Healing Voices

Weekly Teaching Tip – Sep. 30, 2013
by MaryAnnKehler
This morning, I was with a student while she was scoped as a follow up to surgery to remove a vocal fold nodule.   (All nodules are ugly; this one was so nasty that my stomach clenched when I saw the original video.)  This student is a 25-year-old female who is a professional R&B singer and has recently signed with a label.  Her voice completely fell apart eight months ago and an impending tour had to be put on hold.  She suffers from reflux which she readily says was likely the result of the typical touring musician lifestyle: late dinners, eating whatever food is available from the nearest fast-food place, getting energy jolts from lots of coffee, drinking large amounts of water just before sleeping because she felt “dry” after performing.  Her stomach had an overgrowth of candida, likely the result of all the sugar in her mostly-fast food diet, according to her physician.  She felt nauseous all the time.  And, she smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, up until the day of surgery.  In short, she was a physical mess and her vocal problems were the symptom of that mess.

When I saw her this morning, I was struck by her vibrant good health.  The scope showed vocal folds in pristine condition; there is some evidence of reflux, but it is improving.  The otolaryngologist and nurse-practitioner were thrilled with her progress and told her that all the lifestyle changes she has made are responsible for her healing.  She turned to me and said, “Now I just need to stop eating all that red sauce on pasta!” (which I’ve been bugging her about for weeks — she’s Italian and loves to cook!)

This story really does have a point.  I’ve often said to singers, “Look, there is no “trying to practice.”  There is either practicing or not practicing.”  Of course, everyone has times when they can’t practice or they just give it up and eat the red sauce.  We’re all human.  However, whether it’s healing the results of reflux or stopping smoking or daily practice, we owe it to our students to be the coach who can be a little tough with them.  My “toughness” tends to come in the form of offering alternates:  “Okay, you absolutely cannot drink coffee because your experience has shown that it aggravates your reflux.  No more coffee for you.  Period.  Find an herbal tea that doesn’t contain any of your known reflux triggers, and try that instead.”

To give the above-mentioned singer all the credit that is due, she has not had sugar, gluten, alcohol, soda, caffeine, dairy, or a cigarette in over six months.
Now, I just need to follow my own advice and lay off the red sauce.  🙂

Have a good week, everyone!

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