Miranda Wright '14

Hometown: Knoxville, TN
Major: Vocal Performance
Senior Study Title: “Vocal Disorders and the Voice Care Network”
Advisor: Dr. Alicia Massie-Legg    

Thesis Abstract

During the first semester of her junior year, Miranda Wright ’14 took Alicia Massie-Legg’s class on vocal pedagogy, which covered how to sing healthily – and the repercussions of not singing healthily.

“The repercussions of not singing healthily shocked and interested me at the same time,” said Wright, a singer who, as a student, performed with the Maryville College Concert Choir and in the College’s “Opera Scenes” performances. “One repercussion of not singing healthily can be, at worst, total loss of your singing voice as you once knew it. As a singer, I can't imagine a worse fate.”

She wanted to learn more about common vocal disorders, or ailments of the voice that can prevent vocal professionals from successfully continuing with their careers, so she decided to tackle the topic for her Senior Study, with Massie-Legg as her advisor.

Massie-Legg, artist associate of vocal music and musicology at Maryville College, said she thought that Wright’s idea to focus on vocal disorders was an “excellent” Senior Study for someone graduating with a degree in vocal performance.

“As a vocalist, Miranda needs to be intensely aware of the most common disorders, their causes and how to avoid them,” she said. “The maintenance of vocal health, called vocal hygiene, will determine whether or not a singer will be able to continue singing professionally for as long as general physical health will allow.”

Because singers rely heavily on their voices, it is imperative that they have knowledge of common vocal disorders, Wright said. In her Senior Study, Wright explored five of the most common vocal disorders: vocal nodules, spasmodic dysphonia, vocal polyps, vocal cysts and vocal fold hemorrhage.

Wright said that singers must also know where to seek treatment for vocal disorders, and the most effective current treatments available are through voice care networks, or voice care teams, which are groups of professionals who diagnose and treat vocal disorders. This includes both physicians and non-physicians: otolaryngologists, speech-language pathologists and singing voice specialists or acting voice specialists.

The second chapter of Wright’s Senior Study focuses on voice care networks, each team member’s individual job, and how the team works together to diagnose and treat vocal disorders. The chapter also includes information about proper vocal hygiene “in the hope of providing practical information on how to keep the voice healthy and prevent the development of a disorder,” she wrote.

The most challenging aspect of her study was the research – on some subjects, there was quite a bit of research, making it difficult to decide what to use, and on other subjects, she had difficulty finding any sources to use.

“I learned so much,” Wright said. “I gained valuable knowledge on what bad singing habits can lead to vocal disorders. I also learned a great deal about the differences between different vocal disorders. Beyond that, I was able to better understand what the professionals who deal with these disorders do, which helped me to understand better what I want to do in the future.”

Massie-Legg was so impressed with her student’s Senior Study that she recommended it for the library’s permanent collection.

“I felt Miranda very carefully researched scientific information in order to identify the most common vocal disorders,” Massie-Legg said. “Her synthesis of the scientific information was very good, enabling her to communicate her understanding of the known or hypothesized causes and to discuss possible treatment plans.”

Now a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in vocal pedagogy at Belmont University in Nashville, Wright said her Senior Study encompasses her career goals.

“I would love nothing more than to spend my career focusing on vocal disorders, whether that be researching them, treating/rehabilitating singers with vocal disorders, or simply making my goal in teaching voice be to teach my students to sing healthily first and foremost,” Wright said. “I absolutely credit the Senior Study process at MC for helping me to find out what my passion is. If I wasn't able to spend a year researching this, I may have never found out what I really love doing.”

Massie-Legg said her student’s Senior Study not only helped her prepare for further studies at the graduate level – it helped her as a vocalist.

“Miranda will actively engage in singing, either professionally or on a volunteer basis, for the rest of her life,” Massie-Legg said. “Her study of vocal disorders will help her to protect the health of her voice in order to do so.”