It also means discussing elements of performance based courses to see how we can make life easier for ourselves, whether we be singers, violinists or guitarists. One of the most recent projects that has been brought to fruition at popular request of students and teachers alike, was the vocal health day.
The vocal health day was led largely as a work shop with representatives from a vocal clinic in Lewisham, which was one of the first formed. To speak to us students, two specialists from the clinic (Sarah Harris and Nick Gibbins) assisted one of our teachers, Dane Chalfin, in informing us about everything and anything that we need to know in order to keep our singing in top form and our health at the same rate.
We began with some history of how the vocal cords have been observed and aided across time, including the instruments used to identify issues and how these came to be. One I found fascinating was the stroboscope which takes many pictures of the same area so that it can be observed almost like a short video (as with a flip book) because the human eye/brain merge pictures if they appear extremely similar. This invention first came about when taking many pictures of a horses movement pre-world war II to see if all four legs ever came fully off the ground at any one point.
Gibbins spoke to us of the dangers of a GP or an ENT missing a vocal problem because the issue is something only a specialist can look for, where a GP and ENT are only looking out for a major issue or illness. Someone at a vocal clinic however can link how one thing, e.g. vocal exercises, may have led to another issue, such as a cyst, and can help with this to ensure that a singer does not lose their voice. Seeing how cysts develop and work was, albeit it a little gross, a relief in some ways as it showed that no matter the problem it can usually be fixed with a professional judgement and rest.
This also goes for vocal nodules - which was an even bigger relief as so much fear surrounds this issue in the world of singing. Often, vocal nodules can be the diagnosis but when further investigation is carried out, it turns out to be instead a cyst of some kind. But we were told that more often than not, the cases are rare and not to be worried about. There are two kinds of nodules: soft and hard.
- If the nodules are hard then they can usually be cut straight off, as they have hardened on the outside of the vocal cords/ muscles surrounding them, and so are not difficult to find and remove.
- If the nodules are soft, this usually means there is instead bruising which could be due to too much vocal distortion or exercises which are perhaps not terribly good for the throat (such as extreme highs and lows)
She also spoke to us of the importance of vocal warm downs, which was something I had never thought about in particular depth previously. Of course, we all know to warm up as in sports, but warming down is never spoken of and to hear how to do it was an excellent moment to become aware as now it can benefit us through the rest of our immediate studies. Warm downs should consist of getting back into the relaxed middle range of the voice, through adding a little creak (the frog sound) to bring our breathing down from the rafters. This has proved immensely useful so far.
One of the best things about the work shop was that after a talk about the benefits of the British voice association, we got to see a stroboscope in action with our teacher stepping forward to demonstrate how the vocal cords look when monitored in this way. We requested to see particular things and on the screen saw projected real vocal cords moving to show things such as distortion or vibrato, or how these can differ to a breathy singing voice etc.
This event was definitely one I hope students enjoyed enough for us to continue with similarly in the future, as it is not often that you get to experience first hand such professional thought, research and advice, and to gain answers to the questions that you feel can't be answered by anybody else. It also provided us with the need to know contacts if things do start to go wrong in our singing careers and we feel we might need further professional, specialist advice.
But most of all, for me individually, it was inspiring to be able to see all this information into the voice - it has come so much further than I ever could have imagined, especially through the past twenty or so years and to see it moving so rapidly in terms of discovery and theory is amazing. But the most inspiring thing was definitely seeing first hand the vocal cords - we work with them every day but for the first time we were actually able to see what it is we do. And it is nothing short of incredible - whether it be that Mozart aria or just the warm up to it.
Thank you for all your support and comments, it is so wonderful to be able to answer or help with any questions you have, and to share this adventure with all of you. It makes my day every day!
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