Coming Back After Vocal Injury or Illness
If you are a professional singer and you sing long enough you will encounter some kind of serious vocal problem that may have nothing at all to do with how or what you sing. If something impacts your vocal health, impairing your vocal folds and how they function, you are unable to do your job. Very scary indeed.
If you are lucky enough to have a laryngologist to see and you are told what exactly is wrong with your vocal folds, you can begin a path to recovery, hopefully. Hopefully — because there is never a guarantee that you will recover, no matter the treatment or the person administering it. All health issues are unknown in terms of how much they resolve, or when they resolve, or even if they resolve.
If you do not have a laryngologist near you (and you might not since there are only about 400 nation-wide) you will have to see an otolaryngologist. A laryngologist is a otolaryngologist with special training. The typical otolaryngologist (ENT) sees kids with ear infections, people with sinus infections and swallowing issues and all manner of other things that affect the ears, nose and throat.
A laryngologist specializes in voice issues. Not all ENTs understand the professional voice user (speaking or singing) so if you consult one, the more you know about vocal health, the better off you will be. Your vocal folds can look normal when visualized with a laryngeal mirror but not operate normally and that can typically only be seen with an exam that includes a stroboscopic look. If the problem is microscopic, you need a special high-speed camera that few doctors have since it is very, very expensive. Even if you see a highly-rated medical expert you can still be diagnosed incorrectly because of the many factors that affect making vocal sound.
Depending on your diagnosis, treatment protocol or medication, you may have a minor problem, something that is moderate or something really serious. Most doctors will recommend doing some therapy first (with a qualified Speech Language Pathologist who has experience in voice issues) to see if what you have can be helped with therapy, but not all do. If you have some kind of intervention and the doctor does not refer you to a SLP voice expert, please find one on your own. Then, before you go back to singing, be sure to work with a vocal expert, preferably a Singing Voice Specialist, who understands how to gently but surely get you back into your best vocal game. You need to work with someone who has experience and skill and a good track record. In this case, particularly, although it is the case in every situation, the singer is the one responsible for finding the person with the right expertise to help. There are no referrals for singing teachers who have an excellent track record of helping singers return to high level vocal skills, particularly if the singing is in a CCM style. Operatic training may not be helpful. In fact, it can be counter-productive. Much depends on the person teaching. Breath support and resonance may not help, no matter what kind of “breath support” and “resonance” it is!
Be aware that most singing teachers who are successful think they know everything. Many with doctoral degrees get some amount of vocal health training but that is not and will never be a substitute for Speech Language Pathologists with proper vocal health training. Be aware, as well, that an SLP who does not sing may not understand the demands of singing hard, driven music. Keeping your speaking voice in a nice relaxed place is terrific but if you sing powerful rock music or Broadway belt songs, that isn’t nearly enough to get you where you need to go.
You absolutely can come back after the majority of vocal health issues. If you are determined and look until you find the help you need, you can get there. Many others have. Do not give up!
I welcome questions on this topic, by the way, so do contact me if you want an answer here (but not personally).