LINE HILTON visited the Philadelphia practice of top ENT Dr Robert Sataloff to see why it’s the go-to voice clinic for professional singers.
A quick glance at Dr Robert Sataloff’s CV reveals two things. Firstly, this is a man who is passionate about voice. The leading ENT surgeon holds several prestigious academic posts, is the author of 62 books and the inventor of 75 laryngeal microsurgical instruments.
Secondly, he clearly doesn’t get much sleep; in between juggling all of the above he teaches singing and conducts the Thomas Jefferson University Choir.
With all this in mind, I was delighted to get the chance to visit Dr Sataloff’s practice in Philadelphia and blown away by what I saw.
It really is the Rolls Royce of voice care, offering singers and other voice use professionals world leading treatment. Under one roof you’ll find ENTs, speech and language therapists (SLTs), singing voice specialists and audiologists.
If you’re a singer or actor experiencing vocal injury, voice loss, change in quality, loss of range or pain, Dr Sataloff and his team will look at every aspect of your physical and mental health and lifestyle to identify the problem and resolve it.
This rigorous approach has earned Dr Sataloff a reputation as one of America’s leading voice experts and made him the go-to ENT for stars of stage and screen.
It explains why the walls of his clinic are adorned with signed portraits of “Friends of the Practice”, a veritable who’s who of show biz that includes Gloria Estefan, Kathleen Turner, Luciano Pavarotti, Liza Minnelli and Julie Andrews.
What does Dr Sataloff’s practice offer?
If you’re a singer with a serious vocal issue, and find yourself in Dr Sataloff’s practice, what can you expect? The first step will involve a 360-degree assessment of your lifestyle, pathology and voice use. It will probably take a day and will be exhaustive (and exhausting if you’re the patient).
It will start with an ENT assessment and a scope. This will be followed by a consultation with an SLT who will take a full history and carry out an assessment. Next up you’ll see the singing voice specialist for another assessment (they’ll want to know about your singing history, vocal technique and warm-up regime). You’ll most likely be given some starter exercises to take away with you and other advice specific to your diagnosis.
I’ve never seen an approach to voice as broad in its outlook as this. Dr Sataloff and his team don’t just look at the vocal cords in isolation, they look at the whole picture and consider how lifestyle, diet, stress and medications are impacting voice use. (FYI Dr Sataloff recommends singers follow a gluten-free diet). It’s an inspiring ethos that I hope others will emulate in years to come.
On my visit I also managed to grab a few minutes with Dr Sataloff and ask him a few questions. Here’s what he had to say.
What should all singers understand about their voice and how to avoid vocal injury?
Singers are athletes. They need to recognise that just as other athletes have trainers and coaches, they too need to learn their craft. If they’re going to have successful careers they shouldn’t just rely on their untrained talents.
Singers need to be in good physical condition, including aerobic and core muscle condition. If they’re in good shape they’re going to be able to use strength muscles to sing rather than delicate neck muscles that were not designed for power functions.
My book 50 Ways to Abuse Your Voice: A Singer’s Guide To A Short Career looks at this in more depth.
And singers should not smoke. That includes vaping. It’s very irritating to the vocal folds.
Is it ever okay for a singer perform if they have a cold?
In some circumstances. I would say they can if:
- They have a cold that does not involve the larynx, and;
- They’re good technicians and can sing correctly by feel, and:
- They haven’t been taking anticoagulants such as aspirin, and:
- They can back off a little bit and not do things excessively loudly.
It’s a risk/benefit analysis. If they meet all these conditions and the concert is important enough, then it’s reasonable.
With severe laryngitis, it’s different. Most of the time the risks of haemorrhage are too high, in addition to which people [singing with laryngitis] don’t sound good. Critics don’t give you kudos for not cancelling a performance and being a trouper, they just publish that you sounded terrible. So in that situation, it’s not smart medically or artistically.
More about Dr Sataloff
We told you Dr Sataloff was a busy man. Here’s his CV to prove it.
Robert Thayer Sataloff, MD, DMA, FACS, is professor and chair of the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery and senior associate dean for clinical academic specialties at Drexel University College of Medicine. He is also adjunct professor in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University, adjunct clinical professor at Temple University and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, and is on the faculty of the Academy of Vocal Arts.
He is also chairman of the Boards of Directors of the Voice Foundation and of the American Institute for Voice and Ear Research.
He also has served as Chairman of the Board of Governors of Graduate Hospital; President of the American Laryngological Association, the International Association of Phonosurgery, the Pennsylvania Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, and The American Society of Geriatric Otolaryngology, and in numerous other leadership positions. Dr. Sataloff is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Voice; Editor-in-Chief of Ear, Nose and Throat Journal; Associate Editor of the Journal of Singing, and on the editorial boards of numerous otolaryngology journals.
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