Published on May 30, 2016
Pleased to introduce Tara Nixon, Speech-Language Pathologist/Singing Voice Specialist. She is passionate about treating singers from all backgrounds and singing styles, especially healthy techniques for various types of contemporary singing. Please credit The Voice Forum when you share our content. #fellowshipofthelarynx
TVF: Where do you currently practice/teach?
TN: I feel lucky to be part of the great team of SLP's and laryngologists we have at the Duke Voice Care Center, where I work in both our Raleigh and Durham, NC clinics. I also teach private voice students out of my home studio.
TVF: Where did you complete your education/training in voice?
TN: While I consider myself a lifelong student of voice, I graduated with a dual Masters in Vocal Performance (2010) and Speech-Language Pathology (2012) from Appalachian State University.
TVF: What motivated you to dedicate yourself to the field of voice?
TN: Probably a combination of things. Many of my earliest memories include singing, harmonizing, or just exploring vocal sounds more generally. I sang throughout childhood, began more formal studies in my teenage years and continued my voice training in college and graduate school. The fields I specialized in allowed me to combine my passions for the art and the science of the singing voice, but my patients and students keep me motivated and dedicated on a daily basis.
TVF: What comes to your mind as one of the most pressing issues in contemporary voice disorders? Do you think this is an international issue or specific to your country?
TN: One issue that I deal with on almost a daily basis is the lack of vocal health knowledge in the singing world. Whether it's a music educator, a collegiate voice student, a lifelong choral singer, a professional gospel artist, or a Broadway performer, we need to teach these singers (and their care providers and teachers) the strategies to prevent traumatic voice injuries so they can continue singing for the rest of their lives-- no matter their style of singing. I believe this is true on an international level, too, and fortunately there are many vocal health advocates throughout the world helping to spread the word via educational events like World Voice Day, or sites like the Voice Forum created here! While there are many complexities and subtleties to successful singing voice rehabilitation, sharing even the simplest of tools (i.e. proper hydration, vocal pacing strategies, therapeutic warm-up routines) can be amazingly beneficial in preventing negative vocal changes and the need for voice rehab.
TVF: Do you have research interest?
TN: I have been tangentially involved in some of my DVCC colleagues' research on vocal health knowledge for singers, vocal health screening protocols for voice students, and glottal fry in business women. Some day I'd like to lead a research project on singing voice, but for now I believe my strengths lie in my clinical work with patients and my educational outreach in our community.
TVF: Which vocal myth would you like to dispel?
TN: I can only choose one?! Wow, there are so many vocal myths to dispel. Perhaps that reflux is the leading cause of most voice issues. Of course, reflux may play a part in voice problems and should be treated by MD when appropriate, but we see so many patients taking reflux meds for symptoms they were not having and the voice symptoms remain.
TVF: Your most memorable voice case?
TN: I treated a man with a history of laryngeal cancer and radiation, who was told by a physician several years prior that he would never be able to sing again. We worked together to reintroduce healthy singing techniques, and he was able to gain range, stamina, phonatory ease and confidence in his voice. He commented that he had felt hopeless for so many years, but when his voice returned it was like finding the light at the end of a long tunnel. I love working with patients like him that may think there are no solutions, but find that they can actually improve with the right techniques!
TVF: Do you have a vocal pet peeve?
TN: Anybody who is unwilling to sing in TA-dominant (chest voice) registration or thinks you cannot do it healthfully! ...I usually change their mind, though!
TVF: As a voice pathologist/educator/researcher, what keeps you on your toes?
TN: Just when I think I have mastered an aspect of the singing voice, a patient or student will ask a question or struggle with a concept in a way that shakes up that sense of mastery. I have found that I am always learning new ways of thinking about the vocal mechanism, acoustics, styles of teaching, and I'm grateful for the work that our mentors in the voice world have done to keep this process going in terms of evidence-based research and keeping us all on our toes!
TVF: What advice would you like to give to the general populace about voice care? How about to the professional voice users?
TN: This may sound somewhat "meta", but I would say that our voices are one of the most intimate and powerful ways we can connect with those around us. We can use our voices to soothe, to enlighten, to inspire, to create beauty in a troubled world. I have found that when we do not care for our voices, we often become disconnected and lose a part of ourselves (or vice versa). This can be especially true for professional voice users (both singers and speakers!), who rely on their voices for their artistry and their livelihood. In order to care for our voices, we must take care of our whole selves and pay attention to patterns.
Of course if you are asking about more concrete recommendations, I would advise to stay connected to your breath, pace your voice use, healthfully exercise your voice, teachers/worship leaders use amplification, singers get good technical training for your specific singing style, stay hydrated, avoid throat clearing. Also, getting a baseline laryngeal stroboscopy is especially recommended for pro voice users, so that they will know what their 'normal' looks like in case they develop a voice problem.
TVF: Who is your favorite singer?
TN: There are so many that come to mind. As for the music that I've been listening to my whole life and never get sick of hearing their voices, I've got to say Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and Bessie Smith. Three very different sounds/techniques but each one with its own intrinsic beauty. Over the past few years I've discovered Joy Williams (from The Civil Wars), Kurt Elling (incredible jazz singer), Gregory Porter (another incredible jazz singer), and Luke Lalonde (from the band Born Ruffians). Their voices just 'get' me every time.
TVF: What sparks “joy” for you as a person?
TN: Watching people learn and grow. Learning and growing myself. Singing. People being friendly. Puns.