Newswise — ST. LOUIS (Dec. 20, 2021) – Singers and professional speakers no longer have to choose between safety and sound, thanks to Stephanie Tennill, assistant professor of Music in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts at Saint Louis University. Through her research Tennill developed the VocalEase Acoustically Transparent Mask, which allows wearers to communicate clearly with authenticity and optimal vocal health.
Tennill, who structured the initial mask prototype using materials from in and around her home, received a SPARK grant from the Saint Louis University Research Institute for her promising design. The funding enabled her to work with biomedical engineer Andy Hall, D.Sc., director of the Saint Louis University Center for Additive Manufacturing, and professional costume designer Noelle Wagner to create a mask that could offer maximum clarity, comfort and protection for its wearer.
After months of trials and testing, and with the ongoing support of SLU, Tennill launched VocalEase – a company offering an acoustically transparent mask for speech and singing. She established the business as an LLC with a mission to achieve maximum social impact.
“This product allows singers and speakers to fearlessly and safely return to the community and share their collective gifts with the world,” said Tennill. “And in the spirit of giving, we aligned with partners that contribute to the common good by providing hope and opportunities to underserved individuals and organizations.”
VocalEase masks are produced in St. Louis by The Collective Thread – a nonprofit sewing collaborative that empowers vulnerable women by teaching them new skills and providing them a living-wage job – and packaged at JSI, a local sheltered workshop. With every mask sold, a portion of the proceeds supports VocalEase’s exclusive charitable partner, Sing for Hope – a national nonprofit that introduces underserved communities around the globe to the healing power of arts and music.
“It’s been an ambitious project and I’m so grateful to everyone who helped bring us to this moment,” said Tennill. “Supporting the arts is about giving to the community and bringing people together. The fact that this product has been able to do that – from production and packaging to performance – is extraordinarily humbling.”
Since its launch, the mask has received positive reviews by amateur and professional singers and speakers.
“Compared to any other mask I have tried, singing in the VocalEase mask is a true joy,” said Leann Schuering, professional singer and voice instructor. “I have full range of motion and can use my head, jaw and body the same as I would without a mask. My voice is crystal clear and I’m confident that I can be heard and understood.”
The VocalEase mask features glasses-fogging prevention, an extendable lanyard, and removable metal nose stays for machine washing (3 included). It sells for $39.95 and can be purchased through the VocalEase website at vocaleasemask.com. Bulk and educator discounts are available.
VocalEase is an acoustically transparent mask that unites singers and speakers with their communities by reclaiming the beauty of full vocal relationship. Developed by a professional singer and voice professor, the mask solves a critical problem for singers and speakers – the need to communicate clearly, with authenticity and optimal vocal health, and safely, when circumstances require mask-wearing and social distancing. From a kitchen table in suburban St. Louis to world renown performance venues, the VocalEase story combines science, design, passion, partnership and purpose to allow singers and speakers share their collective gifts with the world. For more information, visit vocaleasemask.com.
About the Saint Louis University Research Institute
The Saint Louis University Research Institute advances the University’s ambition to become a preeminent center for basic and applied research. Established in 2018 through a generous gift from Dr. Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield, the Institute provides critical funding to support outstanding researchers whose interests and areas of study span the University. The Institute strives to become a national and international model for promoting teaching, learning and research that exemplifies discovery, transformative outcomes and engaged citizenship in a global society. For more information, visit https://www.slu.edu/research/research-institute/about.php.
About Saint Louis University
Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place. For more information, visit slu.edu.