The Saga of My Vocal Nodes (Or how I had to learn to shut up and appreciate silence)

NOTE! If you think you might have nodes, or are experiencing vocal stress and aren't sure why, please try to see a licensed speech pathologist (Find one here!). They are qualified to make sure you are not physically damaging your voice further, and to help you heal.

Around the middle of July, coinciding with the first of our multiple and stressful moves, I noticed that I had been having a hoarse voice much longer than normal with no other symptoms (no cold, no really "sore" throat...). I wrote it off as "stress" and figured if it continued after things settled down I'd see someone. When it didn't go away by the end of August I was really getting alarmed and September 2, 2002 they stuck a tube down my throat and found vocal nodes.

As a singer and voice teacher I was devastated. I was scared about what this would mean for my singing both long and short term, worried about how much damage had been done, and frankly embarrassed and a bit ashamed that I, a voice teacher and professional singer, got the dreaded nodes!

So I began to research them. Here's some of the urls I got information from:

American Speech Language Hearing Association

This page ASHA - is some basic FAQs about vocal disorders.

The Center for Voice Disorders (CVD) of Wake Forest University

Teachers Take Note! The National Center for Voice and Speech (has the very informative "Voice Academy" specifically designed to educate teachers about vocal disorders and fatigue!)

Please realize that these are just some of the most useful of the many sites I found and I can't vouch for the validity of the information therein - if you are concerned about your voice please, see a doctor or a licensed speech pathologist (Find one here!).

Also my friend Joanna Cazden (who is a licensed speech pathologist as well as a voice teacher!)has a site full of useful information: The Voice of Your Life

Here is a link to my hand out on vocal health that I give students and workshop attendees.

I found out that it is actually quite common for singers, even those of us who take excellent care of our singing voices, to develop nodes due to misuse of our speaking voices, particularly when in stressful times. Joy. So now it is a personal mission to make sure that other singers are more aware of this and really take seriously vocal trouble that lasts more than a couple weeks.

Here's a picture of my nodes - oh boy! See the little bumps on the white V shaped cords? Those are the nodes. They are in the typical spot. Notice how the vocal folds can't close fully? That's what makes for the breathy / raspy sound.

Fortunately they think I got them fairly early and my dedication to therapy is likely to allow a complete healing. Unfortunately this means that I'm supposed to avoid talking as much as possible (those of you who know me are laughing uproariously, especially those of you who know that I have two children - Corwin almost a year old, who is learning to talk and Rowan, almost 3 years old who is very very verbal and loves to be sung to and read to.) I'm also not allowed to sing for several months.(except for some really limited "vocal function exercises" that are very simple warm ups and a test of how long you can hold tones.) We anticipate my being able to participate in Contata in June where Ed has a gig as a guest of honor but before that - not sure how much singing I'll be doing. It's very very hard on me. It feels like I'm a changeling. I'm so used to being able to sing anything I want, with a big strong voice and a range of over 2 octaves. Now I'm breathy, raspy, sometimes it just gives out, I can't even talk much, let alone sing, and when I do try to sing I can't. I don't mean to over dramatize things but when I'm at my most depressed it seems like it must be similar to someone who has a stroke and has to relearn how to do things that were totally ingrained.

On the other hand - I'm trying to brush up on my instrumental skills, we're all learning American Sign Language together, I'm trying to learn to appreciate silence and meditation more, I'm forcing myself to do more relaxation and yoga and Alexander work... and I think in the future, when I start teaching again, I'll be a better teacher because I surely am having to learn all over again and be aware of things that I used to take for granted as second nature.

One last note on this - I worked with a very nice speech pathologist who is also a folk singer. Karen McFeeters. She has 2 CDs out! Check her out. Tell her "mew" sent you.

Update

After a year of not singing and trying not to talk much I went back and had myself re-strobed. (Will try to find the picture and get it up) Things look good! The doctor said that the nodes are not completely gone but look very good. He said that they may go away completely but they may not and even if they don't plenty of professional singers perform with nodes the size of mine. So - hopefully they'll dissapear forever eventually but no matter what I'm considerably more aware of vocal stress and fatigue now at least so am not likely to let things go again. However, I am currently pursuing a Masters of Education and I read "Teachers are a whopping 32 times more likely to report voice difficulties than people in other jobs, according to a recent study." Yay.

If you are a teacher check out this terrific page! The Voice Academy is a special online web tutorial specifically designed to educate teachers about vocal disorders and fatigue.