OHSU Provides Unique Treatment for Professional Vocalists

04/06/01    Portland, Ore.

Opera singer says there are big benefits to biofeedback

Editor's note: Susan Hinshaw and Karen Murray, M.A., speech pathologist, will be available for interviews on Monday April 9, before noon. To arrange an interview, please call Jessica Green, 503 494-8231

Susan Hinshaw began her career as a professional opera singer about 30 years ago, performing weekly in Europe with premier artists and conductors. Looking back, she is amazed she had such a successful career with so little knowledge about the physiology of the voice. She credits Oregon Health Sciences University's Professional Voice Program for much of her vocal wisdom.

"A professional vocalist has to understand how her voice works. Hard work will only get you so far, then you need more," said Hinshaw. She was referred to OHSU by her primary care physician after the discovery of a vocal cyst that threatened her singing career. She claims OHSU offered more than she expected.

The Professional Voice Program at the OHSU NW Clinic for Voice and Swallowing has a unique multidisciplinary approach that provides otolaryngologists and highly specialized voice pathologists who work together to offer diagnosis, feedback and treatment for the professional voice user. The clinic's medical team consults with specialists in gastroenterology, internal medicine, neurology, psychiatry, pulmonary medicine, allergy and other medical disciplines because a voice disorder may involve other medical problems, and it is important the patient receive timely access to necessary medical professionals. Additionally, the clinic offers laryngeal videostroboscopy to provide immediate biofeedback for singing voice and vocal performance evaluation.

Videostroboscopy uses a laryngoscope specially designed to give detailed information regarding vocal fold anatomy and function. The long, skinny scope is placed in a patient's nose or throat and an image of the vocal tract is displayed on a television screen. As the vocalist makes sound, the screen shows how different vocal positions affect the voice. "Our primary goal is to rehabilitate a vocal injury and to address stubborn technique problems, which can lead to future injury. The laryngoscope helps us do this," said Karen Murray, M.A., instructor in otolaryngology, head and neck surgery, OHSU School of Medicine.

"It helps immensely to see videotapes and understand how your voice functions. You see what is going on and then learn how to manipulate your voice, make changes and perform helpful exercises," said Hinshaw. The clinic helped Hinshaw gain top vocal quality, including expanded vocal flexibility, projection and endurance.

A diverse group of people benefit from this program. "This program is not just for singers but for any professional who has experienced a voice problem and wants to use their voice optimally," said Murray. "We see doctors, teachers, lawyers and even clergy members."

Hinshaw is now a voice instructor at Lower Columbia Community College and also teaches 25 students privately. It has been years since she performed in Carnegie Hall, but she feels she is more in tune with important vocal mechanics thanks to OHSU. "Not many places have a voice lab as incredible as this," said Hinshaw. "I keep coming back to learn more and to ensure that no problems reoccur."

For more information about the Professional Voice Program or to schedule an appointment, call the OHSU NW Clinic for Voice and Swallowing, 503 494-5947.