Singin' the blues: Vocal cord troubles silence careers
Adele is British? She doesn't sing with an English accent. She sounds like she’s from Louisiana with a mint julep in one hand and a burning cigarette in the other. When I first heard about Adele from a rather hip friend, I ignored her, thinking Adele would fade away quickly like other “hot” from a while ago: Tracy Chapman, Macy Gray, Norah Jones. So when Adele came out with another album that's a huge hit, I could no longer resist buying it. And let me tell you, "We could have had it aaaaaall!"
So why is Adele silent now?
Adele's vocal cords cannot handle the heat and passion of her songs. She hemorrhaged her vocal cords, which resulted in her canceling what would have been her current US tour.
Many singers have experienced a flat note due to vocal cords problems. Sting, Elton John, Julie Andrews, and Steven Tyler, to name a few, have been temporarily stifled by vocal cord nodes. Nodes and polyps are growths on the vocal cords that prevent proper function to sing and speak.
The vocal cords consist of cartilage, soft tissue, and muscles that can be damaged from many things. Screaming like the phonies do on Desperate Housewives and Jersey Shore can ruin the voice box (but not soon enough for me!) Vocal abuse from straining while singing and speaking can cause growths on the vocal cords. So when there’s a big bump on the cords, they cannot vibrate to produce beautiful sounds.
Stevie Nicks and Madonna have said they are careful how they talk, especially when on tour because they lose their voices from strain. Remember how Stevie sang before she lost her voice? In the ‘70s, her voice didn't quiver like an 8.0 earthquake.
My choir director always yelled at us to sing properly so we wouldn't get vocal cords nodes. Ironically, he got nodes in his later years– maybe from screaming at us. The vocal abuse lays down nodules that become scarred and hard.
Many contestants on American Idol who don't know how to sing properly or who aren't trained to sing a lot, have struggled to hit high notes. Idol winner Jordin Sparks’ vocal cords hemorrhaged after the competition. (Egad, it sounds like a boxing match!)
I read in Rolling Stone magazine that Adele has tried to quit smoking, but I don't think she’s kicked the habit (which really is more of an addiction than a habit). Smoking causes inflammatory material to build up in the vocal cord to create a husky voice. Britney Spears has been reported to say that she smokes to keep her voice raspy. Also, smokers tend to cough which can lead a polyp to bleed.
Chronic irritants such as tobacco, alcohol, acid reflux, and postnasal drip can ruin the voice. Many folks who have seen an Ear Nose Throat doctor don't believe they have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) causing their raspy throat– until the take an antacid and notice improvement. Folks who clear their throats a lot often have GERD or postnatal drop from allergies.
“The Sound of Silence”– the practice not the classic song– is the best medicine to treat nodes, but surgery is often needed to remove these little devils. Voice lessons to learn how to sing and speak properly without straining are also important. And did I mention this: “Don’t smoke!”
Adele, girlfriend, if you are out there reading this, do me a favor. Don't smoke. Rest your voice. And call me. I can be both your personal physician and back-up singer– as long as you give me a few solos on tour. My cords are rested.
Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he’s a respected physician with an interesting website, drjohnhong.com. Email him with your questions!