Elite singers give their voices a work out.
“I used to think of them as athletes, but now I think of them as vocal ballet dancers,” said Professor Monica McHenry, a voice researcher in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
The graceful scale of elite singers seems effortless. But elite singers can suffer from vocal fatigue if they don’t take precautions. “In a soprano, for example, their vocal cords might be vibrating a thousand times a second, and they are producing a voice that’s loud enough to fill an auditorium,” she said.
McHenry is working with UH Moores School of Music’s Joseph Evans, Dr. Eric Powitzky and 16 graduate students/singers to analyze the vocal cords before and after performances, looking for signs of fatigue, and, more importantly, ways to guard against it.
“We use a special camera that is attuned to the frequency of the vocal folds,” said Powitzky. “It slows down the vocal vibrations like a strobe light, so we can simulate slow motion vibration of the vocal folds and see the patterns better.”
Without proper training or precautions, vocal cords can suffer from swelling or hemorrhages.
The cameras take several images before a performance and do the same right after a performance to compare the condition of the vocal cords.
Additionally, McHenry records the students singing one note softly and at full voice, before and after a performance.
“This is a measure where we’ll see is how efficiently they’re able to convert air to sound,” she said.
McHenry and Evans have been studying singers for nearly a decade. She says their efforts will yield protocols for those who rely on the voice for their occupation, like teachers and singers.
“We want to teach people how to preserve their voice, so they can keep doing these astounding things with it.”