Academic journal article Journal of Singing

The Clinician's Illusion

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

The Clinician's Illusion

Article excerpt

The influence of voice science on voice pedagogy is undisputed, but whether this is cause for celebration or not depends upon one's point of view. What is undisputed is that, for much of the past century, a division between scientific and nonscientific approaches has obtained in voice pedagogy.1 Fortunately, this division is steadily eroding, due in large part to the opportune pairing of two factors: a hunger for fact-based pedagogy, and venues that provide access to scientific knowledge.

Singers who yearn to expand their knowledge of voice science can attend such fertile learning communities as Lawrence University's Acoustic Vocal Pedagogy and Voice Physiology seminar, and the Summer Vocology Institute (SVI) at the National Center for Voice and Speech.2 The Lawrence University seminar is new in 2015, while SVI is now approaching its sixteenth year.

Since its inception in 2000, SVI continues to draw a diverse mixture of adult singers, speech-language pathologists, voice scientists, laryngologists, speech coaches, and linguists to its eight week summer institute at the National Center for Voice and Speech, described as a "research and teaching organization dedicated to studying human voice and speech."3 All participants are drawn by the discipline of vocology, defined by its founder, Ingo Titze, simply as "the study of vocalization."4 Yet a more compound meaning of vocology is "the science and practice of voice habilitation." Look closely and notice that the word "habilitation" does not contain the prefix "re" as in "rehabilitate," to fix, or repair. Titze explains that

Habilitation is the process of enabling, equipping for, or capacitating. Voice habilitation is therefore more than repairing a voice, or bringing it back to a normal state. It includes the process of building and strengthening the voice to meet specific needs.5

The beauty of this definition is its emphasis on the voice as a functional system. It provides a robust counterweight to the all-too-common habit among voice trainers of viewing the voice as something in perpetual need of mending. That is, through the lens of pathology.

The question of why this situation obtains in voice pedagogy is open to speculation. Perhaps a scientific approach to voice training has made the field somewhat more amenable (or vulnerable) to scientific traditions-perhaps it is just in the DNA of voice science. After all, as a field, voice science owes half of its parentage to medicine (the other half, to acoustics), and pathology is a common specialization within medicine.

Within pathology, the diagnostic tradition of the "lesion-deficit analysis" in neuroscience has attended the field since its inception.6 Researchers observe patient behavior in life, and in postmortem examinations determine the site of brain damage (lesions). From this they can infer that the lesion site must have been the site of the damaged ability. While this this technique has proved efficacious for science, it raises a broader question regarding the ultimate wisdom of inferring an organism's healthy function solely through the lens of disease. Distinguished psychologist Howard Gardner pointed out the pitfalls to this approach.

Even though breakdowns provide valuable insight into organization of intact capacities, one cannot blithely assume that breakdown directly unmasks organization. The ways a radio breaks down (for example, through destruction of a plug) do not necessarily tell you how best to describe the ordinary operation of a radio. After all, while you can stop the radio by pulling out the plug, this information is irrelevant for understanding the actual mechanical and electrical workings of the apparatus.7

As this observation illustrates, studying "breakdowns" gives an incomplete picture of how a mechanism optimally functions. It also encourages a view that every organic mechanism is potentially flawed.

The medical heritage of voice science explains why medical language (such as "therapeutic," "compliance," and "rehabilitation") abounds throughout much current voice science literature. …

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