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Voice Research Day – Exploring Voices (Aims, Approaches and Applications)

British Voice Association event report – by Pam Parry (Singer/Vocal Coach)


Graham Welch, Head of the Institute of Education's Department of Arts and Humanities introduced the day by reminding everyone there that the BVA was originally called the Voice Research Society and was set up so everyone could talk to each other and join up some of the partial views that those involved had on voice. He insisted that by talking to each other only then can we take things forward and find out what is going on in these different areas of research and what challenges present themselves to those involved.

Sandra Whiteside from the University of Sheffield presented 'Sex differences in speech'. It was while working on women's voices as part of her PhD at the University of Leeds that she became aware of the sex differences between men and women's voices, in particular the rate of articulation, differences in vowel space and the effect of hormones on voice onset time, and how these differences develop across their life span. It was a brief but concise overview of her work.

Stephen Cox from the School of Computing Sciences at the University of East Anglia talked about his own research into computer speech technology. The computer has revolutionised how speech is captured these days. They can record and store huge amounts of speech and can process very quickly. In early research, he explained, the dream was for error free transcription of fluently spoken speech but the dream has been difficult to realise because speech signal is continuous and varies within a speaker so as he demonstrated, 'This new display will recognise speech' may come out as, 'This nudist play will wreck a nice beach'.

Jane Ginsborg is well known for her research on expert musicians' approaches to practising and memorising and won the Van Lawrence Award in 2002 for her research on singers memorising strategies. She is a Research Fellow at the Research Centre for the Vocational Training of Musicians at the Royal Northern College of Music. The results of some of her research have shown that singers use a variety of strategies to learn songs with experienced singers doing very well over a shorter period of time if they memorised words and melody together. She said none of it was magic, it's what one does during rehearsals and ones own practice time.
Her current research is with herself as the performer and the researcher working as a duo with her husband, George Nicholson as accompanist.

Graham Welch is one of the leading experts in music education, specifically vocal learning and teaching and is currently involved in government funded research called the National Singing Programme, to find out how much singing goes on during the week with random schools being chosen and children given a simple questionnaire.

Paul Carding was a particular highlight giving an inspiring talk on' Clinical Voice research: the devils, demons and doers'. As Professor of Voice Pathology in the Medical School at Newcastle University he said our level of understanding of the human voice is extremely poor and therefore we need research to challenge, strengthen and broaden our knowledge base and make discoveries.

Considering there are about 100 multi disciplinary voice clinics in the UK and approximately 50,000 new voice patients in the NHS every year, surely one should be able to find lots of research activity. He decided to take a look over the last 7 years, the results were disappointing.

In order to get started on our own research, Professor Carding suggested we have to choose things that really matter as we have to believe in it right to the bitter end. It's best to research things that are common for you e.g. vocal fold paralysis, thyroplasty or things that are topical or in the news, "sexy"!!

He closed by saying that it is up to all of us to do research, as if we are all experts and not doing it then who else will?

John Rubin's Journal Club was heading in a very fun and positive direction pointing out what we should be thinking about when faced with abstracts and papers... is it clear, is the abstract more interesting than the paper, is there actually a need for the study in the first place, for example.

We got through about half of the paper titled, 'Evaluation of Voice Quality in Multiple Sclerosis', when we had to stop to make way for the Van Lawrence Prize.

There were many comments later about including a future Journal Club at another BVA day.

There were 4 finalists for the Van Lawrence Prize all demonstrating the fascinating and varied aspects of voice research to a keen audience and the 3 judges comprising, Annie Elias, Sue Anderson and Adrian Fourcin.

Denise Borland is currently researching a PhD in 'Psychology of Vocal Performance' introducing 'The Singers Psyche' teacher and singer training programme which examines to what extent a psychological understanding and approach may act as an aid to singers, vocal teachers and other professionals working alongside vocal performers.

Jude Brereton from the Department of Electronics at the University of York presented an abstract from the collaborative research she and David Howard did on "The effect of different acoustic environments on singing performance". Their two participants in the study were both experienced professional singers and were asked to read a short passage, to perform various singing warm-up exercises and to sing a short extract of a piece they had chosen and prepared in the Chapter House of York Minster (reverberation time= over 3 seconds) and an anechoic chamber at the University of York (reverberation time=0).

Dr Catriona Mairi Douglas currently works as a clinical research fellow at the Christie Hospital in Manchester doing an MD on head and neck cancer. She presented her paper on the "Analysis of voice recovery using GRBAS and a novel measure of approximate entropy in patients with early glottic cancer treated with radiotherapy".

Nazia Munir is a Specialist Registrar in Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery and is currently working at Alderhey Children's Hospital, Liverpool. Her abstract was a collaboration with Catherine Sadolin, Henrick Kjelin, Paul Silcocks and Julian McGlashan titled, "Classification of Singing Voice: The Complete Vocal Technique Method".

Ms Munir explained that at present there is no universal internationally approved terminology for describing all types of singing voice quality and the study was to assess the validity of the Complete Vocal Technique (CVT) method into 4 modes: Neutral, Curbing, Overdrive and Belting.

I believe more research has to be done in this area of "voice terminology" so that those of us working at the cutting edge all speak the same language. I believe that most of us are these days and this is why Ms Munir's presentation was getting close to a heated debate. So let's not do it on our own, let's research together.

The judges retired to consider their verdict and it was left to John Rubin to announce that the winners were Jude Brereton and David Howard. Many congratulations to them and to all those in the research team.



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