The end of October and beginning of November were very busy for me—I directed an opera, performed in a faculty recital, and sang the soprano solo and chorus parts in Fauré’s beautiful Requiem with some wonderful colleagues. None of this is anything unusual for a professional singer/voice teacher/director, but it is a little unusual for me at the current time, as I have been recovering from a very bad case of acid reflux that has held my high range hostage for a period of many months while I worked to figure out what was causing it and how to treat it. The truth of the matter is, my voice is still not where I would like it to be, but I feel it is more important to continue to sing as a work in progress rather than wait until I feel 100% recovered.
The day after the recital, I went back to my ENT doctor to have him look at my vocal cords and assess the recovery. “Wow!” he said. “That’s much better than six months ago! Just a little thick at the back.” This was good news, and confirmation of what I felt in my own voice that I am in a lot better shape than I was then. For the recital I had purposely programmed less demanding repertoire with a lower tessitura, since I was still recovering, though I have been working my way back up into my soprano range.
Once I started healing from the reflux (I won’t go into all the details, but the single thing that helped the most was to eliminate wheat), it didn’t mean my voice would instantly go back to where it had been, because, in singing with chronic irritation, I had not been able to access the top of my range without muscling up there with too much weight in the sound. I had to also get the proper muscular coordination back.
I’ve worked hard on rehabbing my voice through regular practice and targeted work to learn how to lighten back up and get my voice more “heady” in the high range than I was able to accomplish during chronic irritation from reflux. I’ve been taking lessons via Zoom with a wonderful teacher, Barbara Fox DeMaio. A side benefit of all of this? It’s making me a better teacher, because I am having to go back to the basics and revisit and reanalyze almost every aspect of my own technique. (And as I write this, I am clearing my throat, wondering if it was the small amount of guacamole or the small amount of salsa I had with my chicken rice bowl? I already asked for “no beans” because I am afraid they could be a trigger. So yes, there are still frustrations.)
At some point I decided to sing with the voice I have now, even though it is a work in progress. That is what I tell my students, after all. Don’t think about that one note you didn’t like—focus on the rest of the music to come! Don’t wait until your voice is in perfect shape to sing or you will never sing at all. Remember that Beverly Sills is reported to have only been happy with her own singing six times in her life. When life messes with your high notes? Sing some lower repertoire.
I’d be lying if I said I was happy with the way I sound. I feel very good about my middle and lower range, and the high notes are coming back, but I’m having to work diligently across the secondo passaggio to not carry too much weight up and not let tension creep in because of so many months when those notes were not fully functional. I don’t quite have the stamina I would like. If I’m not careful, the higher pitches will be pushed and shrill. But the more I continue to work, the more likely it will be that they will come out the way they should, and that is something worth celebrating.