Why So Many Vocal Cord Surgeries for Award-Winning Singers?
(LOS ANGELES) -- For some of today's most powerful young singers, vocal cord issues have them "rolling in the deep."
The health of singing sensation Adele's raspy voice, which propelled her into superstardom and has made her a favorite to sweep the Grammys next month, was threatened last year. Weeks after her Sept. 22 concert at Albert Hall in London, the singer/songwriter had surgery to repair her vocal cords and save her career. She hasn't sung publically since her surgery.
But the 23-year-old isn't the only young singer to go under the knife to help save her voice. John Mayer, 34, was operated on last year, as was 44-year-old country star Keith Urban.
Singers are suffering from polyps, nodules and even hemorrhaging in their throats, the kind of severe damage that can shut down any booming voice, according to Dr. Shawn Nasseri, an otolaryngologist in Beverly Hills who treats many of the biggest money-making singers in the music business today.
It takes the coordination of the lungs, diaphragm, neck, voice box, throat and mouth to produce a voice, but it's when the vocal cords are brought together and vibrate that a pitch and tone are produced. Nasseri said for a singer suffering from a hemorrhaging polyp on their vocal cords, similar to what Adele had, the polyp can keep the two vocal cords from meeting and give the person "absolutely no voice."
Nasseri said these kinds of injuries are not attributed to genetics, but happen because of a specific vocal technique that singers are doing wrong -- forcing or straining their voice when they should be resting it.
"It's like if you have a bruised, swollen ankle and you want to go run 10 miles, that's exactly when you're going to have trouble," he said.
Problems are easily developed when high demands are placed on popular singers by the new realities of the music business, which is now so dependent on touring, traveling and keeping an active public profile.
And it's not just the career demands that can take its toll on singers, but also lifestyle choices -- cigarettes, alcohol and even acid reflux can cause long-term voice problems.
Soul singer John Legend, 33, said he has grown mindful of the importance of looking after his voice.
"I've certainly been no stranger to having issues with my voice," he said. "My first year performing was the worst year because I didn't know how to pace myself, and once I started to understand how it worked, I started to pace myself better."
When the vocal cords are damaged, Nasseri said minimally invasive surgery, the type Adele underwent, heals wounds with minimal risk.
"But we always use surgery as a last option, because everyone knows about Julie Andrews' voice," he said.
Andrews, the star of the original "The Sound of Music" and "Mary Poppins" films, lost her singing voice after a 1997 surgery. Her story remains a cautionary tale to other musicians. Recording artist Celeste Prince is slowly making a comeback after, she said, vocal problems and subsequent surgery ruined her signature raspy sound and threatened her career. Since her recovery Prince said she was "relieved" to get her voice back.
Vocal coach Roger Love, who has worked with almost everyone in the music business from Gwen Stefani to Def Leppard, said he prefers to heal damaged vocal cords without surgery.
"Why would anyone want surgery?" Love said. "If I tell the artist that I can eliminate those calluses that are on their cords by teaching them how to sing better, who's going to take the knife? In my view the vocal cords are never better after surgery."
Love said he will lay down the law of good vocal practice with his top-tier singing clients, starting with proper vocal warm-up exercises before shows.
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