Having a nasal passage issue as a singer is bad enough, but what if it is so severe that it completely affects your singing? And what if you are not only performing in a show, but your day job is as a music teacher? This month, soprano Kelly Edgar shares her story of overcoming an injury while being in the middle of a musical theatre production and trying to finish up the school year as a public school music teacher.
What vocal injury did you overcome?
I had an infected nasal polyp that grew so large it was blocking the right side of my nasal passage, resulting in post-nasal drip and extreme hoarseness. Regular doctors couldn’t see the polyp, so they assumed it was merely due to my allergies since I had no other symptoms. After a few months of persistent hoarseness, I was referred to an ENT who discovered what was going on. Luckily, he also determined that my vocal folds were completely healthy.
How did it affect your singing?
I lost my middle range, which made singing in the show I was in very difficult. I was playing Jenny Hill in a production of Big Fish and, while it was not a large singing role, what I had to sing was embarrassingly challenging for me. I am also a full-time middle school choir teacher, so speaking all day and modeling for my students and then rehearsing at night was taking quite a toll on me.
How did it affect other aspects of your life?
Singing and speaking became somewhat of a chore the longer the hoarseness persisted. I started to think that perhaps I had some sort of permanent vocal damage because my voice just never got better. Because of my health insurance plan, I could only see a specialist with a referral. When I was finally referred to the ENT, several months had passed, and it was the week of the opening of my show. The ENT treated me for the infection but explained that the polyp had to be surgically removed.
When the doctor put me on antibiotics, I assumed my singing would improve, but it actually became worse. I lost my voice completely the second week of the show. I woke up one morning and could barely talk. The production staff was ready to have me lip sync while someone else sang my solos for me. I tried my best to avoid going that route and nursed my voice all day with tea, steam, and tons of rest. A few hours before the show, I did some very gentle vocal exercises to see if I could just get through the small amount of solo singing my character had.
I did not want to lip sync . . . it just didn’t feel right to me. After warming up a bit, I realized I could sing, but very softly. The sound engineers turned my mic up as much as possible and I got through my parts, though I did lip sync all the ensemble numbers. By the third week, my voice was better, but not at all where it once was. I truly felt as though I may never sing the same way again, but I remained hopeful.
I had the polyp surgically removed a month after the show closed. Financially it was quite a bit of money, but it was worth every penny if it meant I could sing like I used to. I am glad I made the investment, because I can honestly say that my voice is back to normal.
How did you overcome the injury and resulting surgery?
The weeks leading up to the surgery, and whenever I wasn’t performing, I chose to not sing and just allowed my voice to rest. It took a week to heal after the surgery, and I was in quite a bit of pain and the right side of my nose was blocked with packing. Luckily, I was on summer vacation at this point, so I had plenty of opportunities to heal.
I worked closely with my voice teacher [Michelle Latour] to strengthen my voice for the next several months post-surgery and just tried to remain patient. I knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight. I would say it took about three months after the surgery for my voice to be back to normal. And now, almost a year after surgery, I am happy to say that my voice is better than ever.