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August 4, 2005

Acoustic vocal laboratory in the works

A computer program designed to help choir singers improve harmonies is the latest innovation bringing science and music together. With a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Laurier Fagnan is set to establish Canada’s first vocal acoustics laboratory next year at the Faculté Saint-Jean. Fagnan, an assistant professor and choir conductor, will employ the laboratory for a variety of applications, including vocal pedagogy and linguistic research.

Singers, both choir and solo performers, will have the opportunity to utilize the laboratory to improve their singing in real time, allowing them to map their voices as they sing. “Acoustical analysis equipment will enable someone to sing into a microphone and see many of the properties of their voice displayed before them on a screen,” Fagnan explained.

They will be able to see how well they are singing in tune as they sing a phrase or as they sing different vowels; if they always go flat on one vowel, they’ll be able to see that and rectify it.” The laboratory will also enhance the way singers are trained, Fagnan explained. “It will be very interesting. We will be able to train singers by employing their ears and also their eyes,” Fagnan said.

Fagnan’s laboratory, which should be up and running within nine months, will open doors to a host of potential research opportunities, especially in the field of linguistics. As the only francophone postsecondary institution west of Winnipeg, Fagnan said that the Faculté Saint-Jean is a centre for French-speakers in Western Canada. “We have many Anglophones who come to the Faculté Saint Jean to study French, and one of our aims is to give them the best education in French that we possibly can. That includes—when they leave here, when they speak—having a beautiful French accent. “This lab will enable us to do some research into the question, ‘What is a beautiful French accent? What are its vocal components? What are its linguistic components?’” he explained.

The laboratory may also be used to develop special programs helpful to the speaking voices of schoolteachers. “Teachers often lose their voices in a school setting. When they’re speaking in front of a classroom for eight hours of the day there is a lot of vocal abuse, so we’ll be looking at ways in which we can develop a program that will be helpful to the speaking voice,” said Fagnan.

In addition to helping teachers, Fagnan, a scholar in bel canto—a method of operatic singing prevalent in 18th and 19th century Italy— hopes to further his research of adapting the bel canto method of vocal instruction for choral training. Using sophisticated equipment and software developed at the Paris-based Institute for Research in Musical Acoustics (IRCAM), Fagnan will marry the field of music, science, and technology to improve the sound quality of choral singers. “There will be equipment to analyze the efficient vibration of the vocal cords,” Fagnan said.

Such advanced equipment includes a plethysmograph, a set of electrodes placed around a person’s ribs that measures the use of air while they’re singing. “It will measure how the body and the voice work together and how breath control and vocal production can be looked at as a whole,” Fagnan explained. Fagnan hopes that his laboratory will create and facilitate more research projects and collaborations between postsecondary and research institutions. “This will really draw people to the Faculté Saint-Jean for collaborative research and make the Faculté a real place of excellence in vocal research,” Fagnan said.

Posted by acapnews at August 4, 2005 9:52 PM