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"Very few universities have the facilities like Minot State does for the clinical side. It was a wonderful learning community. We were watched and helped and could practice. (Most schools) do a lot of teaching but not a lot of practice, and Minot State gave me the confidence because I could practice."
Aaron Low, Toronto-based speech-language pathologist, pictured here in what has become his famous mock strangling photo with recording artist Shawn Mendes

MSU Profiles

The Voice Specialist - Low is riding high

TORONTO, Ontario - A quick Google Image search for "Aaron Low, speech pathologist," and two items jump out. First, is the impressive red goatee he sports in his traditional lab coat photos and the second - in what has become somewhat of a trademark - is a mock strangling of some of the music industry's most famous singers.

Low '97/'99 has built his Toronto company, The Voice Clinic, into one of the top Ear Nose Throat and Speech Voice Pathology Clinics in Canada using techniques first learned at Minot State University under his mentor Dr. Nelson Roy.

The hands-on techniques - vocal rehabilitation using circumlaryngeal massage, and laryngeal resposturing - were considered unique, if not groundbreaking, when Low was first learning. And they still are today.

"It is unique, especially in Canada," he said. "It's not really incorporated into the clinic skill set in Canadian speech pathology and not in every clinical dynamic. I was fortunate to work with Nelson. In 1999, there wasn't even the diagnosis of musical tension dysphonia yet. I came into the game with a new technique and even now, 20 years later, it's still considered new and cutting edge."

The cutting-edge aspect and proven results have built his clientele list into a who's-who of talented individuals who use their voice in their career. Low has worked on and with musicians such as Sting, Dave Matthews, Sam Smith, and Shawn Mendes; actors such as Gerard Butler; the Canadian Opera Company, executives, teachers, and ministers.

One of his favorite singers to work with currently is Mendes, a pop singer from Ontario. Mendes rose to fame after posting covers on the social media application Vine. His single, "Stitches," reached No. 4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

"I've been able to take care of Shawn from early on," Low said. "He's a young kid training his body and his voice and he wants to know more. The tours they go on are grueling and there is a lot of strain on their voices. He's learning how to train his athletic voice."

It was rock star Sting that first took the now often mimicked strangling photo.

"I worked with Sting in 2008; he was very interested in the anatomy and the voice," Low said. "Because of his interest in it, he was more fun to work with than someone that just comes in and says ‘fix it, and get me out of here.' I got to spend more time with him. He's in his late 50s and still could pull the high notes out of ‘Roxanne,' but he didn't train or warm up like he should. I gave him some things that work for him and it will help keep his high range. We try to make changes not just for the acute, but for the long term. That's when the word spreads."

It has definitely spread for Low as he started the company five years ago. He works in tandem with Dr. Alex Osborn, an otolaryngologist and head-neck surgeon.

"He runs the medical practice within the practice, and I run the speech path practice," Low said. "We have all of the equipment to run a very up-to-date medical/therapeutic voice clinic."

Opening his own clinic has been on his mind since his early days at Minot State. The Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, native chose MSU mainly due to his sister, Shauna (Low) Newsham '93 - who had just finished with her master's degree in the program. He started working with Roy in graduate school.

"I basically got into it because of my sister. She encouraged me because she liked the program and thought I would do well," Low said. "Nelson mentored me through voice, and a lot of the things I do now are because of him. I followed him, I was in his hands clinically."

"Aaron has a big personality; he stands out," Newsham said. "He has the wild red hair and a big goatee, he doesn't look like a typical speech pathologist. So he was going to stand out on his own. But most of the professors were still there from my time and that probably helped him. The school gave us all the tools. Even with it being a smaller school, it was a great intro into voice. Aaron has taken that to a new level."

Roy, now a professor of communication sciences and disorder at the University of Utah, remembers Low as someone who stood out as much for his personality as his ability.

"He was pretty ambitious, so I'm not surprised that he has been wildly successful," Roy said. "I was only at Minot State for a short time, and Aaron was in one of my first cohorts in grad school. That was a talented group of students, and Aaron was no exception. He stood out by virtue of his personality. He was affable, easy going. While most grad students were pretty intense, he had a good proportion of managing the academic side with a good sense of humor. I'm sure his strong interpersonal skills have helped him with the patients he works with."

Roy is pleased one of his students has advanced his work in such a way.

"It's very gratifying that I could influence someone early in their career," Roy said. "That's what you hope for. As a mentor, you are working with the next generation of clinicians that develop those skills. For me, it's nice to see the techniques adopted by Aaron."

Because of Roy's approach to teaching, Low praised his mentor and the speech-language pathology department at Minot State for allowing students to experience hands-on training.

"Very few universities have the facilities like Minot State does for the clinical side," Low said. "It was a wonderful learning community. We were watched and helped and could practice. (Most schools) do a lot of teaching but not a lot of practice, and Minot State gave me the confidence because I could practice."