Over the past few weeks, I have been experimenting with vocalisations. Following my attendance at speech therapy sessions, a year or two ago, my vocal difficulties have gradually returned. This is caused by Parkinson’s Disease. My speaking voice can go very quiet and mumbly, through to weakened or affected by stuttering. Before I see people or have verbal communications by phone or video, I often have to rest my voice for a period of time before the discussion , in order to put all of my energy into achieving the communication I intend for.
As the symptoms of weakened voice were increasing recently, I decided that I would start practicing my own speech/vocal therapy. Given that the Covid-19 virus has us all pretty much either locked-down or living at social distance, it made sense to just do my own thing. This is when I decided to sing; one of the many common therapies offered to people with vocal difficulty, who benefit from the exercise, pronunciation practice and intonation that singing provides. Indeed, I have even found before that a former of my psychotherapy clients asked me to communicate in Flemish with him; thinking that I had a Dutch accent. It was, in fact, an accent change caused by Parkinson’s, that day.
So, I found an online app on my mobile phone, called ‘Smule.’ This is a karaoke app and it is great fun. I set myself up and then that was it; I was singing! At first, my voice wavered, wobbled, creaked and disappeared on me. I sounded rough. Over the last few weeks, I have tried quite a variety of songs; my intention being to push myself to grow, to develop my skills and to reclaim my vocal ability in speech and, if possible, in song. I have to thank my husband for his incredible tolerance, helpful feedback and constant support.
I am delighted to say that, though I’m in no way a good singer, the difference in my voice is remarkable. I am able to put emphasis back into my sentences, where vocal weakness had prevented that. I am able to speak and sing at a depth that was quite deep and which was natural to me, compared to the higher, more raspy voice that I was being consigned to by Parkinson’s. I am able to interject more in conversation and add weight to my voice when I feel like I want or need to talk more passionately about something. I am able to move my mouth more so that I can form my words better; having not realised quite how much the symptom of facial masking had started to creep back in. I am able to breathe so much better; greater control and so I can pause, take my time, change tone and pitch and feel more confident in my speech. In singing, my vibrato has started to return more fully and my range has increased back to a broader range of octaves than has been the case for a while. I could go on….
One of the best things is being able to sing along to music and to have the control to maintain my voice in songs which are soft or gentle. I had started to reach a point where such songs were not much more than an out of tune whisper, for my ability to control my output was limited. This singing practice has truly enabled so much more vocal control to be in place and that feels great.
I would like to recommend that anyone with Parkinson’s, or similarly affected by another condition, should try a singing app. That said, in terms of the songs that I am maintaining in the public eye (or ear), I have whittled all of my songs down to two. You will find those posted below these words.
My reason for choosing ‘Fix You’, Wicked Game’ and ‘Run’, as the three song videos that I will allow to remain public, is that these songs represent my aims from this vocal therapy exercise. The first, relating to ‘Fix You,’ is to have developed the control to achieve an incredibly gentle use of my voice. I believe this soft and gentle song evidences that I have achieved that ambition. The second, ‘Run,’ was to develop the ability to put power into my voice and to be able to control that strength across a fairly broad range of notes. I believe that this pretty powerful song, which required me to put a lot of effort into achieving that strength of voice, evidences that I achieved my goal, though I am a bit flat at times. I also love that it ends on me singing the line “…even if you cannot hear my voice..”. How very poignant. The third, ‘Wicked Game’, represents maintaining a consistency in my improvement. I feel that this song is generally the best quality, throughout. That is my aim in day to day speech, too. I truly am delighted with what I have achieved from daily practice over just a few weeks.
I am most grateful to those who messaged me to state that they have felt inspired to take up singing practice, as well; to cope with their own illness symptoms. This is what this is about; feeling empowered to do more than simply take medication. Well done and keep at it. Above all, enjoy it.
Sadly, there have been rather a lot of people who simply have not been able to think more broadly than to consider whether or not I can sing. They have missed out on my journey through battling Parkinson’s symptoms and therefore only see negatives in this project. If you try this, you may well experience the same. The key is not to let it get you down when people discourage or even mock you; for your battle to overcome illness has to be what matters. So, go for it and stand tall, enjoy every moment and keep fighting.
Thanks also to the professional speech therapists, voice coaches, performers and actors who contacted me to show support and even offer techniques to help me achieve what I have.
So, here they are. My song videos that evidence to me, that I had achieved the outcomes I had sought:
If you have given speech therapy or singing/vocal therapy a try, please do feel free to comment below and share your experience with other readers. Remember…this is not about whether you can sing; it is all about whether you can ‘reclaim your vocals’; hence the title page at the start of my videos. Good luck everyone. You can do it and I’m supporting you every step of the way.
(c) Deano Parsons. 2020.