Dr. Claudio Milstein is a PhD laryngologist and LoVetri Institute Faculty
Thank you so much for meeting with us today. You are the Director at the Voice Center of the Head and Neck Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. Would you please tell us about your practice and your team?
I am the director of the Voice Center at the Head and Neck Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. The Voice Center is one of the premier voice centers in the country. We have a team of ENTs, Laryngologists, and Speech Language Pathologists that all have expertise in voice. We also collaborate with other specialists that may be needed for a particular patient, whether it is gastroenterology, respiratory medicine, neurology, or any other health issue.
In our center, we see all kinds of throat related problems and voice problems. We particularly cater to care of the professional voice. Many of our patients use their voice professionally, whether they are singers and actors, teachers, lawyers, preachers or telemarketers, anyone who uses the voice as a means to make a living, which is pretty much everybody these days!
We have a recording studio in our voice center and we cater to recording artists. We do high-level recordings of their voices to compare the before and after effects of treatment. This studio is a nice performing space that allows artists to sing for an extended period of time in the recording booth. This really lets them do their craft in a way that’s more similar to what they do in real life, and not in a hospital room that feels alien to performers.
Our team is made up of professionals with a lot of experience and are some of the most recognized names in our field. It is a really great place to work.
How did your interest in the voice and voice science get started?
I was born and raised in Buenos Aries, Argentina. I was involved in theatre very early on; I started directing at 16 with a theatre company. The company became pretty well known for it’s unique style where we’d work with an author who would write plays based on our improvisations. This style became very popular and I worked professionally in theatre for 10 years.
I was always interested in people’s voices and then I began working at the National School of Drama, teaching Voice for Stage. I realized that I wanted to know more and that there were a lot of unanswered questions about the voice. That’s what got me started on this journey.
I changed gears. I stopped theatre and I got more into the medical and science side of things. And here I am 5,000 years later, still doing this!
What will you be presenting on at the LoVetri Institute for Somatic Voicework™this July?
I will be doing an introduction to the most common voice and health problems that affect professional voice users. I will include an overview of the most common voice problems in singers, actors and teachers. After the initial overview, we will open up to questions to look at individual problems and give guidance. We will be talking about general health, vocal health, and what to do if something happens with your voice.
What is the most important thing professional singers need to know about vocal health and longevity?
Good advice is, pay attention to your body. Your body will tell you when you need to take it easy with your voice. We see a lot of patients in the clinic who do too much when their bodies are telling them to slow down. For example, when someone has a cold or flu and the voice gets really raspy and they have a concert they cannot cancel, or an important audition, or a performance and they go ahead with whatever it is even when they know they shouldn’t. They push too much and that is when they are most at risk for doing damage to their voices. Listen to your body.
How did you meet Jeanie LoVetri?
I met Jeanie many years ago at the Voice Foundation Symposium: Care of the Professional Voice, which is one of our primary annual meetings. It started back in the 70s at Julliard in New York and then moved to Philadelphia, where it is now. At this conference, professionals from science; including, laryngologists, ENTs, Speech Language Pathologists, researchers and any other vocal health professionals, get together with singers, actors, teachers and people from the arts to share information. The conference promotes communication between these different fields and has done a lot to put the arts and sciences together in a way that benefits all of us.
I met Jeanie years ago. We developed a friendship and have been in touch ever since. Jeanie has contributed a lot to The Voice Foundation, and it is great to have interacted with her. I have seen some of Jeanie’s workshops at the Symposium and I am really looking to see the full extent of her Somatic Voicework™ this summer.
Can you tell us about your current research interests?
Lately I have been very interested in problems of the larynx and vocal folds that affect breathing. There is a whole area of disorders that are misdiagnosed as asthma that cause shortness of breath where the problem is not in the lungs but in the throat. I have been very active in working towards understanding these disorders and have put together a therapy program that is very effective in treating them. I’ve been devoting my time to this area for the last couple of years.
Is there something you wish voice teachers knew about working with the voice?
As you know, there are many different schools of singing teaching. What I have encountered is that some teachers use techniques with students without noticing that the student is not able to execute the skill they are seeking to develop, and then the work does more harm than good. Sometimes I see vocalists with tremendous amounts of strain or tension in their singing voice because they are trying to do things their teachers told them to do. The singers are doing it incorrectly or it may not be the right technique for that particular student’s voice.
One recommendation I have for teachers is to pay attention to the student, whatever the student is doing it needs to be done without strain and without tension; that is essential to create a healthy singing voice that will be able to last for many, many years.
Would you say there is a specific style of teaching or singing that is especially at risk? For example, teachers who really push belting versus strictly classically oriented pedagogy.
It’s not about teaching; it’s about singers approaching certain styles without training. There are certain styles that can be more taxing on the voice, like belting or doing the harsh sounds when singing rock. You can do it in a healthy way, if you have good training or you can do it in a way that will really damage your vocal folds.
TV shows like American Idol and The Voice, where there is a lot of the focus on the big notes, the high belting, seem to be very popular these days. Kids try to imitate what they hear in these styles of singing but we end up seeing quite a few of them who have damaged their voices by attempting to do what they hear — that big sound — without proper technique.
Building on this, because audiences are exposed to a certain style of singing, a lot of young performers end up believing that good singing lies in those big belted notes — and that is not necessarily the case.
Problems don’t just happen with young singers. With the aging population, the singer needs to adjust as the body gets older. It is possible to have a healthy singing voice until very late in life, but sometimes singers need to realize that the vocal acrobatics they did in their early twenties may no longer be possible in their late 50s and early 60s. Healthy singing later in life is an excellent goal but you need to adjust to the changes in your body in order to maintain good vocal health. We’ll discuss more this summer at The LoVetri Institute for Somatic Voicework™.
Can you address the notion that “pop singing is going to ruin your voice” when lately classical singers have been in the news for the same vocal health problems CCM artists face?
Vocal problems are not unique to a particular kind of singing. In the clinic, we see patients that come from all different styles. It’s not that singing classical music is going to protect your voice more than singing a different style, it’s about singing in a healthy way.
Even if you are singing in a healthy way, you still may end up with some issue with the vocal folds. In the same way an athlete can expect to have a torn muscle or injury, it is not uncommon for singers to suffer some sort of vocal fold injury or problem throughout their career. The good news is that there are ways to improve voices, in pretty much every single case. Maintaining good vocal health and seeing a voice professional at the very first sign that something is not going right is crucial.
What are you most excited for with the future of vocal pedagogy and voice science?
I am very excited about how teachers are starting to be more broad minded and not just stick with one style. This is something that Jeanie’s work has been really influential with as most consumers of voice lessons are people who want to do contemporary commercial music but the majority of training for singing is still done by classical teachers aimed at teaching classical singing.
Up until recently, there has been very little communication between the classical world and the contemporary commercial music (CCM) world. One of the key things that Jeanie has been focusing on is trying to bridge the gap between these two worlds, and she has been very successful.
A few years back Jeanie and I, along with my colleagues, and faculty at Oberlin, did a symposium where the sole intent was to get singing teachers from these different camps to start talking to and learning from one another.
I think this is very exciting to see movement in this direction. To have skilled teachers that would be able to cater to the needs of any style that a student would need to explore. This is a major shift in the voice world, and that is very exciting.
Thank you so much for meeting with us today, we are very excited to have you join us at The LoVetri Institute for Somatic Voicework™ this summer.
Thank you, I am very excited for The LoVetri Institute for Somatic Voicework™this summer. It’s going to be great.
Please check out more from Dr. Claudio Milstein:
Information about The Cleveland Voice Center: Click Here
Dr. Milstein’s Professional Contact: Click Here
More Information About Dr. Milstein at The LoVetri Institute: Click Here
Dr. Milstein in the News: Click Here (ABC News), Click Here (Fox News), Click Here (NPR), Click Here (The Guardian), Click Here (Akron Beacon Journal)