Re-Working An Injured Voice

If someone is recovering from a vocal pathology or injury and is also a professional singer, they need a very special kind of help. The field as it now exists gives singers some support if they are in need of assistance but it is limited.

A Speech Language Pathologist is a licensed professional who works with speech to return it to normal. The voice, indirectly, may be involved, but not always. A lisp, a swallowing problem, a loss of response due to illness may not involve pathology. Sometimes a SLP is also a singer, but most often, at least until very recently, one could assume that the singing was classical. That could mean almost anything. It could mean the individual had training at a university or conservatory. It could mean they had private lessons; it could mean they had had a career singing classical repertoire. There may be, now, some individuals whose backgrounds include CCM styles who are also SLPs, but it seems to be fewer in number.

If someone has had a career in rock, pop, gospel or country music, and encounters a vocal fold problem, and then goes to a laryngologist (a medical doctor with special training in working with the larynx) he would typically be treated with medication or vocal rest first. Then, perhaps simultaneously, but also perhaps, after rest, there could be (but isn’t always) a recommendation to do some work with a Speech Language Pathologist who works with the voice (not all of them do). There would be follow-up appointments but if the vocal fold issues do not resolve within a reasonable length of time, the MD might suggest phonosurgery (an operation on the vocal folds). After the surgery, there would be another period of vocal rest, maybe more speech therapy, and then, maybe (and that is the biggest maybe) a suggestion to work with something called a Singing Voice Specialist. This is NOT a licensed profession. It is typically a singing teacher who has learned to work with a recovering voice to re-train it to function properly, usually when the person has completed work with the SLP and/or MD.

Since this is not an official profession, at least not yet, there are no criteria and it is not really possible to establish what a Singing Voice Specialist needs to know. The other disciplines look to teachers who are affiliated with a conservatory, a college or university and who also have a degree in Speech Language Pathology, as being the “go-to” people. The problem with that is there is no guarantee that through traditional training one would learn to address CCM singers’ needs. The educational system is still largely dominated by classical training and even in those universities where students are getting degrees in music theater or jazz, the training is still, vocally speaking, classical. The issue then becomes, does an opera singer know how to re-train a belter?

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I strongly believe that you should not teach sounds that you do not make and that listening is simply not enough to know what is going on in another person’s throat. If you don’t make the sound you do not know what the experience of making that sound is. Period. Of course, there are many, many people teaching who have never belted and would never belt, but teach it anyway. I have a problem with that.

If, then, the person going for re-training does not recover his or her signature CCM sound, and the SLP and medical doctor have done all they can, what is the vocalist to do? Whom should she see next for help? Does she give up singing? Does she learn a new style? Does she start to teach because, well, really, what else can you do with your experience?

These are questions that are topical now in the voice care community. They are important and should be discussed. If there are answers, and I believe there are, who should provide them? The vocalist is on her own here. It’s scary to contemplate a search for someone qualified to help, as there are no lists, no guidelines, and no criteria. Nevertheless, there ARE people who can help and have a track record of doing so effectively. If you find yourself in a position of needing this kind of support, don’t give up until you find it.


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