In The Vocal Injury 101 Series, Megan Gloss shows how you can avoid vocal injuries that affect popular singers.
Case: Shania Twain
In the early 2000s, country superstar Shania Twain was at the top of her game.
She had four multi-platinum-selling albums and was ranked as one of the biggest selling female recording artists of all time, making and breaking records with hits like “Come On Over,” “Man! I Feel Like a Woman,” “You’re Still the One” and “From this Moment On.”
And, she possessed one of the most distinguishable voices in music.
Twain began noticing vocal issues during what would become her final tour.
A loss of vocal power
She was said to have felt her vocal power “dwindling.”
Shocking the music industry, critics and fans, Twain temporarily sidelined her career and uprooted to Switzerland with her husband, music-producing mogul Robert John “Mutt” Lange, and newborn son.
By 2008, marital problems had also contributed to the silence of the once unstoppable star.
After discovering her husband of 14 years had an affair with her best friend, depression set in, followed by a fall in confidence and a very public divorce.
It wasn’t the first tragedy that choked up Eilleen Regina Edwards, as named by birth.
She reportedly grew up in a turbulent home before both parents were tragically killed in a car accident, leaving her to care for and raise her younger siblings before emerging as a pop/country icon.
Returning to the stage
Now newlywed (to her best friend’s ex-husband, Frederic Thiebaud), Twain is re-embracing her vocal chops, with a reality TV show, “Why Not? with Shania Twain,” and a new album – her first in eight years.
There is also a newly released duet with Lionel Ritchie – who also suffered a similar voice condition at the peak of his career – a remake of his famed romantic anthem, “Endless Love.”
What was it that silenced Twain?
A condition known as dysphonia.
What is dysphonia?
Dysphonia is a voice disorder referring to the impaired ability to produce sound using the vocal organs – a phonation disorder.
It is not a singing term, but refers exclusively to roughness, tension or abnormality in the speaking voice.
The dysphonic voice can be hoarse or excessively breathy, harsh or rough and uneven-sounding.
Dysphonia can have many causes, everything from genetic factors to nodules – even psychological stress.
This is why it is important to seek a specific diagnosis from a qualified specialist in the event of your voice becoming hoarse for a sustained period of time.
In the case of Twain, it appears that there were several contributing factors: stress from her failed marriage, a loss of confidence, and perhaps issues of technique coupled with a demanding schedule.
How do you treat it?
The Nation Center for Voice and Speech advises that singers who have been hoarse for four weeks seek medical treatment.
More serious conditions are evidenced by persistent hoarseness, difficulty in swallowing, a sore throat, choking when swallowing, persistent ear aches, coughing up blood, weight-loss and loss of appetite.
Every attempt should be made to identify and eliminate causative factors such as stress, smoking, alcohol and technique related issues.
Singers with this condition should drink plenty of water to avoid a dry throat. Also, there should be complete vocal rest for two to three days – this includes not speaking or whispering.
Going one step further
The Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology at the University of Iowa says some singers might benefit from speech therapy during the recovery process or from working with a vocal technique teacher or coach in between vocal rest and recovery.
The therapy could take several weeks or months before any improvements can be noticed.
How can you avoid it?
Singers should do their best to minimize stress.
But this isn’t the only strategy; singers need to maintain proper hydration use healthy vocal exercises to keep the voice in shape and work towards a healthy vocal technique which keeps the strain off of the voice muscles.
Megan Gloss is a classically trained vocalist and journalist based in the United States.