BAST’s Alexa Terry review’s the latest book from respected laryngologist Dr Reena Gupta.

Sam Smith, Adele, Wilma the kindergarten teacher, Caissie Levy, George Salazar, Bob from the local amateur dramatics society, and Natalie Dessay – all voice users of different vocal genres and level of demand, but with something very similar in common: they have all experienced vocal injury.

If Lionel Messi strained his hamstring, would we say he wasn’t a good football player? Or if Roger Federer tore his Achilles tendon during play, would he be expected to carry on? No matter the injury, Messi and Federer would still rank highly within their sporting field, and neither are likely to be advised to “push through” in order to compete. Unfortunately, injury in the vocal athlete isn’t given the same consideration.

Until someone invents a way for us to unlock the throat to gander directly at the larynx, a laryngoscope is the only way to determine the true condition of the vocal folds. As vocal coaches we are an important figure in a vocalist’s network, so continuing to educate ourselves on vocal health and pathology will help us to support our clients’ longevity. This is why you need The OHNI Voice Book: Straight Talk with Reena Gupta by Dr Reena Gupta.

Who is Dr Reena Gupta?

From basement showtune singer to director at Osborne Head and Neck Institute in Los Angeles, Dr Reena Gupta is a respected laryngologist specialising in vocal injury in the professional voice user. With a passion for both art and science, Dr Gupta is invested in educating others with the most current information about not only the appropriate protocol when a vocal injury occurs, but how injury can be prevented in order for singers, actors and speakers to continue communicating their message.

In a nutshell, this book is …

A detailed yet light discussion about vocal health and pathology; a reliable resource easily digested in one sitting, without the risk of a science-induced headache.

What this book IS and ISN’T:

 This book is for you if you’re looking to:

  • Learn basic vocal anatomy and function
  • Understand what to expect at a laryngeal screening to help guide your clients appropriately
  • Learn how a professional voice user can maintain optimal vocal health and prevent injury
  • Discover the causes of vocal injury and some of the symptoms
  • Understand more about surgical intervention and rehabilitation
  • Increase your knowledge about vocal wellness as a whole in order to educate others and to contribute to a positive change in industry attitude.

If you are an inherent book sniffer and like to feel the pages between your fingers like me – bad luck. We will have to exist in the digital world for a while as this book appears to be available only via a Kindle device or Kindle app, currently priced at £1.56 (an absolute steal!).

What’s covered?
  • Vocal anatomy: A short yet detailed exploration of the three factory wheels of voice production: source (breathing mechanism), vibrator (larynx) and filter (resonating chambers). Here, the audience can read about the important muscles used in inhalation and exhalation, the layers of the vocal folds, intrinsic and extrinsic laryngeal muscles and the laryngeal nerves.
  • Formants and harmonics: A brief description of what formants and harmonics are, but which leaves the details to the likes of Ken Bozeman and David Howard.
  • Understanding the nose: A short discussion about what happens in the nose during a viral or allergy attack, and how singers can better their vocal health via nose care.
  • Getting scoped: The importance of having a baseline scope (or what Dr Reena Gupta calls “a preventative exam”) for comparison and understanding the many different scope technologies from videostroboscopy to flexible fiberoptic laryngoscopy.
  • Vocal health tips: Advice on how to maintain a healthy instrument in everyday life, and ways in which to reduce the risk of a vocal injury occurring.
  • Acid reflux: What it is and common triggers.
  • Myth busting: Is whispering vocally damaging? Does honey really soothe the vocal folds? Is drinking ginger tea any safer than taking aspirin?
  • Self manipulations and stretches: A description of three exercises which a singer can be guided by for releasing tension.
  • Pathologies: Causes, symptoms and likely treatments of both acute and chronic vocal injuries, as well as a guide on how a medical appointment should be carried out with the most appropriate voice specialist.
  • The vocal team: Who a singer would benefit from having in their support network.
  • Surgery and recovery: An insight into vocal surgery and rehabilitation.
Stepping into the pages:

Dr Reena Gupta doesn’t treat the reader as a medical colleague, neither are we patronised or left feeling like we need to retake our biology SATs exam. We are regarded as fellow voice lovers and are guided through each chapter with coherency (albeit with scattered repetitions), and without brain-rattling intricacies to remind us why we didn’t pursue a career in medicine. Author trust is instilled within us immediately (and us within her) as we are introduced to pre-teen Gupta, undergraduate Gupta, and successful Dr and Mother Gupta.

The book is sprinkled with anecdotes and visual treats, some which redirect you to OHNI’s YouTube channel to watch demonstrations of scopes and see examples of certain vocal injuries.

The more in-depth details of a topic have been separated from the main commentary, highlighted in blue boxes of vocal geekery. However, the reader is encouraged to skip over these until they feel ready to indulge in such “nerdery”.

Talking points
Nasal resonance

Dr Reena Gupta mentions the notion of “nasal resonance” when discussing nose care. Despite the nasal cavity having resonances, the ongoing argument seems to be whether it can be regarded as a resonating chamber in the same way that the throat and mouth are, and whether it provides much resonance to a singer’s sound at all. Nasality or “nasal tone” might be appropriate when working with character voice or accents, for example, but is it something to call upon for resonance benefits? Expert vocal coaches Chris Johnson and Steve Giles discuss this further in this iSing Magazine article.

Scarves

Dr Reena Gupta states: “You do not need to wrap your neck to protect your vocal folds.” We can all conjure the image of that comedic stereotype: the diva singer who arrives at the studio with a woolly scarf big enough to fit the jolly green giant wrapped around their neck ten-fold. True, the scarf can’t impact the vocal folds directly, but what can it do for us?

Imagine venturing out for a walk on a crisp morning – sunny but cold (the best type of weather, if you ask me). By the time you return home you feel as if Mother Nature has given you a natural botox injection, with tight feeling cheeks and hands which are stiff to grip. This sensation of tightness is due to the muscles losing heat and therefore contracting. Shivering may occur which is small shaking movements of the muscles with the intention of creating more warmth, thus increasing body temperature. Singers who find themselves gritting their teeth against the cold as they queue at Winter casting calls, or those who have outside gigs (cue Times Square NYE performances in the snow), even those who feel the cold more in general would surely benefit from wearing a scarf to help prevent the extrinsic laryngeal muscles from becoming tense and impeding the voice.

Complementary resources

The National Centre for Voice and Speech is a credible complementary resource with an accessible database to research a list of medication, herbs, drug groups and symptoms to help maintain vocal health. Website: ncvs.org

I have devoured this book for the third time, now, and have made plenty of helpful notes – especially on the behaviour of the different vocal pathologies. For me, this book isn’t just for vocal coaches, singers, SLTs or any other voice user. It is for the composer, for the MD who orders belt for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and for the management who ask their sick client to just push through an illness for a week of performances, in case they ruin their chances of being nominated for an award.

If you have any questions or comments, or if you would like to share some of your favourite vocal pedagogy literature with us then you can find me and the BAST trainers in the BAST Facebook group. CLICK HERE to join.

About Alexa Terry

Alexa TerryAlexa Terry is a vocal coach, singer and writer based in Hampshire. She initially trained in Musical Theatre obtaining a BA Honours Degree from Bath Spa University and has since performed as lead vocalist onboard Aida Cruises, and for new musical theatre projects in London’s West End. Alexa regularly reviews for BritishTheatre.com and studied with Book, Music and Lyrics (BML) as a Musical Theatre librettist.