Tuesday I had what is probably my final session with a speech therapist at the downtown Virginia Mason hospital. Last June I developed viral laryngitis, and while the viral part vanished after a week or so, the laryngitis stayed on. And on, and on.
What had happened was that I had developed what’s called a lesion or small nodule on one vocal cord. A throat doctor took a picture of it, and I discovered why my voice wasn’t as clear as before.
All this time I was getting into a bit of a panic, because my voice was hoarse, and when I tried to preach, the congregation emitted sympathetic coughs and throat-clearings for the whole 28 minutes. I then engaged a couple of people to read out loud sermons I had written, and for four Sabbaths I had to sit in the pew beside Shelley and listen to my own words.
What was so frustrating, and sometimes infuriating, was that for decades I had been the master of my voice. Before June, I had exactly the same usable voice range that I had in my early 20s. I practiced my voice two or three times a week with a practice CD, and I even have a ventriloquist dummy, which means that for his part of our dialogues, I must compress my voice into a sound as unlike me as possible.
But then I went to the voice therapist. The first thing she talked about was diaphragmatic breathing. I told her patiently that I knew all about diaphragmatic breathing–it was the key to the operatic voice I had been singing with all along. But just as patiently, she worked me through some basic exercises.
And over the months since then, I have learned that I can no longer take my natural speaking voice for granted. I must take breaths more often, and I must talk diaphragmatically even in normal conversation, which I’d never thought about doing before.
Bottom line, I am doing very well. Not well enough to sing in my whole range yet, and certainly not good enough to get out the ventriloquist dummy and have a conversation with it. But going back to the basics of voice production is making it possible for me to preach.
Here’s a back-to-the-basics spiritual exercise. You sing while I croak:
Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong.
I love Jesus. Does He know?
Have I ever told Him so?
Jesus loves to hear me say
That I love Him ev’ry day.