Posted by: Duke Raleigh Hospital | April 16, 2013

Finding Your Voice

Leda ScearceBy Leda Scearce, MM, MS, CCC-SLP, Singing Voice Specialist

Most people who don’t use their voices professionally don’t think much about them … until they “lose” them. Anyone who has ever been temporarily unable to speak knows the frustration that goes along with it.

World Voice Day (April 16) gives those of us in the business of caring for voices an opportunity to share our passion with you.

World Voice Day, started in Brazil in the 1990s, has grown in popularity each year since its founding and now includes events all over the globe. Often people aren’t as aware of the voice and diseases that affect it as, say, heart disease and cancers. This day gives everyone a chance to consider the gift of the human voice.

Duke Voice Care Center will celebrate with an event at Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $15. Space is limited, and registration is required. Register at, or call 919.681.4984 for more information.

It might surprise you to know that space is limited at an event commemorating World Voice Day, but our World Voice Day Celebrations have drawn audiences totaling more than 1,500 since our first event in 2007, which was held in the tiny lobby of Duke Medicine Plaza in 2007. We were hoping to have about 40 people show up, and we had double that number.

Our event has grown in scope and size each year. In 2010, we established the Duke Voice Care Center’s Patrick D. Kenan Award for Vocal Health and Wellness. The award recognizes people whose lives and careers have brought positive attention to the voice. It’s named in honor of a man all of us at Duke Voice Care Center loved and admired – Dr. Pat Kenan – the physician (and singer) who served as mentor to Dr. David Witsell, founder of the Voice Care Center at Duke.

This year’s honoree is North Carolina native Tift Merritt, a talented and critically lauded singer/songwriter who also brings attention to the voice and voice care through her public radio show, “The Spark with Tift Merritt.” Merritt will not only be on hand to receive her award, but she’ll also perform.

Past honorees are luminaries in the world of voice: Jazz singer Nnenna Freelon (2010), operatic bass-baritone Simon Estes (2011) and NPR personality and host scorekeeper of the radio program Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me Carl Kasell (2012).

Other attractions at our World Voice Day event will be a demonstration of laryngeal imaging, a session on “Care of the Singing Voice” with Duke experts and a panel discussion on “What Do We Mean When We Talk About Voice?” that will include North Carolina-based author Clyde Edgerton.

Besides entertaining and informing people, we hope to pass along some easy tips you can use to take care of your voice. Here’s a preview:

  • Drink lots of water. Just getting an adequate amount of water each day (2 liters a day is the goal) can clear up a host of voice issues.
  • Remember that caffeine and alcohol dehydrate. We’re not suggesting you eliminate them entirely. Just know that you need to drink adequate amounts of water to counterbalance their dehydrating effects.
  • Don’t smoke! Smoking causes laryngeal cancer and permanent changes to the vocal folds.
  • Avoid ways of using your voice that are traumatic. Clearing your throat, chronic coughing and yelling and screaming for your favorite team can all have an impact. We advise patients to find other ways to contribute to the team spirit.
  • If you sing, get training. There’s a risk of hurting yourself if you’re not properly trained. Singers are vocal athletes. We’d never expect an athlete to succeed without training, yet a lot of people say about American Idol contestants, “Wow, what a voice! And with no training.” That’s not necessarily a good thing. Singers have got to warm up and develop good technique just as athletes do.
  • If you notice a change in the quality of your voice, see a professional right away. It’s important to see a voice specialist.

Speaking of voice specialists, that’s exactly what we are. Our entire team specializes in the voice. That’s all we do. Our speech pathologists and laryngologists work in tandem to ensure the best outcome for our patients. Each of our speech pathologists has a separate subspecialty. For me, it is the singing voice. Gina Vess, Director of Clinical Programs, specializes in working with people with complicated medical backgrounds that may be contributing to their voice problems. We have voice therapists who work with occupational voice users (think teachers, clergy, attorneys …) and one who works with kids who have voice problems.

We hope you’ll get to know us on World Voice Day. Our philosophy is simple. Our voices are central to our identities. Everybody deserves to have the best voice they can, and we can help. Come to World Voice Day, and let your voice be heard!

Leda Scearce is a professional singer and co-program director of the Duke Voice Care Center. Learn more at

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