Educating the E.N.T.s

A medical doctor who is an ear, nose and throat specialist, may also specialize in laryngology or the care and treatment of the larynx and of the voice. This is a small category within the profession at large. Many of the laryngologists (but not all of them) deal with professional speakers or singers. Some laryngologists are very knowledgeable about the demands of singing in any and all styles but some are not. Some understand the basics of classical singing, but some don’t. Some have had singing training but many have not. You are on your own to find one that has the kind of background that serves your needs best.

If a patient is sent to a doctor by a teacher of singing who wants to have the student’s vocal health checked, that could be a good thing. It’s not true, however, that a singing teacher who sends a student to a laryngologist for a vocal checkup will automatically understand the doctor’s diagnosis or what to do with the diagnosis during a lesson when it arrives.

Doctors often assume that a teacher who is on faculty at a major university or conservatory automatically understands how to work with a voice to be sure it is healthy, but this is a mistaken assumption. Teachers who are hired for university positions often have major qualifications in musical performance and may be familiar with various kinds of repertoire and languages as well as musicianship or acting skills, but they typically do not need to know one single thing about vocal health or vocal function. They may not even know that the vocal folds make the sound. This is changing, thankfully, but very slowly. Therefore, if a doctor assumes that a teacher of singing “knows how to work” with a student who has “vocal health issues” because of their professional credentials that could be a very wrong assumption, and that could be dangerous.

The doctor would have to ASK the teacher, do you know how to work with vocal folds that have pathology? Where did you learn how to do this? How do you know your work has been successful? How many injured or ill singers have recovered their professional-level skills while working with you?

Doctors also need to know that some classical singing teachers will tell a student who has been singing music theater that their technique is “bad” or “tight” when, in point of fact, the technique is very useful in music theater but not applicable to classical singing. If you have a pop/rock vocalist as a patient and you send them back to a classical singing teacher, that might prevent the singer from learning to sing pop/rock music healthfully and, if the student runs into problems again, both you and the student would wonder why the vocal lessons “didn’t work”.

So, doctors, take the time to find out about who we are and what we do and please don’t make the easy assumption that people who are “famous” know what they are doing as teachers. Please don’t assume that someone who holds a high level position at at conservatory or university knows how to work with an injured or compromised voice. Please do not think that classical singing technique will fix every kind of vocal problem.

If singing teachers want to change the impressions of the medical experts, they have to start speaking up to the laryngologists and making sure they know what’s what with us. If you want to help, send this post to your ENT.


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One thought on “Educating the E.N.T.s”

  1. I was working with a student whom I had inherited from another teacher, and I was talking about how the two vocal folds are brought together on the air flow when she stopped me to ask “…What? There are TWO vocal folds?” “Why yes,” I said, “How many did you think you had?” “I thought there were a whole bunch of ’em in there,” she said. I suggested perhaps she was only in her first or second year of study, to which she replied “Oh no, I’m a senior!” This was quite a few years ago. She had a very nice voice; I’m sure by now she’s finished at least a Masters Degree, and is probably teaching at some university. At least she now knows she has TWO vocal folds, that is, assuming she remembers what I told her…

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