November 24, 2014

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Oberlin Conservatory symposium demonstrates cutting-edge technology in voice research

Cleveland Clinic doctors Tom Abelson MD, left, and Claudio F. Milstein PhD use fiberoptic technology to examine the vocal folds of singer Melissa Brobeck of Athens. The session took place Saturday at Oberlin Conservatory’s Symposium for Voice Performance and Pedagogy. OBERLIN CONSERVATORY/HUMAN ARTIST PHOTOGRAPHY

Cleveland Clinic doctors Tom Abelson MD, left, and Claudio F. Milstein PhD use fiberoptic technology to examine the vocal folds of singer Melissa Brobeck of Athens. The session took place Saturday at Oberlin Conservatory’s Symposium for Voice Performance and Pedagogy. OBERLIN CONSERVATORY/HUMAN ARTIST PHOTOGRAPHY

OBERLIN — Attendees of Oberlin Conservatory’s Symposium for Voice Performance Pedagogy got an “inside look” at singers’ techniques on Saturday.

It wasn’t the most flattering view of the participants, but doctors from the Cleveland Clinic’s Voice Center were able to fully examine — and project on a screen — the vocal chords in action during an onstage demonstration using a digital strobe.

Dr. Tom Abelson, an otolaryngologist who has studied the voice for more than 30 years, said Saturday’s demonstration exhibited cutting-edge technology in voice research.

Abelson and Claudio Millstein, director of the Voice Center, conducted the stroboscopic examination using a KayPENTAX machine to run a digital strobe through the nasal cavity of each participant, down to their vocal chords. The singers then performed songs and vocal maneuvers, including contrasting styles, as their vocal folds were projected on a screen.

“To get the same pitch and intensity is the job, for the most part, of the vocal folds,” Millstein explained to the audience after a demonstration by singer Benjamin Czarnata.

Czarnata, as well as the three other volunteers, were asked to sing in different styles, and the results were displayed on screen.

Abelson and Milstein perform a fiberoptic examination of a singer’s vocal folds in a session at Oberlin Conversvatory’s Symposium for Voice Performance and Pedagogy.

Abelson and Milstein perform a fiberoptic examination of a singer’s vocal folds in a session at Oberlin Conversvatory’s Symposium for Voice Performance and Pedagogy.

Abelson said, for most participants, the feeling of a strobe down their nasal cavity is “odd” but not unpleasant.

Abelson said the technology is used at the Voice Center at the Head and Neck Institute of the Cleveland Clinic for research, as well as clinical care. Such technology was implemented in the mid-’90s, but Abelson said newer technology has made it easier to diagnose problems.

“The vast majority of the time, we can actually see the problem that they’re talking about and then we try to come up with a solution,” he said.

Guest clinician Jeannette LoVetri, a lecturer and recognized expert of non-classical music, said a partnership between doctors and teachers is important to the music education field.

“If you have an issue, you’ll be able to recognize it more quickly,” she said. “As a singing teacher, to have medical professionals who understand the larynx is huge.”

Lorraine Manz, associate professor of singing and director of the Division of Vocal Studies and the Otto B. Schoepfle Vocal Arts Center, said the partnership with Oberlin College and The Voice Center began under the guidance of Richard Miller, a former professor at Oberlin College and internationally renowned vocal pedagogue.

Manz called the partnership beneficial to the students and staff at Oberlin College.

This weekend’s symposium also included teacher demonstrations, discussions and master classes. Manz said attendees included teachers and students from Oberlin College, as well as vocal students and teachers from across the United States.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaMillerCT.