Recuperating Damaged Voices

It was fortunate indeed that in 1979 I had the opportunity to work with Alan Lindquest, vocal technician and voice scientist. His training was to prepare me for a future in the vocal profession. Vocal research in partnership with William Vennard encompassed a variety of experiences, some of which included damaged voices. My friend and colleague, Dr. Barbara Mathis, performed 5 years of research on the Lindquest vocal exercises with the use of the fiberoptic camera. Her research was presented several years ago at the New York Chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. It was exciting indeed to see the results of Dr. Mathis' research.

I have always been fascinated with the success that these vocal exercises create for singers. In 1993, I located Mrs. Alan Lindquest in Virginia. I made a special trip to visit with her and solidify the ideas that Alan Lindquest had researched. It was fortunate that I was able to copy some audio tapes of his teaching. Included in that series of tapes were two of his work with damaged voices. On these tapes, he uses the vocal exercises that he learned in Stockholm in 1938 and 1939. He simply lessened the range. The three exercises that created the most results were the "ng", the "cuperto exercise" (see article) and the "cord closure exercises". I had worked with damaged voices before, and I was delighted to hear that Lindquest worked in much the same style of teaching: taking an efficient vocalise and performing it using a smaller range. (I recommend this with younger voices as well.)

The following case studies reflect the positive results that these vocal exercises had in specific situations where vocal damage had occurred.

(1) Mezzo-contralto: In 1982, I was fortunate indeed to meet and work with a mezzo-contralto from Amsterdam, The Netherlands. After World War II, she developed a growth on the right vocal cord. She had experienced excellent vocal training, however, the growth developed as tumerous tissue. She had surgery on the growth and was left with approximately one octave and a third of range. After working with the one octave version of the "cuperto", she was able to stretch her range in spite of the scar tissue. Within one summer of work, this singer added a full fifth on the upper range of her voice. She can now sing song repertoire with efficient technique and teaches voice in Amsterdam.

(2) Tenor: I first met this young tenor at a small music school where I taught upon first moving to New York. He often observed my teaching and we became friendly colleagues. Tragically, several years later, an intruder attacked him in his apartment. During this attack, he suffered multiple stab wounds, one through the heart. He was rushed to the hospital where emergency heart surgery was performed and he was placed on a respirator. The large tube that was placed down his throat created vocal swelling called "tubular granuloma". He was unable to sing and about two months after the incident, he called me for vocal help. We worked together for approximately sixteen weeks. This work was inspiring and amazing. Lindquest's work paid off yet again. This singer was able to return to New York City Opera within a three-month period from the incident. His vocal cord swelling had completely disappeared from the injured cord.

(3) Mezzo-soprano: I first met this young singer in 1991. After two vocal cord surgeries for nodules, she was unable to sing classically again, so she took a jazz singing class. The teacher was a student of mine and was alarmed by her unhealthy singing. She came to me with "bowed vocal cords", which usually creates breathy tone and a "wobble" in the middle register. I immediately placed her on the Lindquest exercises. Within 6 months, the wobble disappeared. Within one year, the voice was completely aligned and healthy. This singer later auditioned and was accepted into the doctoral program at a major university. She went to school through a scholarship award.

(4) Soprano: In 1988, this singer was sent to me by her Chiropractor. She had relied on her usual vocal resiliency and had let her technique go for several years. In addition, she had been "belting" heavily in an off-Broadway show. She developed a pre-polypoid swelling on the left vocal cord, a small nodule on the left vocal cord, and the beginnings of broken blood vessels. Needless to say, she had a "hole in her voice" where the vocal cords would not approximate. What was once a three and one half-octave voice had been reduced to less than an octave, with middle C being the end of her comfort zone. Her first doctor wanted to perform surgery immediately. I suggested that she pursue the exercises diligently for six months before making a decision. Before this time, she had worked with a speech therapist/voice teacher with no change in her vocal condition. After using the Lindquest vocalises for six months, I had my doctor perform a fiberoptic scoping on her. The swelling had been reduced greatly and the nodule had disappeared. She was able to sing normally and function of the upper register had returned. My doctor was of the opinion that surgery was out of the question. Today, her vocal cords are completely normal. She sings, performs, teaches, and does voice over work in the New York area.

(5) Baritone: This baritone's voice pathologist sent him to me after vocal cord surgery for a polyp. He had injured himself because of a "high-larynxed" technique of singing. There was a relative large "skip" in the voice between falsetto and full voice function. The high range suffered from "split tone": sounding more that one note simultaneously. This was a result of the cords "splitting apart" for the high notes. After one year of study, the skip between falsetto and full voice had disappeared. His upper register is vibrating normally and his larynx has been trained in a lower position through breath control. He has recently performed with orchestra in the New York area.

(6) Mezzo-soprano: Age 82: I was called by a friend of mine to work with her mother. She had a brain tumor removed and her speech function was damaged. After surgery, she could only make "animal grunting noises". Five speech therapists had tried in vain to help her regain her speech. As we know, the speech side and creative side of the brain are located differently. My first step toward gaining some vocal cord approximation was with the use of "huh-oh", an exercise that Lindquest had used with vocal damage. This sound creates a slight closing of the cords. I then began to visit her and sing from an old hymnal located on the piano. This work was strictly experimental on my part. The client began to sing with me. Within six weeks, she could speak with approximately 75% of normal speech function and was fully understandable. This experience proved to me that the singing function could be used to regain speech function.