Voice Management for Singers Explored in India-Interview With Voice Specialist

by Thilaka Ravi on  April 15, 2010 at 5:01 PM Medindia Exclusive - Interviews and In depth Reports
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 Voice Management for Singers Explored in India-Interview With Voice Specialist
Human voice is a major component in communication and we use our voices to connect with others through speech and songs. Each human voice is unique like a fingerprint and voice use is culture specific-a feature that is best observed in the singing voices of different kinds of music in the world. New technologies have helped understand the human voice better in terms of voice usage, voice problems, care and conservation of voice.

Medindia spoke to Dr. Prakash Boominathan, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, Sri Ramachandra University, Chennai, India. He also serves as a consultant speech language pathologist and audiologist at several Hospitals and ENT Research centers in Chennai.

Q. You are widely recognized as a Voice Expert dealing with 'supranormal' voices such as those singing classical music. What drew you into the scientific study of Voice and Voice Management?

Actually my clients inspired me to delve deeper into the science of Voice. As a Speech Pathologist/Therapist and Audiologist, I help people overcome speech impairments such as stuttering. My line of work also includes analyzing voice use, teaching a variety of techniques such as proper breath support, relaxation and voice placement to elite voice users such as professional singers, disc jockeys (DJs), radio jockeys (RJs) to name a few, in order to optimize their speaking or singing voices.

Research and therapy for Voice management available in India until recently were based on western parameters because the research outcomes were from western studies. When my clients approached me with voice problems that were unique to Indian climate and culture I realized the need for new surveys and procedures to explore the science of Voice in the Indian context. It led me to study the vocal dynamics of singing voices, especially of Carnatic singers.

Q. What is the Indian scenario in Voice management among singers vis-ā-vis the practice in advanced countries?

In the west, every music school has medical specialists like a laryngologist to analyze the structure of the voice box of every student and a voice specialist to determine the use and the scope of the voice box. Based on these observations a suitable pitch is recommended for the student. Music schools also use the services of a psychologist and a musician to evaluate the student's aptitude for learning music. Only after these provisions are fulfilled students are admitted to music classes. Even after admission the team of specialists monitors the vocal usage of music students and helps them enhance their voice skills effectively.

Here in India people tend to associate voice problems with voice disability and speech impairment only and this is vastly different from voice care and conservation.

Students do not take music lessons with such elaborate preparation as in the West and internalize the pattern of singing set by their Guru. But the awareness of Voice Management is slowly picking up. We have the latest technology in India to 'manage voices' but people still are vastly ignorant about the kind of help they need and whom to approach to preserve their voice and prevent it from injury.

What are some common voice complaints that you've come across in singers and how do you treat them?

Common problems such as difficulty in maintaining the voice at a very high or low pitch, singing long phrases through the range, breaking of voice while shifting music scales, maintaining appropriate volume and depending on the microphone for amplification adversely affects the quality of voice output. Often singers fail to recognize the false vocal chords that vibrate in tension.

For treatment, a visual examination of the vocal chords by a laryngologist is the first step. We also make a detailed study of the history of use and nature of the voice, identify any abusive behavior of the voice and suggest modification. With the help computerized gadgets we evaluate the pitch, resonance volume and breath support and advice the voice user on the proper use of breath, right postures, breathing exercises along with tips for vocal hygiene and vocal diet.

Q. Please elaborate on 'Vocal Hygiene' and 'Vocal diet.'

There are certain healthy practices called 'vocal hygiene' that help maintain the voice box for a healthier voice. These include avoiding voice abusive behavior such as smoking, drinking alcohol, screaming and clearing throat often, to name a few. Singing in unsuited registers or scales and overusing voice may lead to voice problems.

Generally the Indian palate craves spicy, oily, pungent and sour tastes—all of which are bad for the voice. With western food entering the Indian market, cheese and chocolate which are not favorable for a good voice have added to the list of items in the bad 'vocal diet.' All of the above and coffee, eating late and untimely meals stimulate reflux and gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) affects voice.

Q. Voice Education is gaining importance in this part of the world in recent years. Please tell us more about this?

I am attached to the 'Voice Clinic' in Sri Ramachandra University, Chennai which is unique in many ways and the first of its kind in South India. We have an interdisciplinary team of ENT surgeons, Speech Language Pathologists, Voice scientists, Psychologists and musicians to provide a holistic support to professional voice users such as singers, teachers, actors and broadcasters. We conduct extensive research and training and offer medical, surgical and therapeutic intervention services.

To educate people in understanding Voice, a three-month certificate course was started in 2008 for professional voice users as a collaborative effort of the Department of Indian Music and the University Industry Community Interaction Centre (UICIC) of the University of Madras and the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at Sri Ramachandra University. There has been an overwhelming response from singers, teachers, entrepreneurs, communications experts and even a judge who joined the course because he felt the need to project his voice in a municipal court that can at times get too noisy to carry a voice.

Q. How can a health portal like Medindia help the cause of voice care and help people understand better about voice and avoid voice problems?

You can help spread awareness that voice problems can be professionally rectified and also that home remedies can sometimes do more harm than good in the long run. If the sudden onset of a hoarse voice continues for long medical help should be sought because it could also be one of the indications of laryngeal cancer.

We have outreach programs in schools where we conduct free workshops to educate teachers on how to preserve or enhance their voice quality and offer tips on voice care and conservation. You can help form Support Groups among professional voice users where they can learn and exchange notes on better voice management.

"Human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, but it is the most difficult to play."  Richard Strauss, German Composer

Medindia wishes Dr. Prakash Boominathan all success in his exploration of the science of singing 'voices' in the Indian context.

Source: Medindia
Thilaka Ravi/L

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