By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)
I had the chance to speak to Shevaun Pope, an experienced music theatre performer who is currently undertaking a degree in speech pathology. You can keep up to date with Shevaun’s singing adventures through her Instagram here
You have performed in many music theatre productions, not only traditional musicals from the 1950s and 1960s, but also many newly-composed musicals. How do the two styles compare, do you have a preference for a certain style of music theatre?
It’s so hard to compare those two styles as I think that musical theatre has become an umbrella term for a range of different styles and genres. I think musical scores started to become very clever after the golden age of theatre, with composers like Stephan Sondheim ruling the scene. To this day I think musical theatre continues to develop its styles and there are some amazing composers out there who are writing challenging and clever music. One of my all -time favourite composers is Adam Guettel, who wrote the score to The Light in the Piazza.
I don’t have a preference for certain musical styles, but I recently played Mabel in Pirates of Penzance and I absolutely loved performing those beautiful soprano songs!
When did you realise that you wanted to pursue speech therapy?
I realised I wanted to study speech therapy when I discovered my love for vocal techniques towards the end of my high school studies. I got to the point in my vocal training where I was just craving information on how the voice worked and how I could change my voice to create certain sounds. I was lucky to have such inspiring vocal teachers throughout high school who constantly challenged me to develop my voice and learn more about my own voice and how I use it.
Aside from the singing aspect of speech pathology, I really wanted a career where I was going to be able to help people and make a difference.
Why are you passionate about speech therapy?
Speech pathology is all about promoting communication. Being able to communicate is an item in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s really easy to take our ability to use our voices to communicate, for granted. For me, it was not until I started studying speech pathology that I realised how many people do not have a voice or a way to express themselves. This is something that is really at the heart of why I chose to study speech pathology, to help people communicate with dignity and flourish within their society.
I’m passionate about the research behind the evidence-based intervention in speech pathology, that enables frequent voice users to use their voice effectively and with care. Vocal health is so important for frequent voice users, it’s so easy to use and abuse our voice without even thinking about it. In regards to singing, I believe it is so important that singers learn how their voices work. It’s something I’m very passionate about. Having an understanding on how the larynx and the muscles surrounding are working not only allows a singer to know and become familiar with their voices/body, it allows them to adjust their technique with the help of vocal teachers or speech pathologists to ensure they are optimising their vocal health and efficiency.
I’m sure there are quite a few overlapping ideas with speech therapy and studying singing. Has coming at speech therapy from a singing background assisted with your studies?
Definitely! I think my knowledge of my own vocal technique definitely benefited my studies when completing anatomy subjects. It has surprisingly also come in handy when analysing the perceptual vocal, resonance and prosody features of patients with neurological damage from brain injury or stroke.
A lot of evidence-based methods that I have used in the past with singing teachers, such as the Estill Voice Training method and Accent Method, are promoted in speech pathology intervention too which has definitely benefited my knowledge of different therapy techniques.
How do you envision incorporating music performance into your future? Will you continue to perform for fun/ professionally as you also get work doing speech therapy?
Right now I’m really enjoying performing in my local theatre shows! I would love to one day perform professionally, but right now I’m really motivated to develop my speech pathology career.
In future I would love to study music therapy and incorporate music into my speech pathology practise! I would love to create a social group for kids with special needs that focuses promoting wellbeing and friendships through the use of music and creativity.
What is your favourite thing about performing in shows?
My favourite thing about performing in shows is being able to express myself through music and dance. There’s no better feeling than standing on stage and getting to sing amazing music with talented and inspiring people!
How do you find time to nurture the musical side of your life, while studying speech therapy and working? How do you approach vocal practise and repertoire learning?
It’s definitely a challenge. Studying full time is a hard gig, adding work into the mix is even harder. But when you love something you always find time for it. For me, my singing lessons and rehearsals are a break from my busy life, and my time to be present and around like-minded people.
Keeping a consistent vocal practice routine is definitely difficult with a busy uni schedule, but I dedicate one night a week to my personal vocal practice and repertoire learning. This is usually in the form of a singing lesson, a few hours of practicing my repertoire songs or even just vocal rest if I have had a busy week of using my voice. I’m very lucky to have a Speech Pathologist as a singing teacher who’s always giving me new tips on how I can optimise my vocal health. Recently I’ve implemented a morning vocal warm-up with the use of a ten minute straw phonation exercise, I do it every morning before I start my day!