Music and Science collaborate to help children

Vocal exam

Megan Decker with Dr. Maria Dietrich

Hitt Street Harmony

Hitt Street Harmony performing at Let's Talk Fundraiser

Susan Worstell

In September of 2016, approximately 15 voice majors in the School of Music participated in vocal health assessments with the Department of Communication Science and Disorders.  Dr. Maria Dietrich supervised these screenings, which also provided clinical experience for her own graduate students.  The screening included video stroboscopy viewing of the vocal folds as the students sang, vital capacity measurements for lungs, and assessment of signs of stress during speech.  These screenings provide important information for the singers pointing out areas of strength and areas that need attention.  It’s important to know if a physical issue needs to be addressed.  Much like an instrumentalist must keep his instrument in good repair, so must a singer.  

In exchange for the screenings, MU’s vocal jazz ensemble, Hitt Street Harmony, performed for Let’s Talk, a fundraiser which benefits the Robert G. Combs Language Preschool.  The Preschool was established and is supported by the Scottish Rite Masons of Columbia and serves children ages 2-5.  The program is designed both for children diagnosed with a speech and/or language challenge as well as children whose parents desire them to learn in a language focused environment.  "Let's Talk is our largest fundraiser of the year and it directly benefits children in need of speech-language therapy in Mid-Missouri," says Dr. Judith Goodman, Communication Science & Disorders Department Chair and Associate Professor at SHP.  "Our preschool program is unique in Columbia. Children get services backed by the most up-to-date research in a language-rich environment with a very low child-clinician ratio.”  Adds Greta Hull, Director of R.G. Combs Language Preschool, "The financial support plays a significant part in us being able to provide the care and resources to those in need of therapy treatment, but unable to receive it due to financial challenges." 

Julia Bentley, vocal instructor with the School of Music, was very instrumental in coordinating the exchange.  She explains, “One of my top priorities as a new faculty member was to get right over to the Department of Communication Science and Disorders, as access to the laryngeal imaging equipment is a very important part of the material I wanted to cover in the graduate Vocal Pedagogy syllabus. Dr. Maria Dietrich is a friend from having attended annual voice science conferences, and was immediately receptive to my proposal to organize base-line vocal health screenings for the entire freshman class of voice students. Screenings on this scale are new here, so our plan was to start small, and build up over successive semesters to perhaps including all music education students. Dr. Dietrich’s research focuses on stress in vocational voice users, and those music students engaged in their first teaching assignments are clearly an at-risk group in that regard! The screenings were a solid success, for the vocalists as well as for Dr. Dietrich’s graduate students, who participated as clinicians, and we look forward to repeating and expanding the process… Hitt Street Harmony sang beautifully for the crowd assembled at the Columbia Art League, who were quite moved and appreciative. For my part, I found it profoundly important to draw these young singers’ attention to how wondrous their gift of song is, particularly to the ears of these families whose own children are not yet able to express themselves with vocal ease. I am thrilled with every aspect of this collaboration, and I look forward to seeing it develop further.”

"This annual fundraiser is such a wonderful event and is so important to our clinic," says Leanna Lawrence, Director of the MU Speech and Hearing Clinic. "The funds raised, which allow us to offer scholarships and purchase much needed therapy materials, enable us to better meet the needs of our clients." Hitt Street Harmony director Kiernan Steiner was honored they could provide the entertainment for the event. “Having the opportunity to perform a cappella vocal music for the Let’s Talk fundraiser was very poignant because we were able to share music made by only our voices.  It was a heartwarming experience collaborating with this amazing organization!”