Saturday, November 20, 2010

The aria almost sung

  My formal voice training resumed yesterday.  On the eve of my 65th  birthday, my debut at the Metropolitan Opera must certainly be in sight.  The greatest sadness in my life has been not being able to sing. My untrained voice sounds like a sick truck. Yet it makes no sense. I have the musical talent. I was a prodigy on the piano at  age 4. My grandfather was an opera singer,  so I should have inherited some of his abilities. My powerful lungs allow me to swim under water longer than most people, and, I am endowed  with the body of famous Wagnerian sopranos. Then there's been my lifelong passion for opera.  When girls of my generation were swooning over Elvis, I was secluded in my bedroom listening to the Saturday Met Broadcast.

 But I couldn't sing. I could soar to the arias and fall in love with the coloraturas,  and I could spend my hard-earned baby- and pet-sitting money on membership in the pricey Metropolitan Opera Guild, and I will never never fall out of love with opera.

 Parkinson's [PD]. however, can rob us of the voices we do have.  Sadly, many Parkinsonians find themselves eager to express themselves, while their voices are reduced to a whisper. My own speaking voice now fatigues during a long teaching day, and I can no longer raise my voice or yell when necessary. Then, there is this inability to swallow that often accompanies this loss of vocalization. My neurologist sent me to Vanderbilt's state of the art  Pi Beta Phi, Bill Wilkerson Speech and Hearing center for evaluation and speech therapy.

 "Say 'AHHHH' and hold it as long as you can," ordered my young speech therapist. "AHH, Ack, choke, cough."  I lasted 7 seconds. Then, after 2 more attempts, she told me to start with the same AH and run my voice up as high as it would go.  Two notes above my initial "AH" I broke up, this time gasping for breath. Then my big break came!  She told me to start at that original "AH" again and do a bass run to the lowest "note" I could reach. My basso grandfather would have been so proud. Out came a deep, melodious, descent to what I am certain was a low G, which I held a phenomenal 20 seconds without losing voice quality. I was as astonished by this operatic sound.  "WOW!" Sara exclaimed. "You do not need the 17-week Lee Silverman PD speech therapy method in its entirety YET." We continued other aspects of my evaluation--reading, talking non-stop for 90 seconds [harder than one might imagine, even for me], then scheduled a session to teach me how to work on my voice at home.  The PD "silence," it seems, is not only far off, but might even be averted with dedication to this training.  Additionally, continued work on this part of my anatomy might strengthen the muscles that will help me swallow non-ice-cream foods and pills.

 But I digress.  I had learned several very valuable lessons.  Opening the throat to say "AH" (or to yawn) is something we Parkinsonians must do every single day.  We must also read out loud every day--perhaps a paragraph or more. And we should do these things in a LOUD VOICE! 

And, now, live from Lincoln Center....

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