There's much work to be done and not much work can get done while experiencing frequent bouts of vocal fatigue and pain. And if I said I wasn't frustrated and angry, I'd only be lying to myself. But not all hope is lost cause there's the "drop and give me 20" exercises. I learned a series of lip trills that basically make me sound like a lawn mower, and was instructed to do them any time I feel like I need to give my muscles a rest. The exercises create a vibratory sensation so it's like the sound and the muscle movement in the larynx/vocal fold region is massaging itself. Its pretty cool. I pretty much hum along to tunes all day long just to keep my larynx loose. In fact I'm pretty much using my voice more so during warm-ups, exercises, and cool downs, than I am for everyday normal or artistic use, but I guess that's just the nature of rehab. It's nice to at least to have finally found a way to loosen things up and keep them loose all the time. If I can keep things loose, then I'm sure to be able to make the vocal transition I'm hoping to eventually make. I'm already noticing an improvement to my speaking voice so that's a start in the right direction!
This week's was exciting though I was admittedly a bit nervous before going into it. I had had a visit to my laryngologist the day before and had received some not so good (though not so bad news). The good news: my vocal cords are looking healthier than ever. The bad news: I'm going to have this condition forever. "Forever"; my doctor's words, not my own catastrophic reading into something. A part of me knew this already. Another part of me didn't want to believe it. And as I left with nothing but a "keep doing what you're doing and I'll see ya in 6 months", I couldn't help but feel angry and frustrated. And after I allowed to feel my emotional response, perspective sunk in. Maybe medicine could not reverse my condition. Maybe medicine could not relieve me of my physical pain. But maybe correcting my vocal habits could. And so therefore, maybe the word "forever" would not doom me.
I got to my voice session and my coach could immediately hear a difference in my voice just from the casual friendly greeting we exchanged to each other. It was this that made her decide that we were ready to transition from speaking to singing.
After some speech warm-ups, we began singing; in a talk-like kinda way that is best known in the Broadway style of singing. "Hmm", I thought, "could I possibly approach Sententia's music as if I were in Savatage or Ayreon? How prog would that be?" I got excited at this approach though while singing scales using the repetitive phrases I learned from my speech exercises, my confidence dropped. "I don't know what I'm doing", I thought, "I can't sing without pain". My coach noticed this immediately. With some encouragement and helpful feedback and education, she helped me become aware of the distinction between vocal fatigue and stretching the vocal muscles. Stretches = good. Fatigue = bad. The "pain" I was feeling this time around was not fatigue but indeed a good stretch. I kept going up and down the scales while learning how to become aware of the movement of my larynx, tongue, and neck muscles (so basically, every muscle needed to produce sound) as well as my breath (the awareness of keeping it natural). "Its not about pitch. Don't worry about pitch, your ear is fine," encouraged my coach, "it's about training your larynx to move properly. By developing that muscle memory in your larynx, you will automatically land each pitch every single time".
Are my "bad" habits gone. Nope. So not yet. But my awareness is developing and things are moving forward (and so is my voice!). I left my session this week feeling much better about things. So what if my condition is forever. Pain will not cripple me, and will not define the use of my vocal production.
In my second session with my Estill trainer, I told my teacher I was concerned that my exercises, though certainly bringing my voice out of my throat and more forward into my mouth, I couldn't bring those exercises into everyday practice, and couldn't seem to get my voice out of my throat without sounding like an "inquisitive robot". My trainer's response was simply but encouragingly, "patience". So as we worked together, I began to lose the robot tone and started to become aware of how relevant these exercises are to my everyday speaking. I'm working towards, what my trainer calls, "goal standard voice", and since I'm basically reconditioning a lifetime of poor, maladaptive vocal habits, I'm slowly but surely noticing a difference in how my muscles are being used, and the kind of voice they are producing. This reconditioning is almost like cognitive behavior therapy for the voice. Huh, weird that muscles and cartilege, and organs would need cognitive therapy. But maybe not so weird. After all, isn't the entire body's function and movement neurologic anyways? And so in the second session, I saw some definite results in my speaking voice. Not totally there at that standard I'm looking for, but there was an effortlessness and a fluidity that I hadn't been able to achieve before.
I'm now working on reading aloud, both in a public speaking, and emotive speaking voice. If I can apply my repetitive phrases to an actual narrative, then I'll be well on my way to the transition from speaking to singing.
Still not quite sure what the result of this will end up being, but I'm working with a great coach and am still feeling hopeful about the process.
My first day with my new vocal coach was a bit odd, a bit expressive, and a bit not what I was expecting at all. The approach that my coach is taking is similar to voice therapy. This can be expected because she's an Estill voice trainer. We began by trying to create an awareness of how my vocal fold and larynx move. "Really?" I thought, "it's not suppose to feel hard and boney?" There's a lot of tension where the damage and asymetry of my cords have taken place. And I just assumed this whole time that things felt the way they were supposed to feel. Not the case!
So, I've been massaging and getting a better understanding of what things feel like on the inside. I thought I'd be grossed out feeling my larynx and softening it as if tenderizing raw meet, but it's really not that bad. I mean, it's just like massaging any other muscle of the body. Which is the point, it's just another limb needing to be massaged before it works out.
The voice exercises themselves are humorous but I can understand why they're necessary. Phrases that contain vibratory consonants such as "m", "n", "v", or "w" are used in repitition that include counts from 1 to 20 (or days of the week, months of the year, etc.). The repitition is what makes the wiring in the brain relearn how the muscles in my throat are supposed to work. A neurologic approach to singing and speaking. Pretty nerdy and pretty awesome.
I seem to enjoy words starting with the letter "n". And the number "8" seems to be where my voice drops back into my throat and strains itself. Becoming aware of the laryngal vibrations is pretty cool. How could I not feel these before? The other part to this so far is posture. More so than breath. My posture sucks cause you know, drummers like to slouch, but I'm getting there.
Breath seems to be the opposite of what I thought. Unless I were training in opera, a deep breath, is NOT what I'm looking for. It's all about keeping the breath natural, as in, letting my brain do what it can do without effort and just breathe and keep me alive. It's not breath control for me, it's breathing regularly without trying to control it in a way that I think will be helpful. This is because the larynx and vocal folds are doing all the work, not so much the breath. And of course, when you're told to allow the breath to flow naturally, it becomes difficult to do that.
Eventually, the goal is to become so aware and so natural that I will be able to control how my larynx is moving so I can control how I want to use my voice. And more importantly, how I can use my voice without it causing me pain. For now though, I'm just being open minded, trying to become more aware, and trying to be natural.
To be continued...
I've been trying to process what my current vocal state means to me. On one hand, it was a sigh of relief to get some insight as to what exactly the "injury" , "disorder", (whatever you wanna call it) is. I found out I have asymetrical vocal cords, meaning that only one vocal fold moves normally, while the other one is stiff and barely moves at all...I got to see how my own vocal cords/larynx work (or rather not work) which was both fascinating and disgusting...This injury may or may not be an injury but a disorder which means it could be an injury caused from a series of infections, or it could be something neurologic; nerve damage that I was essentially born with. As of now, it's too soon to know these things for sure.
It's in my nature to appreciate the science in any form of discomfort, as it does give me some relief to know just exactly how my body is working; even if it's function is abnormal. At the same time though, there is some discouragement due to the uncertainty that lays before me. I know what the problem or diagnosis is now, but treatment is still a mystery. And it will remain a mystery for another 3 months.
Until then, I will continue to do what I have been doing. I will continue to move forward with the Another Afterlife record in any way that I can. I will continue to work on various side projects while the record needs to take a breather, one being the score to a play that I am very proud to be a part of. I will continue to search for ways to express myself, and I will continue to take care of my voice; warming it up, changing my lifestyle and diet (as to not exacerbate any problem with both GERD and LRD reflux, which is playing a contributing role to these issues), and remembering to do the most important thing of all; rest. And in time, hopefully sooner than later, the only thing that will need rest is this chapter in my creative journey.
In an effort to both help motivate me to keep up with my voice therapy exercises and make sure I recover fully as well as come up with a way where fans can be involved in the making of "Another Afterlife", I have come up with the "Second Chances" contest.
It's really quite simple. To enter, all you have to do is tweet me @sententia_music, message me, or email me (email@example.com) a word or a phrase/brief passage of what the concept of second chances means to you. These words and phrases will become part of my daily speaking repertoire that I go through each day when doing my vocal exercises. The most captivating comments sent to me will be recorded and included in a spoken word passage on the record.
So start sending me your words/reactions. The deadline is May 31st. I'm excited to what you all have to offer, and hope this is going to be a fun way for all of us to get involved and collaborate together.
All these years, I've been ignorant to the idea that I could ever do damage to my voice. I'm not a "loud" person by any means and my style of singing is fairly "soft-spoken". Nonetheless, I've learned that it doesn't matter how little or how much you use your voice, the possibility of damaging it still exists. I began voice rehab last week and not only have I already learned some important breathing techniques and vocal warm-ups, but the speech pathologist I'm seeing has given me some great insight into "vocal hygeine", how the body works, and just how it all plays a huge role in the proper use of the voice. I think the scientific interest I'm having is keeping me from stressing out about what the future holds for me and my singing career. I will be in rehab for 3 months to repair the damage of a collapsed larynx and to restretch my vocal cords. Even with this rehab, there is still the possibility that I may not be able to sing again or at least for long periods of time like I use to which will of course impact the band. But on the flip side, there is also the possibility that I may come out of this a "better" singer. Stress is obviously not a good thing for my voice, so I'm trying to not think about the future and am just focusing on my daily warm-ups and the discipline I need to get better...I've been having to remind myself that 64 ounces of water a day is not that much when you think of it as just 4 pints of beer haha. And I've also been reminding myself of my childhood days when I militantly practiced my drumming rudiments. It is that kind of discipline I need to make sure I heal properly. Interestingly enough, I think this experience will also help me become more aware of how my voice works (and how my body works for that matter). I've always been pretty good at being aware of my mind, but have never been able to pay close attention to my body's needs. I have a feeling when these 3 months are over, my awareness (and my musicianship) will have become much stronger. Fingers crossed!
I never realized just how much I use voice as a form of expression. The past 6 weeks not being able to sing have been emotionally brutal. No matter what other forms of art I engaged in, no matter how much I made sure I wasn't internalizing my creativity, the lack of voice made me feel as if something was still missing. I had no idea up until now how much of an outlet singing is for me. During my days not singing, I wrote a beautifully finger picked instrumental, and as I heard words in my head, but couldn't get them out, the music took on a melancholy that sent me to tears. I actually think I'm going to keep this song instrumental because this song expresses the need to emote no matter what you may or may not have. Ironically, I've never considered myself a vocalist and still don't. It's just a role I've assigned myself in the band. But without the ability to sing and the everyday need to sing, I realize just how imperative it is for me on a personal and emotional level. Its my way of connecting to a song, and is the only way I feel I have truly gotten everything out.
I was honestly a little scared to begin singing again. Not because I didn't think I was physically ready, but because I worried that I had forgotten how to. Last Thursday I not only began singing again, and in a sense began to "stretch out the strain", but I also wrote my first lyrical song in two months. I don't normally share music that is unrelated to Sententia, but the lyrics to the song is about your expression being taken away from you and not being able to get it back, and it depicts what was going on in my head while I went through my days without a voice. It is titled... ~ "A Break in the Sky" This inability to speak, I feel myself cave in. Not even a clue how to think, I shake and I shake but my walls keep closing in.
If I could reach out, express the world through you, I’d feel myself whole in the comfort of this safety.
If I can’t talk, what can I do? All forms of expression, lost without you. They tell me to rest and to keep the faith, but I feel the strain of my patience dying down.
I open my mouth and hope the world comes out. A break in the sky is better than this silence.
I am lost to ovecome this heart break. I’m not defined without a voice to let you out. ~ This coming Friday, I will be entering the studio to begin tracking vocals for the record. Though I'm going to be patient with myself, I'm excited to be in this stage of the recording process. I think if anything, the inability to express for a while, will be the inspiration that drives my upcoming vocal performances into being as emotive as possible.
There isn't anyone I've talked to who disagrees with me when I say that recording vocals is the hardest part to making a record. It is the one instrument that must be both perfect and emotive and being our own part of the body, should be the most natural instrument to control. Yet it is not. Our voice is controlled by our body's present biological state, and depending on where it is will determine the quality of our voice. This is why recording vocals is so daunting to me. And it doesn't help that I am getting over a severe case of tonsillitis which only reminds me of the throat infection and vocal troubles I was having almost a year ago. Nonetheless, with another week of "resting my voice" to go, I plan to start recording vocal parts by the end of October. I can't control the recording session, the sessions will merely control me depending on what my capabilities are within that session time. But I can at least "exercise" as if training for a marathon. I've been utilizing meditative breathing and muscle relaxation exercises for this purpose, and have come to realize that in the same way the immune system can suffer when the mind is under stress, stress can also effect the vocal cords. Afterall, the vocal cords need to stay relaxed, and it's impossible to be relaxed if there is tension. So...this is kind of what I'm working on as a way to prep before going into the studio. Wish me luck!
The past couple of weeks have been spent tweaking and tweaking the drum mixes. This is something I have always found tedious and boring (though obviously necessary) but lately, I have developed quite an enjoment to mixing. Maybe it's the mystery behind hearing something in your head and tweaking a sound until it syncs with what's inside, but whatever the reason is, I've become to get a rush out of it similar to a creative high. It makes me understand and acknowledge that mixing isn't just engineering, it's also an art. The drums are getting close to being just the way I want them, and this weekend I start mixing/editing the lead guitar parts. I'm excited to bring in another instrument and further layer what is already present in the mix. This is only going to extend the creative high I'm already on!