Singer Sharon Mari reveals how serious voice problems left her at an all-time low – and inspired her to become a vocal rehabilitation coach.
My voice problems started in 2007 when I was working as a professional singer and a bad case of laryngitis meant I had to cancel two gigs. Even though I had studied music at college (and majored in voice), I knew nothing about vocal anatomy or voice problems. Due to a lack of good advice and pressure to perform, I then decided to go ahead with a gig even though my voice was in bad shape. But as soon as I had performed, I knew something had changed with my voice and felt frightened.
The struggle for a diagnosis
I had no idea what the problem could be, and ten agonising and lonely months followed. After endless GP appointments I was referred to an ENT clinic. An endoscope revealed vocal nodules, a suspected small haemorrhage and copious amounts of muscle tension. The diagnosis was terrifying but also a massive relief. It proved that I was not imagining what was happening, despite being told so by many people. I felt isolated and paranoid and feared I would never sing again.
Therapy and further diagnosis
I had a handful of speech therapy sessions, but these were unsuccessful due to a combination of the pathology and me not committing to practising the exercises given. A second endoscope revealed potential hard nodules, and the word “surgery” was introduced. I was terrified and blamed myself for not being careful, not refusing the gig and not doing the exercises set by the speech and language therapist.
The road to discovery
I was referred again for speech therapy but this time I was determined to do everything I could to help myself. I was given a vocal hygiene plan that was paramount to altering habitual patterns that I had developed. I completely changed what I did with my voice and had a realisation: I wanted to learn more about my instrument.
After completing speech therapy, I was told I could use my singing voice gently. I went on a quest to find a good singing teacher, but it was hard to find someone who understood vocal pathologies. I’d also lost trust in my voice and ability. Yet again I wondered if I’d ever sing again.
I started researching voice and became captivated with its complexity. It was frustrating that I’d never been educated about my voice or voice problems – until something bad had happened.
Setbacks and breakthroughs
After another recurrence of small nodules, from which I recovered in May 2010, things started to look up. Finally, I was in a position to audition for university! I won a place to study Popular Music at Leeds College of Music, but more bad news was to come. A month before the course started, I was diagnosed with a vocal haemorrhage. Why was this happening to me again? I hit an all-time low. I couldn’t sing for the first few months of university, something that hindered my studies and had a huge psychological impact.
The road to rehab
At the start of my degree I met someone who changed my life: a vocal rehabilitation coach who helped me on the road to recovery. After working together, I knew that rehab was the route I wanted to follow. I began attending voice courses and joined the British Voice Association.
After graduating, my determination to become a voice rehabilitation coach was stronger than ever. There was no set career path to achieve this dream – so I devised my own. I was awarded a bursary in 2014 to attend The Voice Symposium in the US. I then attended every voice course I could afford. I met some truly inspirational people and in 2015 started observing in Lewisham Voice Clinic, an amazing multi-disciplinary clinic in South London. I also started teaching singing, working with students of various ages and abilities.
I began studying for my PGCert in Applied Practice and started as a volunteer at Lewisham Voice Clinic. Working with such an amazing, supportive team was pivotal and I transitioned onto an MA in Voice Pedagogy.
The future and life after voice problems
I have a very small amount of vocal scarring, but this is manageable with the correct care and awareness. My voice is the healthiest it has ever been. I know how to keep it healthy, when I need vocal rest and where to go should I encounter a problem.
On a professional level, after seven years of hard work I’m now taking referrals for vocal rehabilitation, teaching and presenting vocal health workshops. My ambition is to educate young, aspiring singers about vocal health so that they can be better equipped than I once was to deal with voice problems.