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British Voice Association Road Show 2007–8

British Voice Association event report – by Russell Smythe


So far, we've 'performed' three Road Shows, two at the Royal College of Music and one at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The 'cast' of our shows has been the same throughout, with Dinah Harris, David Howard, Maureen Scott, Sara Harris and Tom Harris delighting and educating our audiences.

The idea was to allow young singers and/or actors (depending on which college we visited) to get a taste of the BVA. It could be said that part of our motivation was to advertise the association so that, should any of the students move into teaching, for example, they'd have a dependable source of information. But we also wanted the kids to know that there were people in the world who cared about voice-users, and who would be there when the chips were down.

This was the theme of my introduction to the audience, by way of opening their minds to the vast amount of information about to be delivered by our by five experts. You could say that it was almost information overkill! Some of the students (wisely) had paper and pencil to jot down notes for future digestion. Others simply enjoyed talks delivered with good-natured humour, which gave them pause for thought, and some assurance that they weren't alone.

Dinah, our singing teacher and voice clinic expert, got the tittering off to a good start by pointing out the most important no-go areas for singers. Coffee? Alcohol? Drugs? Night clubs? I almost felt the students entering a state of 'cold turkey' at the very thought of abandoning those things. Water, steam, exercise? Good Lord, the young don't need that! Still, there was a look in their eyes that showed they recognized the kind of discipline we singers have to live by if we're to stay on top form.
All in all, Dinah's Vocal Hygiene talk brought home to them that we're dependent on our bodies. If we abuse them (habitual throat clearing instead of sipping water, for example) we pay the price. She told us that we swallow a litre of goo every day (by way of making sure we keep our bodies hydrated), which may have verged on 'too much information'. Some of the students' reactions revealed very clearly what they thought about that fact!

We then moved on to a fascinating romp through the mechanics of the voice and its acoustics with David Howard, lecturer in acoustics at York University and TV presenter of The Voice. Like Dinah, he made excellent use of PowerPoint to illustrate his talk. Again, it was packed with information put across with energy and winning enthusiasm. One of the highlights was when he produced two resonators, both roughly the size of a vocal tract. One, he explained, was shaped in the form of an [i], the other an [a]. When he sounded them, that's exactly what we heard. His captive audience gasped in delight and surprise. My only gripe, and this applied to all five speakers, was that we could have done with more. But three hours, punctuated by a twenty-minute break, passes very quickly.

Sara Harris, our speech and language therapist, opened the students' minds to the infinite possibilities of the human voice, something that David had touched on, and that Maureen was to show by practical demonstration later. Sara, with her wealth of clinical experience, clearly informed her audience how a speech therapist could specifically help singers. Again, had we more time, this could have been much expanded on.

After a strong reminder for those students without a GP to find one, Tom Harris, our dryly humorous laryngologist, went on to scare the wits out of his audience by showing various pathologies that cause singers and actors much vexation. Nodules, cysts or Reinke's oedema were guaranteed to make the sturdiest attendee turn pale. However, he put our minds at rest by pointing out that a good laryngologist, who was in tune with professional voice-users, could sort out a pair of nodules without too much trouble. Of course, the cause of the nodules would need to be addressed if the problem were to be cured once and for all (he said).

Finally, Maureen Scott Estill expert, singer, and teacher on the Musical Theatre course at the RAM, had us all singing with sob, belt, twang and a host of other 'voice qualities'. We finished off her session by using the lovely song Unchained Melody to experiment with all those different styles. Great fun was had by all.

Sadly, in all three shows, questions and answers were curtailed because we ran out of time. Some good points were covered though, and all left the shows satisfied and a little wiser.



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