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It’s that time of year when holiday carols are heard in restaurants, malls, and waiting rooms, but for Doctor Benjamin Anthony, music is not seasonal; it’s not optional. Music is every day.
A professionally trained vocalist, Dr. Anthony remembers his first performance when he was about in the fifth grade – an elementary school version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” He grew up out west and landed his first big role at a high school of about 1,000 students. He was cast as Tony in “Westside Story.”
“It was really a tenor role but since I was a baritone, we had to take down a couple pieces for me,” he remembers. Other roles followed including Jesus in “Godspell,” Mr. Muschnik, in “Little Shop of Horrors,” and one of Noah’s sons in the Santa Fe Opera’s performance of “Noah’s Flood.”
The youngest son of parents who are both in the medical field – his mother, a neonatal nurse, and his father a radiation oncologist – Dr. Anthony said he never felt pressure to follow in their shoes. But when he discovered the field of laryngology, he knew it was good fit.
He obtained an undergraduate degree in voice and opera from Northwestern University where he met his wife, Juliana. They met performing an opera variety show their freshman year.
“Even though my parents totally supported my undergraduate degree in music, I always had a love for science and about my third year of college, I knew I wanted to keep the door open for something else,” said Dr. Anthony. That “something else” came to him through the door of a doctor’s office.
His wife – who was his girlfriend at the time – was having vocal complications. He accompanied her to a laryngology appointment and as he observed the process he decided it was something he would like to pursue.
“It really wasn’t a total surprise. In New Mexico, I was a like a big fish in a little pond. There was a different level of competition when I got to Chicago. I don’t know that I was destined for stardom, and at the same time, there was something in me that was sparking an interest in using both my right brain and my left brain. When I learned I could combine them into a field like this, it solidified my search.”
At the Indiana University Voice Center, patients meet with Dr. Anthony and a speech pathologist to determine and treat the cause of voice airway and swallowing issues.
“When a patient comes to see me and a speech pathologist that’s the inter-professional part. It cuts out the additional step. They don’t have to go to another specialist,” said Dr. Anthony. Combined diagnosis and treatment get the patient back on track more quickly. Patients can be referred by other specialists - for example, someone who is treated for cancer that affects the voice box, or someone who suffered some sort of injury or trauma to the vocal cords, said Dr. Anthony. Other patients come because they have experienced some sort of strain to their vocal cords.
“The most common person with a voice complaint is a school teacher,” said Dr. Anthony. “We call them ‘professional voice users.’” That group also includes clergy, lawyers – trained professionals who talk a lot and want to make their voice better.
As one of only three fellowship trained laryngologists in Indiana, Dr. Anthony has treated a radio personality for NPR and a number of vocalists.
“There is frequent singing in my clinic rooms,” said Dr. Anthony, who begins his diagnosis by having his patients talk and sing while he microscopically examines their vocal cords.
“I love my patients and I think the nice thing about being a surgeon is having someone come in and you can fix it with your hands,” said Dr. Anthony. “We sometimes take that whole thing for granted. I do everything I can to keep people out of the operating room and try to use non-invasive methods of treatment whenever I can but I know what it’s like to use your voice and when it’s not working properly, then that’s a problem that needs fixed.”
When he’s away from the office, Dr. Anthony is enjoying time with his children Henry, 4, and Grace, 2. He and his wife can be seen performing choral-orchestral works with the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir.
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.