reVoice

Riva Capellari

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Located in Brookside in the heart of Kansas City


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A Strong Voiced at any Age

In his book, The Odyssey of the Voice, R. Arking, defines aging as “the time -independent series of cumulative, progressive, intrinsic, and deleterious functional and structural changes that usually begin to manifest themselves at reproductive maturity and eventually culminate in death1. Sounds rather daunting, but hopefully you will continue to read on for the good news!

While those of us in the throes of this process are only too aware of how getting older effects us, one area not generally addressed in magazine articles or advertisements for younger looking skin or vitamin supplements, is the voice.

We sometimes forget our voice is really a part of our respiratory system. The vocal folds are valves that open and close to allow air to go in and out of the lungs. Speaking and singing are secondary activities for these delicate, tiny little strands of tissue and muscle. They are intimately tied to our body and all that wrecks havoc upon it, not just physiologically, but emotionally and mentally. Vocal aging arises from anatomical and physiological changes to our body2 . There is no magic pill to keep us singing like we did in our younger years, but learning to love your voice at any age is possible, especially if you work at keeping it in shape like you do the rest of your body!

You may notice some changes in your speaking ability or if you sing, how difficult it has become to hold out long phrases or hit those high notes. So while everyone’s “vocal aging” is different 3, here is some information on what happens to our voices as we get older . Let’s go step by step, running through the various systems that support phonation.

Most new voice students will almost always mention “breath control” as an area in which they feel inadequate. As we age, our lungs lose their elasticity, while vital capacity (greatest amount of air that can be expelled from the lungs after a maximum inhalation) can decrease up to 40%. Problems with oxygen diffusion develop and our abdominal muscles deteriorate, all of which impact the strength needed to sing with greater volume 4 . Our ability to breathe can even be effected by changing alighnment from spine curvatures such as kyphosis or degeneration of vertebrae discs 5 . Muscles weaken and the elastic recoil of the ribs is less “springy”, weakening their contraction ability and making it more difficult to control the air pressure needed for the various demands of singing.6

In the larynx (voice box), ossification begins, stiffening joints that are essential in opening, closing and stretching the vocal folds, diminishing their mobility and effecting pitch changes 7 . This results in breathiness in the tone as the folds’ closure is not firm. The cellular structure of the vocal folds themselves changes. They lose elastic and collegen fibers in the layers, becoming thinner, stiffer, and fragmented with rough edges8. Vocal fold vibration is altered, influencing tone color and pitch and inviting aperiodicy. In addition, our neuromuscular system begins to slow down. Late arrival of messages from our brain can lead to unsteady phonation including pitch inaccuracites 9 from jerky movements in our vocal mechanism. Our vibrato starts to wobble and articulation speed and precision deteriorates 10.

Our vocal tract, which filters the sound coming from our vocal folds, experiences alterations in volume and shape11, effecting tone color and resonance. Facial bones expand12 and dental problems occur which can negatively effect occlusion and enunciation13. The temporomandibular joint suffers from thinning discs and a regressive remodeling of the structure 14 . The tongue and throat muscles atrophy, mucosa decreases in indensity, leaving us with dry mouth, hoarseness and increased viscosity15 . All these changes create a new playing field and leave their mark on the final vocal product.

So what does all this do?

Women undergo a lowering of their speaking and singing voice after menopause16 (remember that old song, Mama Sang Tenor?), while men may have a small increase in their pitch from loss of muscle mass (a good part of the vocal folds is muscle), shortened vocal folds and stiffness17. Loss of muscle fibers in our vocal folds and respiratory system makes us work harder for the same result, in many cases, leading us to compensate by overusing the muscles in our tongue, jaw and neck18,, and employing greater abdominal expansion 19 when we try to sing louder. Older voices fatigue sooner and are more unstable, making it difficult to sustain pitches20.

Older adults are subject to an assortment of aging issues such as depression, hormonal changes, edema, heart disease, osteoporosis, vision, COPD, hearing loss, weight gain, less energy, stiff joints, cognitive impairment21 – yikes!!! Our ability or perception of our ability to communicate well is a big factor in quality of life measures22. One way to help up your score here is to take voice lessons! Singing can expand your range, improve breath management for longer and louder phonation ( you can even increase your vital capacity by putting greater demands on your singing little by little as you would for other muscles in your body) and generally increase agility, accuracy and endurance with the help of a variety of vocal exercises that can strengthen the voice 23. Kind of like vocal jogging!

So don’t let age get in the way of your social or singing life. Learn to enjoy your voice now and explore what it can do, not what it can’t. After years of singing high soprano, I am now enjoy learning mezzo soprano repertoire and singing jazz and musical theatre tunes. Although I sometimes yearn for those years when my high notes were easy and always available, I find comfort in the new ways I can express all the experiences I have accumulated from years lived.

1 Brunssen, Karen. The Evolving Singing Voice: Changes Across the Life Span. San Diego: Plural, 2018. p. 210

2 Lortie, Catherine, Melanie Thibeault, Matthieu J. Guitton, Pascale Tremblay. “Effects of age on the amplitude, frequency and perceived voice quality of voice”. PMC Labs. 2015.

3 Brunssen, Karen. The Evolving Singing Voice: Changes Across the Life Span. San Diego: Plural, 2018. p. 210

4 Fox DeMaio, Barbara. “The Effect of Menopause on the Elite Singing Voice: Singing Through the Storm.” DMA Dissertation, Shenandoah Conservatory. 2013: 90

5 Brunssen, Karen. The Evolving Singing Voice: Changes Across the Life Span. San Diego: Plural, 2018. p. 214

6 Ibid

7 Lortie, Catherine, Melanie Thibeault, Matthieu J. Guitton, Pascale Tremblay. “Effects of age on the amplitude, frequency and perceived voice quality of voice”. PMC Labs. 2015.

8 Sataloff, Rober t. and Karen M. Kost, “The Effects of Age on the Voice, Part 3”. Journal of Singing.

9 Fox DeMaio, Barbara. “The Effect of Menopause on the Elite Singing Voice: Singing Through the Storm.” DMA Dissertation, Shenandoah Conservatory. 2013: 7

10 Ibid

11 Brunssen, Karen. The Evolving Singing Voice: Changes Across the Life Span. San Diego: Plural, 2018. p. 219

12 Ibid

13 Sataloff, Rober t. and Karen M. Kost, “The Effects of Age on the Voice, Part 3”. Journal of Singing.

14 Sataloff, Rober t. and Karen M. Kost, “The Effects of Age on the Voice, Part 2”. Journal of Singing. September/October 202o Vol. 77. No.1 pg. 66.

15 Fox DeMaio, Barbara. “The Effect of Menopause on the Elite Singing Voice: Singing Through the Storm.” DMA Dissertation, Shenandoah Conservatory. 2013: 6,7

16 Brunssen, Karen. The Evolving Singing Voice: Changes Across the Life Span. San Diego: Plural, 2018. p. 211

17 Leon, EdD and Graham Welch, Phd, co-eds. BodyMind and Voice and the Foundations of Voice Education. Book 3, 2nd Edition. The VoiceCare Network, National Center for Voice and Speech, Fairview Voice Center, Centre for Advanced Studies in Music Education, 2000. p. 753

18 Sataloff, Rober t. and Karen M. Kost, “The Effects of Age on the Voice, Part 3”. Journal of Singing. January/February 2021. Vol 77. No. 3.

19 Lortie, Catherine, Melanie Thibeault, Matthieu J. Guitton, Pascale Tremblay. “Effects of age on the amplitude, frequency and perceived voice quality of voice”. PMC Labs. 2015.

20 Ibid.

21 David, Marilee. “The Effects of Aging on the Voice”. Journal of Singing. November/December, 2015.

22 Lortie, Catherine, Melanie Thibeault, Matthieu J. Guitton, Pascale Tremblay. “Effects of age on the amplitude, frequency and perceived voice quality of voice”. PMC Labs. 2015.

23 Leon, EdD and Graham Welch, Phd, co-eds. BodyMind and Voice and the Foundations of Voice Education. Book 3, 2nd Edition. The VoiceCare Network, National Center for Voice and Speech, Fairview Voice Center, Centre for Advanced Studies in Music Education, 2000. p. 755

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