Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Laryngectomee Choir

This video came to my attention today:

I'm interested to see how unfamiliar listeners react to the sound of this choir.

Do they recoil in disgust or puzzle in interest over how these choristers voicing?

This choir is formed by laryngectomees (a.k.a those who have had their larynx removed). There are social stigmas against laryngectomees. As if they deserve the removal of their larynx (a.k.a. voice box) because they used to smoke. This is not always the case. In the hospital, I have seen some laryngectomees that have never smoked a cigarette a day in their life; however, they were exposed to second-hand smoke.

Laryngectomees produce voice by using a one-way valve that directs air from the trachea (a.k.a. wind pipe) into their esophagus (a.k.a food pipe). This one-way value is called a tracheoesophageal puncture (TEP). It's a plastic valve prosthesis that is inserted in the wall between the esophagus and trachea. It's a one way valve because air is only allowed to go from the trachea into the esophagus, not the other way around. If it was a two way valve, then any food or liquid going towards the stomach could be channeled through the valve and into the lungs. Food in your lungs? Never a good thing.

On the outside of your trachea is a stoma (aka. hole opening) so a laryngectomee can still breathe by essentially having an open channel to their lungs. When this hole is plugged with a finger from the outside, the air coming from the lungs is directed through the TEP valve and up through the esophagus to vibrate structures in the lower pharynx (a.k.a throat) and upper esophagus. Then using regular tongue, lips, and teeth articulatory patterns, users can then form speech.

In the video, you're probably able to hear a really rough voice source. Well, that's what it sounds like when you're vibrating the tissues in the lower back part of your throat. There is an impressive range of expression and pitch variation in the choir. This is coming from manipulating the resonance of the vocal tract (a.k.a the speaker moves their tongue, soft palate, lips and teeth to maximize resonance).

Regardless of the type of medical, social, or emotional barriers that can handicapp people, everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard. It's empowering to see choristers embrace this fact, even when they have no larynx.

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