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Vocal Health Seminar

By Daniel Gundlach

On Monday, April 30, 2012 Actors’ Equity Association in New York City hosted a Vocal Health Seminar for Singers, Actors, and Dancers. The seminar was co-sponsored by AEA and the Actors Fund. Featured were Dr. Linda Dahl, a board-certified otolaryngologist who treats professional singers and performers and maintains a private practice, and Deric Rosenblatt, a voice teacher with twenty years’ experience with an extensive roster of successful students. These two experts provided information and advice to a large and attentive audience eager to learn more about avoiding vocal hazards and maintaining vocal health, areas of primary concern to performers.


Dr. Linda Dahl

Dr. Dahl began by explaining the complex anatomy of the larynx and the subtle way in which all muscles of the neck and the face affect its function. Deric then described the various causes of loss of vocal function, including infections (sinusitis being by far the most common), allergies (which can cause excessive mucous and chronic clearing of the throat), and abuse (including smoking; overuse; and poor speaking, singing, and sleep habits) The effects of such vocal abuse, can include nodules, polyps, hemorrhaging, and paralysis of the vocal cords.

Performers may have misconceptions about these conditions. Nodules, for instance, are bruises on the vocal cords, not actual growths. If untreated, nodules beget more nodules, so treatment, which is as simple as complete vocal rest, is imperative. Untreated, scar tissue can result.

A more serious vocal condition is the polyp. Polyps, which have the appearance of a bump or a lesion, are the pinching-off of tissue. They occur as a result of continued vocal abuse, or as a one-time vocal event (such as a coughing jag). Deric stressed that polyps, unlike nodules, cannot be overcome by simply improving vocal technique. Treatment involves either traditional or laser surgery. Dr. Dahl prefers the prior. This portion of the seminar was accompanied by photos depicting vocal cords affected to various degrees by either nodules or polyps.

Attendees raised many questions about GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease) and LPRD (laryngo-pharyndeal reflux disease). These conditions are different than simple heartburn, in that they occur when the two sphincters (restrictive muscle bands) in the esophagus allow the backward flow of stomach acids into the esophagus or throat. An extensive discussion followed about various treatments of these conditions, including pharmacological options (numerous brand-name prescriptions that are known as proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, which inhibit the secretion of stomach acids), as well as diet modification (elimination of dairy and gluten from the diet are the two most common of these). Both clinicians stressed that GERD and LPRD are very serious conditions that, untreated, can suspend or terminate a singing career.


Deric Rosenblatt

The last portion of the seminar was devoted to technical methods of maintaining good vocal health. Deric emphasized, prevention and good technique are first and foremost. He differentiated between a fundamentally solid technique versus tricks to skirt vocal difficulties. Proper release of the breath and coordination with the closing of the vocal cords with minimum of tension are the primary elements to maintaining good technique. Maintaining freedom of production even when belting and using straight tone was emphasized.

The seminar ended with the observation that a healthy vocal technique is a means to an end; it is the structure on which the singer can create and express his or her own individual artistry.

The Dahl Otolaryngology Center maintains a website at www.dolcenter.net. Deric Rosenblatt maintains a website at, www.vocalpowerllc.com. These sites contain further information on vocal ailments and their treatment.

As a benefit of membership, Actors’ Equity presents free educational Workshops and Seminars for Members and Membership Candidates. The event was sponsored by the Eastern Region Membership Education Committee, Chair Mark Aldrich. Watch the Equity website for future offerings. For more information on the Actors Fund go to www.actorsfund.org.




 



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