Alum spotlight: Joy Bleecker Walsh (BFA ’92)

collage of photos

Joy Bleecker Walsh, BFA, Performance, 1992

For 22 years, Joy has been a Speech Language Pathologist in Concord, MA at Emerson Hospital (named after Ralph Waldo Emerson). She recently created a YouTube video to help her voice patients and “noticed that it has over 10,000 views, which is bizarre. I only share it with my voice patients, but somehow it ended up ‘going viral.’ I received a comment from a trans woman, who said it really helped her, which made me feel good!” Here’s a link to the video

Recent photo of Joy at work

Rewind to VCU, “I really enjoyed Janet Rodgers’ voice classes, and that’s what inspired me to move into the career that I have now. She was extremely enthusiastic and passionate about what she was teaching us.” During her senior year, Joy played seven different characters in Reckless and tried to use different voices for each one, “That was certainly the favorite role at VCU and partially instrumental in my pursuing voice.”

Joy with fellow alums Jason Butler Harner, Janine Russo, and John Marshall at VCU commencement

After moving to NYC with fellow grad Jason Butler Harner, “I had zero success as an actor. I wanted to be Janet and teach voice at the college level.” So, Joy moved back to Virginia and “started looking for a Masters Program in vocal coaching for actors.” She attended a meeting of the Voice and Speech Trainer’s Association, where speech language pathologist Kittie Verdolini was speaking. “She completely changed the trajectory of my life.”

Joy’s old headshot

Ultimately, this led to Joy’s MS in Speech Language Pathology. Joy’s trained to evaluate and treat disorders of swallowing, like Parkinson’s disease. “Early in my career I was working with a man with ALS.  I taught him diaphragmatic breathing (which I had learned in Janet’s class). When the patient had follow up pulmonary function tests, he showed improvement. We turned my method into a published study.” (link here!)

the Mill Town Rounders

Joy also continues with her love of music and performing. For a while, she sang in a 13-piece disco funk band. The lead guitarist invited me to join him starting a bluegrass band. “I didn’t know about bluegrass, but both of my parents are from Nashville, so let’s do it.” That became the Mill Town Rounders, which has been together for eight years. They’re currently recording their second full-length album. Her husband, David Walsh is the harmonica player in the band.

Joy at work doing a diagnostic test in radiology— wearing a lead apron, lead goggles and N95 mask.

Her most memorable performance involved her buddy Jason Butler Harner. In 2014, Jason was invited to perform a song in Boston’s Fenway Park. “O, Mistress Mine” from Twelfth Night is often performed as a song, so Jason “asked my band to make it a bluegrass song and perform with him. The green room was where Red Sox hang out!”

the Mill Town Rounders onstage with Jason Butler Harner in Fenway Park

Header image (clockwise from left): Joy in the studio – the Mill Town Rounders are currently recording their second full length album; Joy and family; Joy on stage; the Mill Town Rounders

Compiled by Liz Hopper (professor emeritus) and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the January 2022 Theatre Alumni newsletter