By Elizabeth Landau*
A singing career isn’t only challenging in terms of produc- ing good music, getting discovered and gaining popularity. Overworking your voice, using improper techniques or strain- ing yourself while otherwise ill can cause long-term damage.
In her early 20s, the very thing most fundamental to Jessi Teich’s career started to turn against her: Her voice. The aspiring singer-songwriter, based in Philadelphia, started having pain while teaching 40 private voice students per week, in addition to singing at home for herself. She noticed she couldn’t sing for as long as she used to, and lost about an octave and a half in her high range. “By the time 5 or 6 o’clock hit, I sounded like a frog,” Teich said. “It hurt so much to talk. And all my neck muscles, my laryngeal muscles, were all knotted up.”
After many tests to diagnose her problem, including for thyroid cancer, Teich found out she had a cyst that looked like a water blister deep under her vocal fold and on the side of it. Making matters worse, she had gastro- esophageal reflux disease, otherwise known as acid reflux, meaning acid from her stom- ach was irritating the lining of her vocal folds. Because the cyst was benign, she decided to try to live with it. Teich got set up with a vo- cal therapist and a speech therapist, and saw them weekly for a year and a half. But she wasn’t getting the results that she wanted to restore her singing voice and, after much de- liberation, decided to have the cyst removed. The ear, nose and throat specialists who op- erated on her couldn’t promise the surgery would help, but Teich was willing to take that chance.
Before The Procedure
For the two weeks before the procedure, Tei- ch was required to go on voice rest. She carried around a white board to communicate. At her day job in customer service, she en- dured the misunderstanding of many people who thought she was deaf or mentally chal- lenged.
After The Procedure
After the surgery, she was hesitant to start singing, but her voice teacher encouraged her. Once she started doing vocal exercises again, she worked her way back to doing entire songs and writing them, too. “It was kind of rediscovering the joy of singing that I had originally discovered as a young child, but this time I was given a second chance,” Teich said.
All singers should understand how the breath works and how their bod- ies integrate many components into making sound, Retzlaff said. Some people with voice problems find great help in relearning how their voices work. Diana Yampolsky, a voice coach in Toronto, Ontario, has clients visual- ize where the sound is and how it will travel in respect to their height, width of arms and center of the body. Deav- er’s advice is: You can’t be a singer and a listener at the same time. Some people critique everything that comes out of their mouth, but listening to your voice too much is a form of hesi- tation, he said. “Singing is aggressive,” he said. “It’s gotta be: ‘This is me, take it or leave it.’ “
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