’t learn musicality, if they study only singing.
Related to the previous item is the notion that singing students are lacking in basic musicality skills. This may be true, but when it is, it is either the fault of the teacher or the refusal of the student. A singing lesson is filled with opportunities to teach musicality: reading the sheet music, playing vocalises using alternate scales, and interval training. Harmonization can be performed between the teacher and student, or between students in the studio. Students can be asked to transpose cuts of songs to fit their voices better and be taught how to compose lead sheets, if they are going to be performing in rock or jazz ensembles. Given the way in which the public schools have been cutting back on the budgets for music education, these basics are now part of the responsibility of the private and community singing and music teachers.

3) Kids can’t learn any real vocal skills until after puberty. So, let’s give them something else to keep them busy until then.
Because I have a detailed understanding of pediatric vocal anatomy and physiology and have experience in adapting my teaching techniques to the cognitive and physical level of children, I know what kinds of extraordinary things children can learn to do – many times with less effort than their teen counterparts. Children have a lack of self-consciousness that allows them to engage more deeply in potentially “embarrassing” exercises. They are also a more blank slate in terms of the motor patterns required for singing. Therefore it is easier to elicit an appropriate physical response without interference from unproductive motor patterns. Not everyone enjoys working with children, or even wants to, but it is very different to say I don’t want to work with children than it is to say that no one else should teach them to sing either.

In terms of my own musical development, I have a confession to make. I am a terrible instrumentalist. Over the course of my musical education, I studied flute, clarinet, piano and guitar. My performance in playing these instruments was completely independent of the amount of practice I put in. In sixth grade, practicing flute regularly drove me to tears. I had this problem where I could picture the note I wanted to play, but my fingers would nonetheless play another note. If I had been forced to play these instruments instead of learning to sing (fortunately, I was able to study singing concurrently), I would never have become the voice scientist and teacher that I am today. I would have despaired and quit.

It pains me to think of how many children are lost to developing a joy of and skill in singing simply because the teachers they approach have poor assumptions about their needs and capabilities. Most of these children will not be flying across the country to attend young artists’ programs and studying voice performance at Julliard. They’re going to be singing karaoke at a pub in Brookline with their college friends. Are they going to have the skills they need to have fun and keep their voice for a lifetime? That may depend on who shows them how. So, if a child wants to sing, teach them to sing.

Congratulations to our Lyric Contest Winner – Chloe Goodman

Chloe, who is a singing student at Voicewize, was the winner of our 5th Anniversareen Party Lyric Contest. Marianne and Barbara put her words to music and voila!

Hope you enjoy it!