Friday, February 24, 2012

Dear Adele: The first thing is not to do harm.

During the last two weeks of personal imbroglio and craziness, I've had some thoughts rolling around in my noggin ... and, you know I'm not afraid to share them.

As we all know, the music industry lost a jewel in it's crown when Whitney Houston died. Since her passing, much has been cussed-and-discussed about the decline of her voice. Whether from drug and alcohol abuse, smoking or miss-use, it was evident during the tour for her last album that her voice really was just a shadow of what it used to be. But, according to her mentor Clive Davis, she was working on getting it back. Speaking at her funeral, Davis said:
"... last week Whitney came to my hotel bungalow alone -- no bodyguards, no security, just Whitney and me. And she played her new cuts from Sparkle for me and I played some new music that I liked for her. It was like old times and she looked at me and quietly said, "I want you to know I’m getting in shape. I’m swimming an hour or two a day and I’m committed to get my high notes back -- no cigarettes -- plenty of vocal exercising -- Clive, I’ll be ready by August."

"I'm going to to hold you to it," Davis said.
She was getting herself ready for her second comeback ... or, so says everyone in the media. But, could her voice - that truly golden and natural voice - be rehabilitated? We'll never know.

We were privy to a different rehabilitated comeback recently, though. Adele, who had cancelled a slew of concerts and dropped out of the public eye for months, performed again for the first time publicly at the Grammys. The British singer received devastating news last year after hearing a "pop" in her throat during a radio show in Paris ... a benign polyp on her vocal cord had caused a hemorrhage which required her to stop singing and to seek treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Dr. Steven Zeitels, director of the Center for Laryngeal Surgery was her doctor (and also the doctor for singers like Steven Tyler, Roger Daltry, Lionel Ritchie, and Cher). In an interview with CBS Boston, Dr. Zeitels references the famously - and tragically - botched vocal surgery of Julie Andrews, saying in part:
“We have generally tried to advance the state-of-the-art of voice surgery over the last 15 years, developing instruments, laser technologies, and the ability to do things that simply weren’t done even 10 years ago, with very famous case of Julie Andrews."
Ms. Andrews has now had four procedures with Dr. Zeitels and currently works with him on a voice restoration foundation.

After hearing Adele's performance on the Grammys, I got into a discussion on Twitter with a few Tweeps ... one of which was soprano Deborah Voigt. (Not to name drop, or anything...) Miss Voigt started the convo by tweeting:
It is evident that Adele is indeed planning on using modern medicine again - she tells Anderson Cooper in their 60 Minutes interview (see below) that it's inevitable - saying blithely, "I'm sure it'll happen again if I tour."

So, as I do from time to time, I wondered aloud on Twitter:
And, Miss Voigt responded:
Now, not to geek-out on you, but I did some research into Celine Dion's vocal issues and rehabilitation. I am, after all, extremely fascinated by the technical stuff.

It turns out that Celine Dion found herself in a similar predicament to Adele's. In 1988, a 20 year old Dion had lost her voice. In her book Celine Dion For Keeps, Jenna Glatzer quotes Dion as she discusses this difficult time:
"The doctor gave me a shot, and I took so many vitamins, maybe steroids," she says. "I went on for the first song. The second song there was not voice coming out, and there was a guitar solo where I had to do a costume change. The guitar solo lasted about five minutes and I never came back," she says, still shuddering from the memory. "I couldn't talk. The people weren't stupid - they knew I couldn't sing. Rene [her husband and manager] went onstage and I was crying so hard in my dressing room. I heard Rene talking to them and the people started to sing a song to me. I remember hearing every seat of the house ... you know when you stand up at a movie theater the seats go click? I could hear click, click, click..."
A doctor in Montreal broke the news to Dion that she would need to have surgery to remove polyps from her vocal cords. For a second opinion, Team Dion consulted Dr. William Gould here in New York. Dr. Gould, then nearly 80, was a renowned voice doctor who had worked with Frank Sinatra, President John Kennedy and Walter Cronkite.

After 3 weeks of vocal silence, Dion's cords looked perfect. But, they were convinced that if she went back on tour, she would be right back in Dr. Gould's office. Therefore, Dr. Gould prescribed something ultimately less invasive but, infinitely more time consuming and difficult - Celine Dion had to learn how to be a singer. In other words, clearly she could sing - but, she also needed to learn how to care for her instrument. She had to learn that the first thing is not to do harm.

Where did Dr. Gould refer her? To a doctor who was also an opera singer.

Side note: mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick says that opera singers can make spectacular doctors and I tend to agree. Especially if they are able to practice what Zajick calls "kinesthetic empathy" - being able to empathize with what's going on with someone - kinesthetically. Unfortunately, there are many instances when opera singers become doctors without having the ability to empathize with a speck of dust.  These are the singers who teach their students how to build the car - without any regard for teaching them how to actually drive it, too.

But, that's an entirely different post all-together.

Celine Dion's new vocal guru was (and, is) Dr. William Riley - whose clients have included Ben Vereen, President Bill Clinton, Liza Minnelli and a host of singers from Broadway and the Met (including Teresa Stratas and one-certain Deborah Voigt). Dr. Riley taught Dion that her main mission in life was to protect her fragile vocal cords as any working opera singer would. He showed her how to vocalize and how to warm up her voice every day. And, he also taught her how to manage many things in daily life; how to sneeze without making noise, how to cough lightly, how to keep herself well hydrated, rested and how to rest her voice when needed.

Later that year, after rehabilitating her voice and learning how to take care of it, Celine Dion went on to sing at the Eurovision Song Contest and won - launching her career.

Today, Celine Dion is still singing ... healthfully. Last March, her current show Celine began it's 3-year residency of 70 shows per year in Las Vegas. And, Dr. Riley still works with her - often flying to Las Vegas to do so.

Take note Adele: if you want to be singing 20 years from now (and, you know we want you to be), I hope you're learning how to take care of your instrument. PS: Congrats on the Grammys.

For your viewing pleasure, Friendlies - here is Anderson Cooper's 60 Minutes interview with Adele.  You really must check these out ... if for nothing else, to hear about the day-job she took *after* she won her first Grammy ...

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