The Voice Forum Interview** – June 2016
Where do you currently practice?
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles; and my private voice studio.
Where did you complete your education/training in speech pathology?
California State University, Northridge, including an internship at UCLA Medical Center
What motivated you to dedicate yourself to the field of voice?
For the first half of my life I was a singer-songwriter, theater arts student, and singing teacher, so when I needed to find something more secure, speech pathology was a good fit. My own voice had been the center of my identity for so long that it was natural to want to understand and serve other voices. But after going through training, I worked as a general-medical speech pathologist and college lecturer for ten years before I got the opportunity to specialize in voice “for real.”
What comes to your mind as one of the most pressing issues in contemporary voice disorders?
Many of us spend a lot of time educating clients about stress management, wellness, and whole-person self-care; but the institutional and financial pressures of current medical practice make it hard to take care of our own selves. That’s a problem throughout healthcare, but it seems especially poignant when working with the larynx, which is innately so tuned to the integration of body & mind & identity, walking-the-talk.
Do you have research interest(s)? Why?
I am constantly curious about the psychology and neuroscience of how people actually teach and learn vocal behaviors. How much direct verbal-to-sensory-motor instruction is actually influenced by implicit, nonverbal, empathic modeling, as well as auditory copying? How is learning vocal skill different (being semi-visceral, and deeply psycho-social) from other kinds of motor learning? How teachers and therapists actually interact with clients, and why, is an endlessly fascinating phenomenon.
Which vocal myth would you like to dispel?
That a magic tea can “lubricate the vocal cords.”
What is your most memorable voice case?
Very hard to choose… one was a former Broadway performer & TV actress, also former smoker, who developed cancer of the tongue, palate, and jaw that required two surgeries, plus chemo-radiation, the whole tour. Before coming to me to finally regain her voice quality and range, she’d worked for a year with another therapist on speech and swallowing. The day she started to sing in head voice again was pretty special.
Do you have a vocal pet peeve?
Competition shows that pretend to coach and nurture young singers, but in reality just throw them junk food and junk technique, to get ratings and boost the egos and careers of the “judges.” Here in Hollywood we hear the backstage truth and a lot of it is rather ugly. Meanwhile the audience gets indoctrinated into ideas about terribly pressed phonation and one-shot-to-fame, instead of the healthy, collaborative creativity that makes real music.
As a voice pathologist and an educator, what keeps you on your toes?
All the colleagues smarter than me, tweaking and advancing our field!
What advice would you like to give to the general populace about voice care?
How about advice to the professional voice users?
Get over the idea that art requires self-sacrifice and suffering! Quite the opposite: vocal art requires exquisite self-nurturing and constant restoration of spirit. Don’t be a “diva” in how you treat other people, but DO be a diva in how you take care of yourself.
Who is your favorite singer?
Today – tossup among Placido Domingo, countertenor Slava, and 1970s country-rocker Tracy Nelson.
What sparks “joy” for you as a person?
Anytime humans sing together! Which could be Chanticleer or the Soweto Gospel Choir or “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”—but especially one night a year when an 18-voice chorus sings my folksong arrangements with my husband conducting. That fills me with gratitude for an unexpected life.
**Christina H. Kang, M.M., M.S., CCC, Speech-Language Pathologist in Otolaryngology at the Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale AZ, started The Voice Forum as an open FB page. She posts regular news of interest and interviews from the voice-care-and-rehabilitation world.