So here is another famous singer having to go for surgery. Michael has tons of experience onstage. Why is he having vocal problems serious enough to have to cancel big money concerts and have a surgery on his very delicate vocal folds that no-one can really promise will solve his issue?
Here’s what came across my desk:
‘NO SINGING’ Michael Bublé reveals shock emergency surgery on his vocal chords.
MICHAEL BUBLE’ has stunned fans by announcing he is having surgery on his vocal chords after canceling his upcoming shows this year.
I track these things and am following the stories of a handful of professional singers having surgery for vocal issues, this year alone.
Vocal surgery first came to the public’s attention when Julie Andrews went under the knife (1997) for problems singing, only to have the surgery go wrong. Here is that article from the Washington Post:
Andrews was forced to quit the show towards the end of the Broadway run in 1997 when she developed hoarseness in her voice. She subsequently underwent surgery at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital to remove non-cancerous nodules from her throat.
Why do some singers, with years of experience, have to cancel work or worse, go for vocal surgery?
I have worked with professional singers since the early 1980s in New York City, having been trained by Broadway singing voice specialist Margaret Riddleberger, beginning in 1979. Her background was at the Metropolitan Opera as well as a having completed a Masters Degree in the psychology of personality stress (what we call today trauma/traumatic stress). She studied with a woman renowned for teaching professional opera singers the motor skills needed to sing for long periods without ever having vocal problems. She trained me, and later we collaborated in developing the anatomical based teaching approach from the physiological side of the Bel Canto School.
Let’s unpack what could be happening when someone misuses/abuses their voice (even if they do not know they are doing it):
1. Natural singers can lack the technical skills needed to maintain a full-time schedule of performing. They have an instinctual talent and aptitude, but when pushed beyond their limits, can begin to have vocal irritation, sometimes leading to vocal fry and later, vocal cord nodules.
Vocal cord nodules (nodes) are benign (noncancerous) growths on both vocal cords that are caused by vocal abuse. Over time, repeated abuse of the vocal cords results in soft, swollen spots on each vocal cord. These spots develop into harder, callous-like growths called nodules.
2, Anyone who has ever had to sing multiple performances, sometimes twice per day, knows personally that if you lack the key sensorimotor skills, you will begin to have a rough time singing. You will experience what Margaret Rddleberger called ‘roughing up your chords’ and this can lead to inflammation, and making it nearly impossible to put any power into your singing voice. When you finally learn what singing really is, you will say, ‘you mean this is singing? It doesn’t feeling like I’m ‘singing’ (Definition of sensorimotor: of, relating to, or functioning in both sensory and motor aspects of bodily activity)
Sensorimotor skills relate to innate, instinctual movement that we do not have to think about when we sing. These are mammalian functions, the same motor skills used to speak. This is at the level of the small, core muscles, called the emotional muscles or survival muscles They function only when they are fully relaxed and elasticized. Relaxation is the hallmark of singing.
3. Vocal approaches are like religion. There are many and varied approaches that may or may not get you to your goal. As I look around the internet, we are inundated by folks who call themselves ‘vocal teachers or coaches’, who purport to have the ‘key’ to unlocking your vocal potential. And some can! But from my experience, many are good meaning individuals who want desperately to help, but lack a knowledge of science, body, emotions, psyche and the nature of what fear does in the body. Most have valuable experience and information, but without a wider knowledge about how to work with human dysfunction, their ministrations will be limited.
4. There is a movement toward approaches that we can call speak-sing or talk-sing, where we are attempting to approach the singing voice holistically and naturally. The goal is to to sing in the voice that matches your speaking voice. This has come about since the non-physiological approach of the Italian Bel Canto School of singing voice proliferated. In this mechanical approach, one asked to do almost robotic singing where the body is seen as a machine. We are asked to unnaturally arche the soft palate, drop the jaw, hold the chest in unnatural positions, over focusing on the throat and so on. This has lead to causing many singer vocal problems that they never had, or making them sound like what my teacher called ‘singing with a paper bag over your head’. Unnatural!
5. Speaking and singing are the same sensorimotor process.
6. If the *Technical Mind participates in any way while we are singing, it reduces our vocal effectiveness. Singing is a natural human act and children do it without the internal critic monitoring and interfering with the experience. As adults, we can acquire this internal critic that can prevent us from being in the present moment and enjoying the act of generating vibration in a relaxed manner- which is really what singing is. (*Also called the Relative Mind of Thought Constructions and Language for the Buddhists and other Contemplative Schools)
Those humans who come from cultures that sing as a part of their social interactionor spiritual practice, tend to do it easier that those of us from cultures who believe that only ‘certain’ people can sing well, which obviously inhibits us and reduces our ability to confidently sing as Nature designed us.
7. Without the embodied understanding that it is minimum breath, and minimum tension in the throat that produced maximum resonance, we are doomed to sing less effectively than Nature intends us to. Without a guide to demonstrate how it is accomplished, some of us will never arrive at our goal of singing naturally, resonantly, and with ease and grace. Will will overwork and achieve less than our true ability.
8. Once you have had a vocal issue, you generally need someone who can help you retrain your instrument. I have helped singer unlock their voices the early 80s, and know first hand that many singers do not understand that they have unresolved fear held in their body as tension that is actually causing their problem. And it is well known that unresolved fear protects by defending itself. Trauma is self protective; it keeps you in a loop of suffering and self defeating behavior that is hard to transcend without someone who has made their life about that very issue. My career of 30 plus years as a Certified Advanced Rolfer®, core muscle exercise instructor, singer, and psychotherapist (among many other certifications) makes me rare among voice specialists.
9. Relaxation is the hallmark of singing and any lack of body flexibility will limit your range and resonance. Nature is marvelously efficient and we are part of Nature. The whole if greater than the sum of the parts (synergy) and so with our voice; less is more when it comes to singing.
The human voice is the most powerful instrument; all instruments are modeled on its beauty and power. But using your voice the way the Creation designed it is not always easy, in fact rare today.
Learn to access your singing voice, that is essentially the same physiologically as your speaking voice. It is your unique signature, like no-one else’s in the Universe.
Learn to sing like NOBODY BUT YOURSELF…
David Delaney, MA, CAR, LPC
Singer, Singing Voice Specialist, Psychotherapist, Certified Advanced Rolfer®,
Singer’s Core Muscle Trainer…