Busy session singer, Denosh Bennett tells the story of her 3 vocal haemorrhages, vocal polyp and surgery.
Denosh is an internationally renowned singer, dancer and performer who has toured with Robbie Williams, Alicia Keys and Justin Timberlake.
She explains how her tight schedule, bad working conditions and naivety of vocal care landed her in vocal trouble…
My first vocal haemorrhage
In 2000, I was in rehearsals getting ready for my first tour as a backing vocalist.
It was a small rehearsal room with very loud musicians. The monitors were not placed in suitable positions and we were getting all kinds of bleed so I couldn’t hear myself.
I ended up shouting at the top of my lungs. At that time, I hadn’t had any regimented vocal training so all I knew to do was shout.
After the week of rehearsals my voice was really tired. I then found out that I had haemorrhaged.
It was right on the vocal folds where the initial point of contact is. I sing mezzo and it took a huge chunk of the most important part of my voice out.
I questioned whether I could do the tour and realised if I wanted to, I would have to do a lot of things to get through it.
One was being on certain medications and seeking medical advice. I took acid reflux pills and saw an ear-nose-throat doctor, a vocal coach and a speech language pathologist every week.
On the actual tour, I had to switch some parts around because I just didn’t have that high part of my voice. At times, I had to sing tenor.
Then there was the vocal care…This is where my awareness of the voice started.
I had to steam several times a day and was on absolute vocal rest. I could warm up before the show then warm down after the show, and I would practice the speech pathology exercises earlier in the day which would teach me to vocalise in a safe way.
I couldn’t eat after a certain time before shows and bedtime to reduce reflux, and I had to cut out acidic and spicy foods, dairy and alcohol.
It was complete vocal lock down – it was torture but it gave me such an appreciation for my voice.
My voice eventually came back before the tour had ended.
The second vocal haemorrhage
Ten years later I was in rehearsals for a revival of a musical. It was a similar situation where we had a very short period of time and the director just wanted us ‘full out’ all the time.
The rehearsal would start at 10am and finish at 8.30pm and we didn’t really warm up adequately.
The director switched me and the girl who sang the top part because there was a part of the music she couldn’t reach. By the end of rehearsals everybody’s voices were fried.
I went to an ear-nose-throat doctor just to check myself out. I didn’t completely lose my voice but it was raspy. The doctor was really angry at me! I had haemorrhaged again.
This time the injury wasn’t on the initial point of contact, it was still on the vocal fold but further away. I didn’t lose my range like I did last time but my voice was still really damaged.
The doctor referred me to a vocal coach who understood that I had three shows that weekend and he said, “well, you’re not gonna sing!”. But I said, “but that’s the whole point of musical theatre – to sing every song!”. So, he told me to always warm up and warm down and only sing the songs before and after my solos, and nothing else.
It was highly frustrating but I got through the shows, then I went on vocal rest for a week or so afterwards. I sprung back and I was fine. Or so I thought…
My vocal polyp
A couple months later I was experiencing some hoarseness again. I realised after visiting my voice doctor that the last haemorrhage didn’t heal properly and it had formed a polyp.
That polyp had started causing irritation to the opposite vocal fold. After trying to rest, it didn’t go away and a couple of months later I ended up having surgery to remove it.
My third haemorrhage
My third haemorrhage (I pray this never happens again) was in the fall of 2016. I actually don’t know what caused it. My voice had become raspy and I discovered I had a small haemorrhage.
I think it was because of excessive use. I was at a wedding, had taken ibuprofen and blood thinners, was talking a lot, had a heavy meal and had to travel a long way.
So, I had to go into another period of vocal rest. My voice eventually healed itself again.
Ongoing voice care
Unfortunately, what I can see from these patterns is a lack of proper use of my voice and lack of proper care especially in intense or stressful work conditions
After the surgery, I went into vocal training and really learned how to care for my voice and do efficient warm ups. I learned as much as I could in order to sing safely at all times.
Very few performers have as impressive, extensive, and broad a resume as Denosh Bennett: with a two-decade career in entertainment, she is an accomplished, versatile, and highly sought-after singer and dancer who has mastered every aspect of the live performance, making her an invaluable asset to any artist and tour. As artistic director she is the go-to expert and one-stop-shop, to turn a good show into a great one. www.denoshbennett.com