Chicago Tribune writer picks Chicago a cappella

Chicago a cappella’s upcoming concerts of French vocal music were at the top of John von Rhein’s classical music picks in The Chicago Tribune today . Concerts begin this weekend in Oak Park and Chicago, and next weekend will be held in Evanston and Naperville.  The Naperville location was omitted from the article.  For complete concert details, visit Wednesday’s blogpost or the Chicago a cappella website.

Posted on 17 April 2009 | Category: General


World Voice Day

Today is World Voice Day! Celebrate your voice, which is a powerful tool for delivering messages, an infinitely expressive instrument to convey your emotions, and a canvas for vocal artists to create beauty and evoke reactions.  Whose voices do you admire? Who has had an effect on you by using their voice to say words you needed to hear? Today is the day to honor those people in your hearts and minds, and if you wish, here. I invite you to post a comment, tell a story, or share your list of people whose voices you really like.

Learn more about World Voice Day, including its history and purpose, and link to exercises and information about the voice.  Click here, and turn on your speakers to hear the word “voice” spoken in many of the world’s languages.

Posted on 16 April 2009 | Category: Communication, General, Presentation, Singing, Voice


Chicago a cappella welcomes Spring with French love songs

The singers of Chicago a cappella welcome Spring with a charming collection of French love songs from Debussy, Poulenc, and Ravel, and other familiar pop standards in the program “Chansons d’Amour: April in Paris.” The group with perform at four different Chicagoland venues between April 18 and 26, coming on the heels of World Voice Day on April 16.

In Renaissance Europe, chansons were sung by everyone from peasants to kings. The tradition of Renaissance chansons was taken up again centuries later by some of France’s greatest musical masters. The singers of Chicago a cappella will delve into the chansons’ 16th-century origins as well as enchanting works by later composers such as Saint-Saëns and Milhaud. The ensemble will add an American twist to this French program with Vernon Duke’s classic ballad “April in Paris,” in an incomparable arrangement by Gene Puerling.

Other program highlights include Josquin: “Mille regrets”; Le Jeune: “Revoici venir du printemps”; Saint-Saëns: “Calme des Nuits”; Debussy: Trois Chansons, one of which, called Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain, expresses anger toward winter, deemed evil by the poet–Can you relate with the cold Spring we’ve had thus far?; Ravel: Trois Chansons; Poulenc: Chansons Francaises; and Milhaud: Naissance de Venus.

Buy tickets ($22-35).

Chicago a cappella also will host a special one-night-only benefit performance at 7 p.m. on May 21, 2009 at the historic Chicago Cultural Center. Enjoy hors d’oeuvres, wine, dessert and music by three American masters—George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin—under the beautiful Tiffany dome of the Chicago Cultural Center. Don’t miss this one-night-only event supporting the artistry of Chicago a cappella.

Make reservations ($75).

For tickets to either event or more information, visit or call   (773) 755-1628  .

Performance Schedule

Oak Park performance
Time: 8 p.m.
Date: Sat., April 18
Venue: Pilgrim Congregational Church
460 Lake Street, Oak Park, IL.

Evanston performance
Time: 4 p.m.
Date: Sun., April 19
Venue: Nichols Concert Hall
1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, IL.

Chicago performance
Time: 8 p.m.
Date: Fri., April 24
Venue: Anne and Howard Gottlieb Hall at Merit School of Music
38 S. Peoria Street, Chicago, IL.

Naperville performance
Time: 4 p.m.
Date: Sun., April 26
Venue: Wentz Concert Hall
171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville, IL.

Benefit Performance
“Elegant/Swellegant: an a cappella evening with George, Cole and Irving”
Time: 7 p.m.
Date: Thurs., May 21
Venue: Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St., Chicago, IL.

Posted on 15 April 2009 | Category: General


Voice Disorders, part II

View part I.

World Voice Day is approaching on April 16th, and we continue our posts about voice disorders.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below.  The voice is an amazing instrument.  How is yours working for you?   

Normal human vocal cords (or vocal folds) consist of two infoldings of tissue situated horizontally across the larynx, or voice box, at the top of the windpipe. Vibrations, caused by air from the lungs moving past adducted vocal cords, produce the sound of the voice. The sound of each individual voice is determined by the size and shape of a person’s vocal cords, throat, nose and mouth, as well as environmental, behavioral, emotional, psychological and other physiological factors.

Voice disorders range widely in their vocal impairment, severity, causes and treatments. Nerve damage, acid reflux, smoking, an over- or under-active thyroid, stress and a person’s psychiatric and physical health can all create or worsen a voice disorder. Some voice disorders are caused simply by vocal misuse, like speaking or singing with poor technique, and overuse, such as excessive singing, talking, coughing or yelling.

Some common disorders appear below. See a laryngologist if you experience vocal discomfort or unexplained loss of voice that lasts longer than two weeks.
Laryngopharyngeal Reflux–inflammation of the larynx caused by gastric acid.
Symptoms: Decreased vocal performance, increased effort upon voicing;  may or may not include “heartburn” or indigestion.   Lifestyle changes are recommended, such as avoiding spicy and acidic foods, especially late in the day.  Medications that decrease acid production or level are a common treatment.
Causes: Reflux, specifically a back flow of stomach contents through the esophagus which spills over into the larynx and pharynx (i.e. throat)  that results in swelling and irritation of the laryngeal and pharyngeal tissue.

Vocal Fold Bowing–a small gap in the middle of the vocal folds develops and causes incomplete vocal fold closure, commonly seen in older adults. May improve through strength and flexibility exercises.
Symptoms: Less than optimal voice, weakness, breathiness, hoarseness, or a strained voice.  Treatment options include voice therapy to strengthen the voice and injections into the vocal folds to “bulk them up”. 
Causes: Age and atrophy of the larynx, inactivity of the vocal folds.

Vocal Fold Cyst–a fluid-filled lesion that can occur at any location on the vocal folds, and which interferes with vibration and fold closure at times. Usually appears on one side, but may cause swelling on the opposite side due to irritation.
Two types of cysts: 1. Mucus retention cysts occur when a glandular duct is blocked and unable to secrete; 2. Epidermoid cysts result from congenital defects or trauma.
Symptoms: diplophonia, a voice quality in which the vocal cords produce multiple tones at the same time; dysphonia an impaired quality of voice typically involving hoarseness or a breathy sound. Treatment involves voice therapy and medical interventions including surgery if necessary.
Causes: An upper-respiratory infection combined with vocal overuse, or trauma, which makes tissue prone to developing cysts. Females are more likely than males to be effected.

Spasmodic Dysphonia–inovoluntary movement of the vocal folds during speech resulting in irregular voice breaks and interruptions of phonation (sound). Most common in females between the ages of 20 and 50.
Depending on type of SD, the vocal folds may slam together and stiffen cutting off words or making it difficult to start; or spasms can cause the vocal folds to open allowing air to escape from the lungs during speech. A mix of these types may also be present.  Injecting Botox into the spasming laryngeal muscles causes temporary paralysis of those muscles and usually results in improved voice.
Symptoms: Tight/strained voice; choppy voice similar to stuttering; strained or strangled and full of effort; weak, quiet and breathy or whispery voice. Spasms are usually absent during activities such as laughing or singing.
Causes: Believed to be neurologic in nature with stress and other environmental factors exacerbating symptoms.

Muscle Tension Dysphonia–(sometimes referred to as muscle misuse dysphonia or vocal hyperfunction) a cluster of abnormal patterns of vocal muscle activation, most commonly excessive or unequal muscle tension due to inappropriate use while speaking or singing. Ranges from mild to severe.
Symptoms: In severe cases, voice is extremely breathy or tight/strangled and high-pitched. Treatment involves abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing, relaxation, muscle control, and voice placement exercises guided by a speech pathologist.
Causes: Theories point to incomplete relaxation of the muscle responsible for opening the vocal folds, excessive contraction of certain muscle groups, and incoordination of laryngeal muscle contraction with air pressure and airflow timing. 

View part I.

Posted on 13 April 2009 | Category: General, Voice


Voice Disorders, part I

View Part II.

Voice disorders range widely in their vocal impairment, severity, causes and treatments. Causes can vary from trauma, inflammation or structural changes to immunological, neurological or behavioral factors that result in less-than-ideal voice production.

Some conditions heal on their own, but others require voice therapy and medical management. Nerve damage, acid reflux, smoking, an over- or under-active thyroid, stress and a person’s psychiatric and physical health can all create or worsen a voice disorder. Some voice disorders are caused simply by vocal misuse, like speaking or singing with poor technique, and overuse, such as excessive singing, talking, coughing or yelling.

The tissue of the vocal folds, or vocal cords, sometimes become swollen or injured due to illness, heavy use, exposure to irritants, etc. Sometimes the muscles of the larynx, or voice box, do not work properly due to nerve damage, behavior patterns, or other problems. Common disorders include the development of growths such as nodules or polyps, swelling as in laryngitis, laryngopharyngeal reflux and vocal cord paralysis. 

Laryngitis–inflammation of the vocal cords.
Symptoms: Raspy, hoarse voice. May be low- or high-pitched, depending on how the vocal cords are affected in terms of mass and mobility.
Causes: Excessive use of voice, infections, inhaled irritants, acute laryngopharyngeal reflux.

Vocal Nodules or Nodes–small, callous-like benign growths on vocal cords, which usually occur in pairs and can be a problem for professional voice users. Typically can be reduced or eliminated with proper voice care.
Symptoms: Hoarse, low and breathy voice. Vocal fatigue.
Causes: Vocal misuse and overuse.  Also, dehydration, smoking, drinking alcohol, certain medications, drug use,  laryngopharygeal reflux and environmental factors can precipitate and aggravate the condition. 

Vocal Polyps–soft, blister-like benign growth on a vocal cord, which usually occur unilaterally (on one vocal cord).
Symptoms: Hoarse, low and breathy voice. Vocal fatigue. Severity depends on location and size of lesion.
Causes: As with vocal fold nodules, polyps are associated with heavy voice use, and may be precipitated or aggravated by dehydration, environmental factors, hormones, medications, drug use and allergies.

Vocal Cord Paresis or Paralysis–weakness or immobility of one or both vocal folds causing them to not open or close properly. Cases range from relatively mild to life threatening as paralysis can allow food or liquid to enter the lungs. May require therapy or surgery, although no action may be necessary.
Symptoms: Depending on the exact location of the insult and the position of the immobile vocal fold, the voice may be weak and breathy; there can be stridor during inhalation; and swallowing and coughing can be difficult.
Causes: Mechanical trauma (e.g., head/neck/chest surgery or injury), tumor, certain disease processes, viral infections, hereditary neoplasms and idiopathic.

Voice therapy involves collaborating with your laryngologist (one can be recommended), identifying your vocal demands and habits, and working with you to develop a way of speaking that is optimal for you. The goal is a voice that has endurance and meets your needs.

Posted on 9 April 2009 | Category: General, Voice


Invest in Your Voice

In a time of economic instability, an investment in your voice is one that’s guaranteed to yield high return for years to come.

We don’t normally think of our voice as needing maintenance or special attention, though a healthy and effective voice is a vital asset. Your voice is one of your most valuable tools in your personal and professional life, especially with an increasing emphasis on voicemail, teleconferencing and face-to-face communication. Your voice contributes as strongly toward making a good impression as your appearance or handshake.

That’s why the theme for this year’s World Voice Day is “Invest in your Voice”. Investing in your voice means treating it right by avoiding smoking, limiting heavy screaming or shouting, and by staying hydrated and recognizing when your voice needs a break.

You should also warm up your voice, like you would other muscles, before periods of extended use. Warm-ups are not just for vocal professionals, but also benefit teachers, public speakers, or preachers, to name a few.

If you think you have a voice disorder or you want to improve your voice projection or quality, don’t wait to seek help.  Speak to a speech pathologist who has expertise in the vocal mechanism.  See a laryngologist if a disorder is suspected.  Different diagnoses require very different care, so it is important to be seen by a highly qualified professional.  

The Sound Center will feature information about the importance of your voice and tips on how to keep it in peak condition as part of its count down to WVD 2009.

World Voice Day began in Brazil in 1999 as a day of awareness, recognition, and celebration of the human voice, and is now commemorated worldwide each year on April 16. WVD strives to inform people of the importance of the human voice and the need for preventative care.


Posted on 6 April 2009 | Category: Communication, General, Voice


A Call for Questions

I would love to use this blog as a place to answer any questions related to communication.  If I can’t answer them, I will do my best to find the answer and invite feedback from you.  So go ahead, ask away!  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • VOICE:  Would you like to know something about how your voice works?  What people prefer to hear in a voice?  Voices people dislike?  Can a voice be changed?
  • ACCENT:  Perhaps you want to know something about accents, like what is the American accent?  Why are some accents harder to understand than others?  Is it discriminatory to require an employee to receive accent modification training?
  • PRESENTATION:  How about presentation in the business world?  How much should a person use gestures?  Should a presentation incorporate visual aids like PowerPoint?

These are just a few ideas.  Use them or brainstorm your own and ask.  I love this stuff!

Posted on 1 April 2009 | Category: Accent, Communication, Presentation, Voice