This is a text I was honoured to be  invited to write for the Norwegian EVTA (European Vocational Training Association) members magazine ”Stemmer som stemmer”. 1 / 2024 (The text has been translated)

To learn more about this journey, go to the Instagram account Singing without my voice or go back to main page and read the posts there (updating the posts daily).

Photo: Anna-Julia Granberg, BLUNDERBUSS

When a professional singer visits a speech therapist, it is often with more than just a voice that isn’t functioning properly. In my case, it has been accompanied by deep anxiety, stress, restlessness, and a sense of not knowing who I was anymore. Because who are we when our voice doesn’t work? Who are we when we can’t sing and work? Additionally, as a classically trained singer like myself, shame often comes along for the ride. We, especially us classical singers, are supposed to have such good technique, and if you have good enough technique, you shouldn’t have problems with your voice. If you do have problems, then you are a bad singer (= a bad person). It’s no wonder that all speech therapists have a box of tissues on their desk…

I carried a vocal cord injury for many years that went unnoticed by the doctors I had consulted. I had, of course, noticed that my voice was gradually deteriorating – that it couldn’t do things it used to do. I went to doctors, but they didn’t examine me thoroughly enough, and for many years, I was essentially told to ”relax,” with the explanation: ”especially women your age…”. When it dawned on me that things were so serious that surgery was the next realistic step, it was partly with a feeling that the ground beneath me was disappearing, partly with a sense of vindication. My intuition that something had been seriously wrong had been correct.

After the surgery, a long rehabilitation followed. Initially, I had to remain completely silent for a couple of months, and after that, it took more than a year to fully recover. One of the reasons it took so long was that I harbored an insane anger over being misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed. An anger I couldn’t express, as I wasn’t allowed to speak, let alone scream. I also had to refrain from crying and laughing, and the suppressed emotions manifested as an infection on my newly operated vocal cords. For me, meeting a speech therapist like Maria Wennersten meant I could let my shoulders drop, and my voice could find peace. She, being a trained singer herself with similar experiences as mine, understood exactly what I was going through – she had felt the existential crisis that a singer without a functioning voice experiences on her own body. She never called me a ”good girl” when I was too ambitious with my exercises. She also didn’t question my decision to perform concerts for which I wasn’t really ready. She let me talk, talk, and talk. Expressing exactly how difficult this was, was crucial for me. It was essential to understand why I ended up in such a serious situation.

A professional singer knows their voice extremely well. Extremely! Many of us have studied it in-depth every day for many decades. We know what it masters and what it doesn’t. Yes, we know a lot about the instrument, but still, we can go for a long time with a voice that is gradually getting worse. Why? Often, we sing even when we are sick and should have canceled both concerts and rehearsals. We push ourselves for the sake of colleagues, just as much as for our own (if we don’t do the concert, it might be canceled, maybe no one gets paid… maybe it becomes a catastrophe). We learn to manipulate the voice to function even when it actually doesn’t. We become experts at pretending. Not checking in too much. Not being too sensitive. Soldier on! As I mentioned earlier, shame is often part of the picture. We don’t talk about these problems – many seem to believe that talking about it makes it worse – so many just keep going, hoping no one notices how bad it sounds. We can carry on like this for a long time, and the consequences can be serious. We can completely forget how a healthy voice feels, as I did. And then, we have to go back to square one. To mmm, to oooo, to brrrrr… To the speech therapist. But a professional singer (I repeat the words ”professional singer” because the voice is perceived as ”everything” for someone who uses it not only to speak but also to pay rent) who encounters such significant problems with their voice, like I did, needs more than just one helping hand. She needs an ENT doctor specialized in singing voices, she needs someone who can work with her entire body, she might need something ”alternative,”* like acupuncture and massage, and she most likely needs a professional psychotherapist. After all, the speech therapist is one of the most crucial pillars in the process. Someone who listens to changes in vocal quality, hears when things are going well, and provides appropriate exercises when they are not. Someone who has encountered similar problems before and can reassure one that it will probably be fine in the end. It was for me. 

Thank you very much for reading my words!


* to call massage or acupuncture ”alternative” is actually not my way of saying it. This is what many doctors talk about treatments other than purely medical, in the western tradition.