Hitting healthy high notes

Neo Bodumela

USING your singing voice incorrectly, eating and drinking the wrong foods can cause lasting damage to young voices which may need rehabilitation. This is according to award-winning soprano soloist Vanessa Tait-Jones, who was in Nelson Mandela Bay this weekend to perform with the Eastern Cape Philharmonic Orchestra.

Tait-Jones, a part-time singing lecturer at Stellenbosch University and a voice rehabilitation facilitator, said singers needed to be aware of how they used their vocal ability in order to avoid damaging their voices.

“As a singer, a voice teacher and a voice rehabilitation facilitator, I realise that most singers struggle with some sort of vocal problem some time in their career. Specialised help and advice in this regard is not common in South Africa as in first-world countries,” she said.

“Many times, singers are ignorant about how they use their voices during speech and singing and the things they eat and drink that could affect their voices negatively. Singers need to know more about how to manage their voices and how to maintain vocal hygiene.”

Tait-Jones works part-time at the inter-disciplinary voice clinic at Tygerberg Hospital where she provides voice rehabilitation for singers, in conjunction with an ear, nose and throat surgeon and a speech therapist.

She says many singers are not aware that most damage to their voices is due to functional problems like using their voices incorrectly.

She suggested there was a need for voice management education.

“Many people would immediately think cancer due to smoking or something of the sorts. Of course smoking is a big no-no for singers. Most voice problems that occur … are of a functional nature due to incorrect use of the voice.

“Irritation to the larynx due to infection or acid reflux could also cause a vocal problem. Lesions [growths on the vocal chords], like vocal nodules [which] are most common for singers, polyps and cysts are common pathological voice problems that can form on the vocal fold, but these are mostly benign.

“These lesions will hamper full closure of the vocal folds and cause symptoms like hoarseness, loss of high notes and a voice that tires quickly. My research showed that 73% of singers who visited the clinic with voice problems were choir and amateur singers who never had training before.

“This shows the need for voice management education for many singers, and teachers for that matter,” Tait-Jones said.

She started working with the clinic while she was completing research for her masters degree, focusing on the topic of voice problems. She has been working at the clinic since then.

“The voice clinic I am involved with is unique because during the consultation, the ear, nose, throat [ENT], speech therapist and singing teacher are present. This provides a more hands-on and holistic approach to advise and treatment possible.

“The ENT specialist heads the clinic. According to his diagnosis a discussion on treatment follows. This often includes medication as well as rehabilitation of the speech and/or singing voice.

“There is nothing as beautiful as a voice resonating free in a perfect balance of breath, tone and spirit.”

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