VocalOSO: Voice Lab Partners with Music and Theater Students

April 14, 2023

Clinical Assistant Professor Jeremy Hathway demonstrates a stroboscopy.

Baylor Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) is partnering with local ENT Dr. Brad Holland and Vocal Music and Musical Theatre to provide hearing and vocal screenings and laryngeal examinations. This partnership, called VocalOSO, gives CSD students firsthand experience evaluating voices and laryngeal examinations while allowing Theater and Music students to see their vocal mechanisms and identify possible concerns.

The collaboration came about when a CSD alumnus with connections to both the School of Music and the CSD Department helped facilitate discussions between CSD Associate Chair for Residential Clinic and Online Programs Deborah Rainer and Applied Voice professor Dr. Robert Best with the School of Music. The Department of Theatre Arts (specifically Musical Theatre) joined about a year later.

Ideally, Musical Theatre and Voice students will have screenings three times over the course of their time at Baylor. Before the screenings, the students provide case histories and respond to questionnaires regarding any symptoms they might have. Then, they are asked to perform several vocal tasks, including reading aloud, sustaining pitches, and gliding throughout their pitch ranges. Through these tasks, specialized computer software extracts various parameters of their voices which are then compared to normative data.

Following these screenings, the students go to the voice lab where CSD Professor Jeremy Hathway and local ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT) Dr. Brad Holland ask them questions about their voice history, analyze the measurements taken during the screenings, and examine the students’ vocal folds with a laryngoscope while they sustain sounds. Dr. Holland then explains if the exam was normal or makes a medical diagnosis based on the findings of the examination and a summary of the overall findings are explained to the students.

Professor Hathway says that the interdisciplinary collaboration is a unique opportunity for Baylor’s CSD students “to gain experience in listening to and assessing voice qualities and vocal parameters of people with normal and disordered voices, which is a populations that some of the students may be working with frequently in their future careers. If they don’t end up working with that population, then it gives them an experience that they might not otherwise have.”

For the Voice and Musical Theatre students, VocalOSO offers an opportunity to address any possible vocal problems before they enter their fields. It also gives them a “good baseline of what their instrument looks like and how their voice is performing,” which they can use as a comparison to better determine the origins of any future problems.

The partnership has also led to increased interdisciplinary collaborations between CSD, the Vocal Music and Theater Arts Departments, and Dr. Holland. For example, CSD has hosted several World Voice Day celebrations on campus with the involvement of the School of Music, Department of Theatre Arts, and Dr. Holland, and those involved in the collaboration have presented to Texas music educators and teachers of singing in the Texoma region to provide education on the voice and vocal health from multiple perspectives. It has also opened up the possibility of research partnerships, though no specific plans have been established yet.

“It’s been a great learning opportunity for our graduate students and a great experience to be able to collaborate with people from other disciplines," Professor Hathway says, “all with the goal of supporting our students."