Kimberly Monzon and Lauren Weber
Season 5 - Episode 501
How can vocal athletes perform at their best, and with optimum health? Kimberly Monzon and Lauren Weber are teachers and performers who seek to help people who use their voices on stage and in other settings. In this Baylor Connections, Dr. Monzon, assistant professor of voice in Baylor’s School of Music, and Weber, a certified vocologist who serves as a lecturer of musical theatre at Baylor, take listeners inside their research and training to advance new understanding in vocal performance.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. I'm Derek Smith and our guests today are Kimberly Monzon and Lauren Weber, experts in vocal performance and helping others use their voices on stage and in other settings. Dr. Monzon serves as assistant professor in voice in Baylor's School of Music. An opera performer, crossover artist and recitalist, she's a soprano who has performed for a variety of operas and symphonies. Weber is a certified vocologist who serves as lecturer of musical theater in Baylor's Department of Theater Arts. Baylor is one of only a handful of schools to feature a certified vocologist in their theater arts department. Monzon and Weber partner with Baylor colleagues in communication sciences and nutrition sciences to conduct evidence-based research on vocal health, including the study of supplements on vocal health and performance. So, lots to talk about today and it's great to have you both on the program. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Lauren Weber:Thanks for having us.
Derek Smith:Great to visit with you both and want to ask some of these questions for both of you. And so, Kimberly, I'll start with you and then Lauren. How would you describe your teaching and research more broadly, more specifically than I just did at the top of the show?
Kimberly Monzon:Right. Thanks. I think in general, what Lauren and I both do, which she'll speak more specifically as she likes. But, we create and prepare elite vocal athletes for the performing world. It's really competitive out there. It's very, very rigorous as well and their voices and their characters really need to withstand the pressures of the business. It's very difficult. So, that's mainly what we do, in a very broad, general sense. And then, as far as our research, we really hope that our research can support that ideal of creating and preparing those elite vocal athletes, and as we can support them, we want to keep singers healthy and prevent vocal injury for them.
Lauren Weber:Yeah. I would totally echo what Kimberly said. You know, as we're thinking about kind of the differences in style and things, I like to think of it as the vocal athlete kind of thing compares pretty well. So, I teach more contemporary styles, and so, if you think about different kinds of sports, they all need healthy ways to go about it but you're not going to train a football player in the same way that you would train a track star or a basketball player. And so, the research that we're doing kind of helps to inform our course development and our course content. Using the science-informed research helps us to know how to keep them healthy and functional vocal pedagogy, so not just kind of what do we like. What does it sound like? But, how can we help them use their voice in the variety of styles? I always say to sing as long and as healthy and as many different styles as they can is kind of my goal because they have to play different characters. And so, you know, I view myself as a teacher first and I love that our research feeds right into that.
Derek Smith:I want to ask you both and you just touched on this, Lauren, and I'll start with you. Vocal athlete. What goes into that? What goes into training? What goes into preparing? What goes into really being an elite vocal athlete that's able to perform the way that they want to?
Lauren Weber:I tell my students often because it's hard. We can't touch. We can't feel. We can't see our voice. And so, I say, "You know, if you wanted to run a marathon, you might be able to go outside and complete that today, but if you haven't been training, it could be very dangerous and probably not very successful. And so, I think of our voices in the same way." We thought very intricate coordination that has to happen in the voice using vocal muscles and relaxation and all the kind of things that go into that. And, when we think about vocal athletes, we are training them to use their voices in a way beyond just speaking, right? Our voices were made to communicate and to speak and make sounds and we're asking our students to use them in intricate, finite kind of ways to be able to do really different things and these coordination takes to make these different styles and placements and things takes time. It takes training. It takes a little bit of practice every day. It takes knowing how to care for their bodies, knowing what they're putting in it and how it affects them. So, it's a really similar. I mean, our bodies are our instrument and so when we say vocal athletes, I think of it as that this kind of training and things that we can do help them achieve the best vocal stamina that they can.
Kimberly Monzon:Yeah. I would absolutely agree with everything Lauren said. Even though we teach different styles, we probably teach in very much the same style of teaching, preparing these singers for what they have to do. In the same way an Olympic sprinter trains to shave milliseconds off their time, a top singer is going to train extensively to meet the same sort of athletic benchmarks and take them to the extremes of their vocal capabilities. So, the benchmarks that we meet are the same. Speed, flexibility, endurance, power, agility. All of those things, we have to train for as well. So, Lauren and I are training vocal Olympians. Yes, in different styles, but we're really trying to build them up to withstand everything that they need to do and do it beautifully and entertainingly as well. And so, an example from the classical world. Like, a full lyric soprano... This is an example I give to my students. They should be capable... This full lyric should be capable of singing and sustaining a high C, for example, loudly enough to carry over a full orchestra, fill a really large performance hall, all without the use of a microphone. And, that pitch... I give that pitch as an example. It's 1,046 hertz, which means the vocal folds are contacting each other 1,046 times per second.
Kimberly Monzon:And then, they have to sustain that pitch at a loud enough decibel level and a lyric soprano would likely hold that pitch at about 115 or 120 decibels. So, to put that into context, as a fun fact, that's about the same as a car horn. So, we really have to train our bodies and our muscles to be able to do all the things that we do vocally and musically but also while on stage, while in a heavy costume, perhaps corseted up in a really heavy wig and lights on us, and acting, running around stage and all of that. So... And, you know, Broadway singers, too, have to have this incredible athleticism and endurance and power when they're doing seven, eight shows a week. So, it's... They have to be trained athletically.
Derek Smith:What drew each of you...? Start with you, Kimberly. Each of you into music? What was that initial draw? And then, what led you to not just perform but also to want to teach and train?
Kimberly Monzon:Sure. It starts at the beginning for me. My mother was a singer and a voice teacher as well and she was my first voice teacher and she took us to the opera every year and we only listened to classical music in my mom's car. And so, that was, I'd say, really formative for me and to want to jump into the music world. And, I was just so blessed to have incredible mentors in my life, too. The voice teachers that I was able to work with throughout my education, incredible performers and pedagogues, and that got me really interested too. I've always been fascinated by anatomy and physiology, so the structure and function of the tissue we use to support what we do always fascinated me. And then, for my final degree, I was lucky enough to get a full fellowship to the Ohio State University School of Music for my DMA program, and the really cool thing about that program is they have a singing health specialization. It's kind of like a minor. It's an additional 16 credit hours on top of the DMA. But, within that program, I got to take a lot of speech language pathology classes. I got to observe 50 clinic hours in the voice clinic and I got to observe 30 voice surgery hours. And, it was just a really, really formative experience and got me really fascinated with voice research.
Lauren Weber:Yeah. My mom was also a singer. She actually taught adjunct here at Baylor and my father is a religion professor here at Baylor, so I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a college professor and I knew music was kind of the in that I had to that. Singing was never super easy for me, and so, I had to work really hard to understand my voice and to understand how to use it and how to sustain it and I didn't just have kind of this powerhouse voice naturally. So, I did a undergrad in vocal performance and then I was lucky enough to move to Wyoming, where you can teach at the college level with a bachelor's, or at least at that point you could. And, I started teaching everything I could at this small community college and most of my students were musical theater. And, I'd always loved musical theater, but at that point, there wasn't a lot of pedagogy going on on how to teach different styles. There were no doctorates in it. You really had to kind of make your own. It was before we had any of these master's programs that focused on that and most of our... Most of our research leading up to that had been more anecdotal and it mostly had been focused on the classical world. And so, I noticed my students were getting this classical training and then they were going out and singing karaoke and blowing their voices and coming back to me and I was trying to pick up the pieces. And, I thought, there has to be more to this. So, that's kind of what got me into what is happening. What are the differences when we change styles? In musical theater, they have to be able to sing Rodgers and Hammerstein and then turn around and sing Hamilton. Right? So, we need them to be able to really think about these different styles. So, I... That led me to doing a master's of fine arts in musical theater and a master's of music in voice. So, that allowed me to kind of start to parallel and see where these differences were since there wasn't a program there. Some great doctorate programs now that focus on contemporary voice pedagogy. But, at the time, there weren't, so I kind of forged my own way in that to try to figure out what is this. How can we make these sounds healthy and sustainable? Eight shows a week is a lot. It's hard on any style of singing and that's what's expected in our field. So, that's what got me into it.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Dr. Kimberly Monzon, assistant professor in Baylor's School of Music, and Lauren Weber, certified vocologist and lecturer of musical theater in Baylor's Department of Theater Arts. And, Lauren, mentioning being a certified vocologist and that's rare in theater arts departments across the country. Why is that? And, take us a little bit even more inside what goes into becoming a certified vocologist and how you're able to utilize that.
Lauren Weber:Sure. So, I was certified in vocology at the National Center for Voice and Speech, so their Summer Vocology Institute, with Ingo Titze, who is the creator of vocology. So, he kind of came up with his... The... The vocologist. He came up with kind of the term vocology, what it is, and then this field. It's a relatively new field. I think we'll find some more official certifications coming soon from the Pan American Vocology Association. And, right now, about 20 people get certified through that Summer Institute. I think we'll get an even more kind of world renowned certifications coming. But, right... This graduating class that I graduated with, we had ENTs, speech language pathologists, classical voice teachers, contemporary voice teachers, anyone that's interested in the voice and the voice science and kind of wants to specialize on how these interdiscipline... You know, these disciplines can interdisciplinary dialogue. What we found is that sometimes having a conversation with an ENT or an SLP... As a voice teacher, we would be talking about the same thing but using different language. There's just been really... Even the research itself has been quantified differently. We've been discovering some of this in our research as well. So, this vocology is kind of the science of getting all of these people that are interested in the same thing together. And, as someone that does theater, theater speech people are professional voice teachers as well, even if they're not singing. They're using their voice in extreme ways, character voices, you know, all of those different things. And so, it's really, really interesting to me from that. There are only a few theater teachers that have done this and we got the chance to study some of like how to scream healthfully. How do we make these sounds sound really real on stage and not cause any issues later down the road? So, it's really fun.
Derek Smith:We're going to talk about a specific project, but I ask you more broadly. What opportunities are there that you see for evidence-based research in the vocal realm? How much of a need...? How wide open is that?
Kimberly Monzon:Well, I can start. I'll say that evidence-based research translates into evidence-based pedagogy. So, if we're basing what we do on reality, on evidence, on facts, then we can give direct information to our students with what they can do with their bodies. What's connected to what? What action will create what reaction? So, I think that's, first and foremost, the most important thing that we can focus on so that we're not just saying, "Well, think of beautiful puffy clouds and sing with a nice float." Not that imagery isn't useful in teaching voice. It very much is because our instruments are inside our bodies. We cannot see them, or if we do, it's very, very rarely and it's a clinical environment. So, it's just really strange to do what we do, to access this most human of things, the voice. It's just so... It can feel so vague for our students, so if we can remove as much mystery as possible by doing things based on fact... The sciences of anatomy, physiology, acoustics, they inform what we do as voice teachers in every lesson.
Lauren Weber:I'm giving snaps to Kimberly. Yeah. You know, our voices are our identity. So much of who we are is tied up in that and I think that's a gift from God that we were given, that so much of our voice is our fingerprint on the world. And so, this research is really just now catching up to the teaching and the performing that we've been doing and it's really... It's fun to see what actually is happening and what do I need to know as a teacher and what do my students need to know. All singers deserve good science-based teaching to keep them healthy and safe and whatever their tonal goals are. And so, I think there's just a ton of need for that. And, the fact that everyone uses their voice. We all speak and hopefully we're all singing in church. And so, I think all of this, because we tie... So many of us tie our identity to that. I think it just opens up lots of potential.
Derek Smith:Could you tell us a little more about a project that's ongoing and is really growing, and that's into supplements. What should people know about supplements? And, you mentioned that there's so much out there that's vague. What's important to help people really understand, performers particularly, understand about these supplements?
Lauren Weber:I'll let... I'll let Kimberly get into more details. But, you know, singers, we are very aware of our bodies. We are in tune to what's going on and we're pretty quick to figure out what's going to work for us. I think you can see Kimberly's steamer in the background of her video [inaudible] tell you about it. But, you know, we're always thinking, how can we keep ourselves healthy? What can we do? And so, but there hasn't been as much research into what the supplements actually do for singers. So, Kimberly and our research team has been looking at omega three, specifically. Do you want to tell them a little more about that?
Kimberly Monzon:Sure. Sure. As far as our own research, we've been studying the effects of omega three fatty acid supplementation on the voice and in our most recent study, some of our key findings have been that the supplement group showed an ability to sing more softly. They also showed positive changes in the singing voice handicap index. That's a survey that we gave them that measures their own self-perception of their voice or their possible voice handicap if they perceive that they might have one. And, half of the males in the supplement group also expanded their vocal range by adding pitches at the bottom of their range, an entire third. And so, mainly what it showed was increased vocal strength. It can also show reduced inflammation. And, we're wanting to dig into that more, so we're doing some more studies. But, as far as research into other supplements for the voice, exactly what Lauren said. There's not much and so much of it is anecdotal. You see advertisements for things like a variety of singer serums that will coat the throat and hydrate the throat and do all these things, but there's no peer-reviewed research onto those things. And, for example, there was B-12 study done by Hagit Shoffel-Havakuk and she did a study on the B-12 shot and so many singers anecdotally heard from other singers that they wanted to... They did this B-12 shot and it worked really well for their voice, but... So, she did a research study to see if there were any changes. There were zero changes. The B-12 shot did nothing. But, the singers still wanted to take it because they heard another singer say that it was a great idea. But, another thing, for example, that's a highly advertised for singers is throat coat tea that has licorice root in it and it's advertised to coat and hydrate the throat, things like that. But, licorice root can actually cause estrogen and progesterone type effects on the voice and can raise blood pressure. Vitamin C, for example, is really useful. I'm not going to tell people not to take their Vitamin C. But, if you take it in large doses, it can be a diuretic. It can be very drying on the instrument. So, some herbal medications, too, they can cause vocal edema due to hormonal shifts and some others can put the vocal folds at risk for hemorrhaging if they thin the blood or dilate the blood vessels. So, things like that, we really have to use caution and so much more research is necessary and we're starting into it and we're really excited about it and hoping it gets as much support as possible. We've had a lot of support from Baylor and we're really hoping to get external support as well and take this as far as we can to give our singers more support and give them concrete things that can actually work and tell them how they can work, too. You know, a big part of the research that we're doing is also about informing students and singers about it so they know how it can impact them.
Derek Smith:And you have a great research team with LesLee Funderburk from human science and design and Brittany Perrine from communication sciences and disorders. So, great interdisciplinary team there.
Lauren Weber:Yes. They are brilliant and wonderful ladies and this research team honestly works, I think, better than most should because we have such different kind of strengths and interests. It's been such a delight to be a part and work with them.
Derek Smith:Well, that's great. Well, as we wind down on the program here, I want to ask each of you. What stood out to you about the way your students have responded to research? I think sometimes people tend to picture when they hear research... You know, certainly the Baylor science building is a big, big spot for that and [inaudible] science students are involved in that. But, your students are helping not just themselves, but other students, through these findings as they take part in them. So, what stood out to you about the way your students have reacted to this?
Kimberly Monzon:Yeah. I would say that they've been kind of charmed by this new angle of their voices that we're presenting to them. I've had a lot of them ask me... I teach [inaudible] and lyric diction as well and I've had some of them that have participated in the research come up to me after class and say, "Hey, you know, have you gotten the results from your research yet or have you been published yet?" And, they're intrigued by these voice measurements and I think being able to see their vocal range graphed on the computer when we do these voice range profiles... That's been really fascinating to them. But, so much of their focus in their career path with their degree has been on learning their music and sharpening their technical skills and strengthening their craft, which is of course really vital to their degree path. But, it's been really eye-opening to them to witness this world of voice science. You know? It's a new creature to them. They didn't know it really existed and it's been really kind of enlightening to them. And, realizing that there are people investigating the inner workings of their instrument that they... Like Lauren said, they don't have the luxury of seeing this or even setting it down and walking away when they're done practicing. It's in their body. They take it with them and everything they put in their body could possibly affect it and the way they treat their body could affect their voices. So, you know, if this is inspiring and creating future voice scientists, all the better, because a lot of our singers will eventually train other singers in one way or another. I mean, from my department, we're teaching the bachelor of music education folks and also vocal performance folks and both of them will be working with singers likely at some point in their life, but the BME students in particular, they're our front liners. You know? There are a lot of times they're going to be the first voice teacher that a lot of students will have when they become choral conductors. But, I imagine in Lauren's world, too... You know, she's got these performers that might do some directing someday. And so, everything that we do is getting passed out, again, through these kids.
Lauren Weber:Sorry. It's so fascinating to see these creative beings become interested in the hard science and how that informs them as vocal athletes. I think it helps them realize how they're professional voice users, how they're vocal athletes, because they see this direct relationship. My students have been really excited by these, asking these kind of questions, being engaged in the research, even wanting to join us in some of the research protocol and things have just been really fun to see.
Derek Smith:Well, that's exciting. A multiplier effect, for sure, and we're going to look forward to seeing what more you have in store as you continue this research and expand into other areas. Kimberly and Lauren, thanks so much for taking the time to share with us. It's a topic we really haven't been able to discuss on the program before, so thanks for opening that up to us.
Lauren Weber:Thanks for having us.
Kimberly Monzon:Thank you so much.
Derek Smith:Dr. Kimberly Monzon and Lauren Weber, our guests today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.