The Vocal Injury 101 Series: Megan Gloss shows how you can avoid vocal injuries that affect popular singers.
Case: American Idol winner Jordin Sparks
Diagnosis: Acute vocal fold hemorrhage
Success has not always come easy for powerhouse vocalist and “American Idol” champ Jordin Sparks.
Crowned the youngest winner in “Idol” history in 2007 at 17, Sparks’ singing career was about to surge when it came to an abrupt stop.
Fans waited with baited breath while headlines speculated, “Will Sparks ever sing again?” “Could the ‘Idol’ star lose her winning voice?”
“It’s definitely crazy,” Sparks was quoted as saying. “After the ‘Idol’ tour, recording my first album and doing a lot of promo, all of a sudden something felt wrong, and I didn’t know what it was.
After crying myself to sleep over it, I went to a doctor and was told, ‘Um, you really shouldn’t be singing at all right now.’”
It was an unfathomable fate for Sparks, with her dreams of a singing career on the brink of becoming a reality.
Numerous crooners, including Elton John, Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler, pop princess Jessica Simpson and folk singer Art Garfunkel have reportedly had their careers temporarily sidelined by vocal injuries.
Sparks was diagnosed with a vocal fold hemorrhage.
What is a Vocal Fold Hemorrhage?
According to the Bastian Voice Institute in Chicago, the vocal folds are comparable to a glistening pair of lips that vibrate against one another when singing, located within the larynx or voice box.
The surface tissue of the folds – called the mucosa – and tiny capillaries make up this instrument.
A vocal fold hemorrhage results from vigorous vibration (over-singing or over-use of the voice).
One of the capillaries bursts and blood leaks out, bruising the mucosa.
“This can happen to anyone as a result of extreme vocal trauma,” said Robert Bastian, M.D., of the institute.
Most of this bruising self-repairs in short order, with time and vocal rest; in many cases it can be safe to do gentle singing a week after the event, provided vocal capabilities, such as range and clarity, have returned to normal.
However, sometimes a polyp forms; this looks like a blood blister in top of the fold.
If this polyp persists, it may need to be surgically removed.
How to Avoid It
The primary approach to a hemorrhage is prevention, as well as behavioral management and facilitation of the singer’s recuperative powers, Bastian said.
Singers are encouraged to warm-up slowly and softly, focusing attention on low breathing from the diaphragm, relaxing the tongue, neck and jaw muscles and focusing the sound and vocal resonance in the “mask” area of the face.
Singers also are advised not to “over-sing,” that is, to push their vocal mechanism beyond a comfortable volume, capability and range.
Continued healthy practice habits will build the voice up over time, according to voice teachers.
Singers that suffer extreme vocal demands and rigorous schedules also are encouraged to provide their instruments with vocal rest and proper hydration and care.
The good news is that even if surgery is required, singers, like Sparks, can return to a productive career – though, hopefully, a career which pays greater attention to vocal health.
Now, with a string of hit singles and two multimillion-selling CDs behind her, the singer hasn’t lost her spark or the voice that earned a record-shattering amount of votes on “Idol’s” sixth season.
But Sparks senses that it was a close call.
“It could have been very bad. I could have never sung again or done some permanent damage to really hurt my voice and sound completely different.
For someone who didn’t know and who had never seen what the vocal cords look like, it was very scary.”
The singer was ordered to strict vocal rest but made a full recovery. And these days, she takes a lot of precautions.
“I know I can’t just go out there and sing. I have to warm up. I love to talk and love meeting new people, but now I have to limit myself and be careful.”
Megan Gloss is a classically trained singer and journalist based in the United States. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vocal Cord Images are courtesy of the Bastien Voice Institute.