Speaking Up About Voice Problems

“Whether you are in the midst of a big upheaval or riding the smaller rapids of everyday life, I want you to know you are not alone, not now, or at any stage of the journey.”
-Elizabeth Lesser, Broken Open, p. xxiv

My client leaned in a little closer like she was going to tell me a secret.  “Do you know how many people have had voice surgery??”  Her tone was hushed and her eyes were wide.

In all actuality, she was sharing a secret.  She works in the music industry and knows more than a few singers who aren’t able to talk about their “voice issues” because they might get labeled, judged, or out-right attacked. Having voice problems makes people “bad” in the public eye, and you hear echoes of judgement from every corner of the universe.  It can be subtle, but it’s there.

People have suffered in secret for far too long because of the stigma(s) attached to having “voice problems.”

This mentality of being “wrong” or “stupid” or “bad” because you have a voice challenge needs to stop.  Now.

Altering Public Opinion

Altering public opinion regarding voice problems is an insanely complex topic and may not get solved in my lifetime.  Let’s be realistic, it really won’t get solved in my lifetime.  Heck, this topic is so complex that 50 PhD dissertations probably wouldn’t even make a dent.

But, we can still have this conversation a few million more times, trusting that each tête-à-tête has the potential to change one more person’s perspective toward something more positive and helpful.

Part of the reason we cast judgement on singers for having “vocal problems” is because we lack sufficient knowledge about how the voice works.  Vocology is closing the gap on some basic understandings of the human voice, but we are still in the wee, early morning hours of voice science let alone our ability to be (collectively) kind to each other.

My intention for writing about this topic is help bring the subject to light and also add to the conversation.  It may very well turn into a series of posts, but for now I want to share a few helpful ideas.

Erasing the Word Abuse

One solution I’ve heard discussed among colleagues is to remove the term “vocal abuse” from our lexicon.  For years “vocal abuse” or “vocal abuser” have been thrown around by medical professionals and voice teachers alike.  “Vocal abuse” implies that someone intends to screw up their voice or just doesn’t care about themselves, and this most likely NOT the case.

Singers are just trying to do their jobs, enjoy their music, and get hopefully get paid for their art.  To call a singer a vocal abuser is like slapping them in the face for being who they are.  It can insight a tidal wave of anxiety, grief, and helplessness.  And no one needs that.

Sharing Knowledge Like a Boss

We each have an obligation to share what we know about how voice science.  Even if all you know is how to use a straw and water to warm up, please share that!

This is why I write this blog.  We are the ones who need to speak up and do something about this.  Any humble, honest effort to share science based information on voice (vocology) is one step closer to helping the general understand what works and what doesn’t.  When we understand, we have less room to judge harshly.

If you are reading this post, I am speaking directly to you.  If you don’t know boo about voice science, start with www.voicescienceworks.org and read something.  Anything.  Then, go tell 5 of your friends what you learned.  #bossbehavior

Sharing knowledge doesn’t have to be complicated.  I tell almost every client who walks through my door they will be an evangelist for using the straw because . . . you never know what might happen.  Often they return with amazing stories about how they taught their entire church choir to warm-up using straws, or how a friend had a tired voice and they showed them the magic of blowing bubbles into a cup of water.  Bam.  More people helped with simple science-based information.

In case you haven’t seen Ingo Titze’s famous straw video, let’s re-up now.  Maybe show this video to someone you love, I dunno:

To Those Who’ve Come Before Us

Hopefully in time it will be safer for singers to talk about their voice challenges in public. To those singers who’ve bravely shared their stories with the world, thank you for your courage.

You must know that your story will help someone else someday and that is ultimately worth every bit of judgement thrown your way.  It is not easy to pioneer the destruction of a stigma, but you are not alone and it IS getting better.


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