Vocal Studies

Otto B. Schoepfle Vocal Arts Center

two students testing voice levels using computer equipment.
Two conservatory students look at a sonograph that captured their voice phonations and displayed them as waves on a computer screen.
Photo credit: Julie Gulenko ’15

Students can monitor their progress as vocalists using the scientific instrumentation in the Otto B. Schoepfle Vocal Arts Laboratory, the first laboratory of its kind to be incorporated into a program of vocal instruction in the United States.

Named for a long-time supporter of the conservatory, this laboratory includes stroboscopic and fiber-optic instrumentation that can display four types of vocal analyses concurrently, allowing examination of both the function and the timbre of the artistic singing voice.

Students use the sophisticated audio and video equipment to record, play back, and analyze their performances.

The laboratory also houses:

  • a sonograph workstation that transforms the phonations of the voice into electrical signals and displays them as waves on a computer screen
  • a computerized system for analyzing, synthesizing, and manipulating vocal sounds
  • a nasometer, which measures nasality in the voice
  • a laryngograph, which determines the accuracy of pitch and vocal onset
  • a spirometer, which tests critical pulmonary functions to determine vital capacity and flow rate
  • and a system to measure levels of air flow, air pressure, and sound pressure.

Students using the resources in the center can work with conservatory faculty members Lorraine Manz and Salvatore Champagne.

The purpose of the Otto B. Schoepfle Vocal Arts Center (OBSVAC) is to further the art of singing through the application of measurable analyses. Although the traditional language of imagery is useful in the teaching of singing, the singing voice is a physical and acoustic instrument (aerodynamic/myoelastic) that depends on the coordination of vocal-fold vibration, airflow, and resonation factors.

When relying solely on subjective experience, it is often difficult for a teacher of singing to convey how healthy and efficient vocal function can best be achieved. Specificity of communicable language is increased through visual and auditory feedback; the singer is thereby able to overcome technique problems more quickly, arriving sooner at effective artistic expression.

Acoustic analysis can measure such parameters of the singing voice as stability of the fundamental frequency, resonance balancing (including relationships among regions of acoustic strength in the sung spectrum, i.e., 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th formants), vowel definition and modification (covering), the clean onset of vocal sound, the presence or absence of legato, intensity changes, and vibrato rate.

Observations include visual representation of vowel tracking, balanced vocal timbre, degrees of nasality during the production of sung and spoken phonations, economy of airflow, and the degree of freedom at the laryngeal level through comparing breathy, pressed, and normal phonation. Effects on the artistic result is precisely measurable.

A singer may simultaneously view spectrum analysis and stage demeanor, as well as other performance facets, while listening to a playback of the performance. Through the use of a video window generator and changing vocal spectra and other selected acoustic and physical factors, the entire procedure can be filmed, and printouts can be made. Such information is of value to all styles of vocalism, and is of great assistance in improving patterns of performance behavior.

Pedagogic and artistic values are not limited to the study of an individual’s own instrument. OBSVAC’s ability to analyze the techniques and artistry from recorded performances of great singing artists (including videotapes) by vocal category (sopranos, mezzo-sopranos, tenors, baritones and basses) offers the singing student and voice researchers a powerful study resource.

(Authored by Richard Miller)

Voice performance majors are invited to apply for assistant positions and receive specialized training. Student assistants give presentations to visitors, classes, and meet with other students in individual appointments.

There is also opportunity to collaborate with OBSVAC faculty on in-house studies and protocols.

In 1989, in response to a proposal devised by Professor Richard Miller, the Kulas Foundation pledged generous funding to purchase equipment for an acoustic laboratory that would measure the events of the singing voice. This contribution was matched by the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram.

The laboratory was named in honor of Otto B. Schoepfle, long actively associated with both media and music in Northeastern Ohio. As the needs of the laboratory developed, additional grants were provided by the Kulas Foundation and from private donors.

The Otto B. Schoepfle Vocal Arts Center (OBSVAC) was officially dedicated Dec. 17, 1989.

Because of extensive use of the laboratory, and the need for space to accommodate additional instrumentation, new quarters were developed and dedicated in February 1998. OBSVAC is housed in the conservatory’s Robertson Hall, 306-308.