Ann Blackford


College: Health Sciences

Health Sciences Student Merges Passion for Opera with Desire to Help Others

Published: May 2, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 2, 2014) − Few would know the power of the human voice better than an opera singer. Chris Conley, a former professional opera singer, decided to return to school to combine his two passions:  his love for opera and his desire to help others with communication disorders.


Conley, a student in the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) graduate program, discovered his passion for singing as a child. He would sing hymns without hesitation during family gatherings, and eventually at events such as weddings and school performances.


"It was my defining trait since I was a kid," he said. "People always told me I'd go on and study music, so it was a natural thing for me to go into."


Conley’s love of singing and the spotlight led him to pursue a career in what he regarded as the highest level of singing – opera. He was inspired by opera’s rich mixture of storytelling and history, and he traveled around the U.S. for many years, singing in multiple distinguished Baroque chorales, such as the New Trinity Baroque group in Atlanta.


Conley's career vision shifted once he became a husband, and later, a father to two children. He worked in the banking industry for five and a half years, but he knew this wasn't his heart’s calling. Conley began exploring careers that would allow him to combine his passion for singing and for helping others. He found his calling in speech-language pathology. He hopes to bring his musical expertise to the field by becoming a singing-voice specialist.


Once at UK, Conley found two incredible mentors with a passion for helping others: Professor Joseph C. Stemple and Associate Professor Jody Deem.


Stemple is well-known for creating a set of exercises called "vocal function exercises" that transform how speech-language pathologists look at voice rehabilitation. He also was instrumental in the creation of the UK Voice and Swallow Clinic, the only dedicated voice clinic in the state.

"Coming to the University of Kentucky and studying under Dr. Stemple, who conceptualized these exercises, puts me in a great place professionally," Conley said. "I can’t say enough about what Dr. Stemple has done to transform what we do as voice professionals." 


He also speaks highly of his other mentor, Deem, who exudes professionalism, knowledge and great enthusiasm for speech-language pathology.


"Her enthusiasm made me excited to pursue this career. Dr. Deem was the first person I met at UK, and I have tremendous respect for her," Conley said.


Conley plans to merge his love of opera and speech-language pathology by pursuing a career as a singing-voice specialist. His experience as an opera singer will provide a distinct advantage as a singing-voice specialist, who helps amateur and professional singers manage their voices and address underlying voice-usage problems, in order to improve singing performance.


The Communication Sciences and Disorders graduate program requires two years of academic coursework and clinical practice, and Conley is about to begin his second year, which consists of clinical rotations. As a father of two, Conley finds it challenging to balance the demands of graduate school, while working and maintaining his family life.


"It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life," Conley said, "But the people in our program have been fantastic at letting me put family first."


Media Contact: Ann Blackford at 859-323-6442 or


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