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World Voice day

SHS World Voice Day shows importance of interaction between voice and acoustic environment

Faculty from the Dept. of Speech and Hearing Science were involved in the planning and execution of World Voice Day, a symposium designed to build awareness of the human voice.

Researchers from SHS—including assistant professors Keiko Ishikawa, Brian Monson and Pasquale Bottalico—as well as invited speakers discussed their interdisciplinary projects illuminating voice usage and health.

At the end of the two-hour-plus event, the consensus to achieve voice clarity was: The room matters.

One of the presentations was a collaboration of Bottalico, School of Music Associate Professor Yvonne Gonzales Redman and undergraduate student Natalia Łastowiecka, who worked on a study investigating the influence of room acoustics on singers’ voice production. Clarke University Assistant Professor of Music-Voice Joshua Glasner was also part of the presentation.

The researchers said that similar research on instrumentalists suggests that musical performers may be influenced to some extent by the acoustic environment, and this study demonstrates that singers also tend to adjust their vocal production when in different spaces. Bottalico said singers were recorded singing the same musical selection—Giuseppe Giordani’s “Caro mio ben”—consecutively in five different locations on campus: Smith Memorial Room, Smith Recital Hall, KCPA Great Hall, Colwell Playhouse and the Amphitheater. Voice parameters analyzed were vibrato rate, extent, and pitch inaccuracy. Vibrato extent showed significant changes to the different acoustic environments.

The researchers said to combat any voice problems, singers should train in a variety of spaces, and that future studies should investigate functional causes of aberrant vibrato rate, and investigate how to train singers to adapt to different acoustic environments.

Dr. Ishikawa presented with Diana Orbelo of the Mayo Clinic on the “Vocal health among singers.” Orbelo talked about the importance of gargling, calling it the “rock-star quick fix.” Orbelo said gargling—she recommended water, not beer, as some rock stars preferred—can quickly relax the voice. Ishikawa talked about The Lombard Effect, which is the involuntary tendency of speakers to increase their vocal effort when speaking in loud noise to enhance the audibility of their voice.

Ishikawa said that noisy environments are difficult for anyone to speak intelligibly but they are more difficult for people with voice disorders. Most of these people undergo voice therapy as a part of their treatment, where they learn to use vocal production techniques.

“We wanted to know which technique most effectively improves intelligibility in noise and found twang was the best one, compared to operatic resonant voice and “clear speech,” she said.

“Because noise changes the way people talk—which is the Lombard effect—we thought it would make it difficult for people to use learned therapy techniques. Our recent study showed otherwise, however. People did better with using a technique called “clear speech” when they were hearing the noise. This finding was unexpected and needs further exploration,” Ishikawa said.

Orbelo added that certain sounds, such as twang, as Ishikawa mentioned or talking like a gangster—think Edward G. Robinson In “The Last Gangster”—can help cut through noisy environments.

Monson’s presentation was on the “Directivity of singing voice.” Monson talked about singers’ need to get accommodated to acoustic spaces because they “rely on auditory feedback to regulate vocal output.”

But directivity of a voice matters as much as reflective surfaces because sounds “don’t necessarily go in all directions.”

Other presenters included Dario D’Orazio from the Universita' di Bologna, Italy, on the “Auralization of soprano;” lan Howell of the New England Conservatory of Music, who presented on “Spectrographic and perceptual analysis of the singing voice,” and Mary Pietrowicz, a Senior Research Scientist at the Illinois Applied Research Institute, presented on “Application of machine learning for voice quality detection among actors.”

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