Page 118 - Classical Singer magazine 2019 Fall University Issue
P. 118

Owning Your Vocal Health
Maintaining and caring for your instrument begins by advocating for yourself.
In the height of my career, I came down with a terrible cough. I had just  nished my last round of New York auditions and was headed to Italy for a few months
of language training, so I wasn’t concerned. The swelling subsided in a few weeks, and I started coaching with the regional maestro in Perugia. Everything felt di erent. I chalked it up to being out of practice, late nights out with friends, and my new environment in the chilly hills of Umbria.
Three days after landing in the States, I auditioned for Lyric Opera of Chicago. I had been invited to the  nals the year prior, so I was excited for my reaudition. My rejection letter beat me home. Blaming jetlag, I headed out for my  rst mainstage role with San Diego Opera. Only then did I begin to panic. I had no low range, no consistency, everything felt swollen and forced, and it wasn’t getting better.
As soon as I returned home, I sought out a doctor. Amazingly, even as a professional singer with a full load of upcoming gigs, I didn’t have a regular ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT). I had never needed one. I thought myself well versed in vocal health, but I realized I knew very little about the mechanics of my voice. But I knew something was terribly wrong.
Fortunately, I found an amazing team of professionals who guided me through my vocal pathology. I had hemorrhaged a vocal fold months earlier with that terrible coughing and it had hardened into a polyp—a bump on one vocal fold edge that prohibits proper closure of the vocal folds and keeps a constant open space in the closure. Still actively singing, my body had been compensating by squeezing my folds together to limit all the extra air that was escaping.
A week after my diagnosis, I started my summer gig with Lake George Opera. I kept silent about my vocal problems while valiantly trying to negotiate concerts, auditions, and Gilda! I feared that vocal pathology would blacklist me forever.
My amazing speech therapist, Joseph Stemple, had given me vocal function exercises, strengthening exercises he created, to help me get through the summer and hopefully rehabilitate my voice. It worked with the former but not with the latter. The polyp was too hard by the time we caught it and could only be removed surgically.
When you say the word surgery to a singer, there is an instant panic. Initially I refused, but later realized I couldn’t continue my career without this procedure. I was sent to a fantastic surgeon in Cincinnati, rehabilitated with Stemple and my voice teacher Robin Rice, and was singing high E- ats in San Diego six weeks later. I jumped right back into my career, but mentally it took me years to get over the fear.
What had happened? I thought I was so attuned to my body. How did I miss it? And how could I have avoided it? I could no longer stay ignorant of my voice. I wanted a fuller understanding of singing health to better avoid problems in the future and to help advocate for others.
Health must be the primary goal for every singer. All
the coaching sessions, language lessons, and technical
and artistic work you do is negated if you cancel due to health. Only you can cultivate healthy sensations of singing, recognize the di erence between overdoing it occasionally vs. a chronic hoarseness or strain, and admit when something just isn’t right. Stay alert and learn to advocate for yourself. Move beyond the youthful mantra that you’re young and you’ll bounce back!
Start and stick to healthy habits. This is far more di cult than it sounds. Every time I yell up to my kids because
118 Classical Singer | September/October 2019

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