Jennifer Spielman 2000

Jennifer Spielman’s talents span the disciplines and radiate creativity. She graduated from CU in December of 2000. She also has a BA in music with a specialty in voice from the State University of Stony Brook in New York (1986), and a Masters of Music in musicology from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston (1989). “And”, Jennifer tells us, “because I love school so much, I spent several years in Switzerland (starting in 1989) studying ancient music and vocal performance at the Basel Conservatory. I didn’t get a degree but I certainly put in plenty of school work!”

Jennifer says that she was drawn to the field from two directions. “As a singer, I was thrilled to learn that a whole field of study existed that had within it a specialty focusing on the human voice and voice disorders. At the same time, I found myself reading books about language, brain damage, and consciousness – things like that – and so I became equally interested in the brain in general and neurological disorders in particular. In both cases I always felt more comfortable working with adults, and I still do. The real surprise to me came when Lori Ramig recruited me to work in her lab, where voice and neurological impairment intersect. I had no idea how deeply I would become involved in the world of clinical research, and how lucky I was to join a lab where some of the very best clinical research had already been done. For the past 10 years I’ve been able to satisfy my dual interests in brain and voice by studying and providing voice therapy (LSVT) for people with Parkinson disease, and being engaged at times in non-research voice therapy work helping singers, teachers and others who rely so heavily on their voices. Really, who doesn’t?”

When asked what she was most excited about in your field of expertise, She had to think it through carefully; "That’s kind of a tough question to answer. I’m equally in love with the clinical and research parts of my career, and I value both the Parkinson and non-Parkinson work I’ve been involved in. Working as a member of Lori Ramig’s LSVT research team at the Denver office of the National Center for Voice and Speech has afforded me incredible opportunities to meet and collaborate with some brilliant and inspiring people both within and outside of our field. Her contributions to understanding and treating communication disorders in Parkinson disease are really unparalleled, and being any part of that is immensely gratifying.

I’ve also been able to work with NCVS director Ingo Titze and his remarkable team as they study voice use and voice disorders in teachers. In both cases I’ve had the luxury of spending a good deal of my time thinking, reading, experimenting, writing, and brainstorming while always staying involved in clinical work. When it comes down to it, when you’re involved in research you can pretty much get excited about anything as long as you’re interested in learning. Clinically, there’s really nothing like hearing someone with Parkinson disease tell you 'I’ve got my voice back,' 'I’m so much more confident now,' or any number of wonderful things we hear so often. Lives can change in a single month.”

As for Jennifer’s memories of her time at SLHS, “I clearly remember sitting in on the aphasia diagnostic group during my leveling year, before I knew much if anything at all about aphasia. I expected to be a fly on the wall, but instead I was asked for input, the instructor being of the opinion that anyone can have insight and that sometimes the people the fewest expectations can see things that others can’t. I don’t know if I offered up anything useful but I certainly learned that I had a well of other experiences and knowledge I could draw from, which made me feel a whole lot more competent than I might have felt as I tried to navigate through an entirely new discipline. Socially, I met some warm and wonderful people, teachers as well as students, some of whom I’m still very close to. Lori Ramig – who I can call my boss, my mentor, and my friend – has been a constant source of inspiration to me over the years. There isn’t enough room to say all I can say about her. She’s also a LOT of fun!”

What sounds like a full plate of professional activities to many of us doesn’t rule out creative enterprise for Jennifer as we discovered when we asked about her hobbies/interests. “These days a lot of my energy goes into a chocolate business (Black Star Chocolates) I started with a few years ago with Andrew Starr, a good friend and former NCVS colleague. The back-story is on our website The short version of the story is that we both love food and each made chocolate at home as a hobby. One thing led to another and we opened a business just about 2 years ago. We do everything ourselves and it’s all made by hand, and we’re very proud of what we do, but also very tired. I have an extremely understanding husband!" MIght we add that their chocolate is award winning? Check out the article on winning top honors at the Colorado Chocolate Festival in a recent issue of Westword! They will also be featured in the upcoming September 2012 issue of Denver's 5280:The Denver Magazine. "When I’m not doing that, or working, I try to travel as much as I can (never enough), cook, read, go to the theater, go to concerts, eat the fanciest food I can afford, and one of these days I swear I’m going to start hiking again. I stopped singing professionally a few years ago but starting up again is always in the back of my mind."

Jennifer credits her family for her venture, which combines science and art. She was a professional singer and when she decided to move away from it, her mother, Adrienne Karp, a retired audiologist, suggested speech pathology as a career. “She was the one who learned about the field of voice disorders and vocology, so I credit her with my being where I am now." Her mother worked in various New York hospitals and was a specialist and author in the hearing and vision loss field.

Jennifer’s father, Stan Spielman, is a retired engineer but a writer at heart. “Music runs in both sides of my family. The combination of music, science and clinical stuff that runs in my family definitely primed me for my current career. There are plenty of accomplished people in my family (there’s a whole bunch of talented visual artists -- sadly I missed that gene) but I think my sister Melissa really nailed it by winning the Linnean Society award for the best dissertation in botany during an academic year. I guess I’d better mention my husband Bruce too (as I’ve said, the world’s most understanding husband). He’s one of the most curious people I know, but I’d say his defining feature is a love of being underground. One of our first unofficial dates was a caving trip I for some reason agreed to go on. It was actually really fun but after about 5 different caving trips I’ve decided I much prefer being above ground."

Exciting changes are at hand for Jennifer now. “I’m actually at a point where I will be transitioning from full time research to private practice, which is a very big change. My goal is to stay engaged in research and also see a wide variety of voice clients. I have no idea how this will turn out, but I’m very excited about it. In a perfect world, I will be able to use my clients’ voice recordings for research projects as well. As we learn at CU, anyone who steps into your clinic is a potential study subject. Having worked in a lab for so many years I feel ready to set myself up with the right kind of equipment and the appropriate human subjects documentation, and I’ve also learned that behind the intimidating names in our field are very kind, passionate and generous people who are more than happy to lend you expertise and perhaps even collaborate.”

We are always interested in how alums stay in touch with fellow SLHS classmates. Jennifer obviously enjoys these connections. “Every time I go to a conference I’m in “danger” of running into a former classmate or teacher, and it’s always wonderful to catch up – I love seeing where my classmates are now. Probably the most memorable gathering, though, was the celebration we had the night Lori Ramig was awarded ASHA honors. After the large ASHA party, a small group of us made our way to a special undisclosed location and had a blast. I should also mention that one of my other recent and meaningful experiences was simply sitting down to breakfast with three other leveling students and good friends from my class – Krista Ingle, Carli Hartmann Varga, Chris Rose Zwolfer. It’s amazing how quickly time can fly and how long it had been since we’d sat at the same table. We just caught up and kept smiling at each other. I need to make that happen again.”

You can link to Jennifer’s NCVS bio at She will soon launch her own private practice website so stay tuned.

Many thanks to Jennifer for responding to our spotlight questions. We wish you the very best in your new endeavors!