I entered Marist College a “wicked excited” freshman from Massachusetts that was excited for new beginnings, however I was also looking to exercise my talent. Singing. Yes, I’m a singer! I was proud to be accepted into Marist College with a vocal scholarship. I was looking forward to what the future had in store for me, but never expected what I am about to tell you to have happened…
In elementary school, my “friends” would make fun of me for singing all the time. They didn’t understand why I couldn’t stop. There’s nothing to understand though. Music is inside of me. Music is what makes me who I am. When it came time to apply for colleges, I knew that I wanted to continue singing, so I looked into music programs during my college search. When I saw that there was an opportunity to earn a vocal scholarship at Marist, I jumped on it. Marist was my first choice of schools AND there was a vocal scholarship calling my name… this was a sign!
I auditioned for my vocal scholarship on a frigid day in January of my senior year in high school. This was the day that I met Sarah Williams, the Marist Singers conductor. Naturally I was nervous to warm up and perform in front of someone who had never heard me sing before and would judge whether or not I “met the bar”. However, when I entered the room to sing, there was such a warm and comfortable atmosphere. From the moment I met Sarah, she treated me like I was one of her own. She made me feel comfortable and confident to sing in front of her. I wanted to impress Sarah. I wanted her to select me to be a part of the Marist music family. When I left the audition, I did not know what to expect but I kept my fingers crossed. Little did I know that my relationship with Sarah would strongly grow from that moment on.
Sarah selected me for the vocal scholarship and by the end of the first semester of Freshman year at Marist I over exercised my voice from improperly warming up and not taking care of myself. I knew there was something wrong with my singing voice, but even my speaking voice sounded different. I went to the doctor and it was confirmed that I had developed bilateral vocal nodules. This put a huge strain on my life. I was miserable. I had lost my voice. I had the option of getting surgery, but there was no guarantee that the nodules would not grow back and there was also the possibility that the scar tissue would change my voice even more. After speaking to my parents, surgery was out of the question. If I wanted a shot at getting my voice back I had to go to speech and voice therapy to work through the nodules.
I was in speech therapy for 3 months and had not noticed my voice improving. I was very sad all the time because I did not sound the same. A part of me was missing. Not having my voice was just as traumatic for me as not having a leg. I began to wonder if my voice would ever come back. I believe that everything happens for a reason, so I wondered, had I lost my gift on purpose? Did I take advantage of it? Did I not appreciate my voice enough? You can never appreciate something special until it is gone. I had always thought I had a nice voice, but I never truly appreciate my talent until I had lost it. I thought I had lost it forever…
When I got back to school my sophomore year, I started seeing a different speech pathologist at a different hospital. I loved my gift too much to never be able to sing again. I had to keep trying. After 5 months of going every week to the new hospital, my speech pathologist told me that I had “graduated”. I was dumb founded and didn’t understand why she was releasing me because I thought I would be there for life. I was still dwelling so hardly on the fact that I couldn’t sing the way I used to, that I neglected to realize that she taught me how to speak correctly in regular conversation. After learning how to talk right, it was time to get my voice back. I was getting closer to success!
Next step to getting my voice back: singing lessons! WHAT? Singing lessons? But I know how to sing!… Apparently not. I did not know that I had been singing incorrectly for a long time. I always had talent, but no one ever taught me how to properly exercise my talent. Sarah Williams gave me vocal lessons for the second semester of my sophomore year. I felt fairly confident and sounded a little more like myself and was ready to return to Marist Singers in the fall!
I returned to Marist excited for music camp and to see all of my old singer friends. After a day of singing, my voice sounded terrible and was raspy and did not function the way I had expected it to. Was I wrong? Had my voice not returned? Had I done all of that speech and voice therapy for nothing? Maybe I was not meant to sing anymore…
My voice mended after a couple days, but I still had trouble hitting simple notes. I was no longer a soprano. I sang alto and even the alto part was too high. I was confused and started to get depressed. Right when I had hope and became confident in myself, there was nothing to be confident about. I approached Sarah in tears one day after rehearsal and she suggested I meet with her for another voice lesson. The next day, I met with Sarah and she fixed me! My voice was still not perfect, but it could never be perfect. I will forever have vocal nodules. They do not go away, they only shrink a little or enlarge and turn into polyps. I had finally accepted my injury and decided to suck it up and do the best I could.
Five months later, I performed Midnight Train to Georgia by Gladys Knight and the Pips in Marist Singers production of Love in the Afternoon. Right before the show Sarah told us, “if you make a mistake, the sun will rise tomorrow”. I went on stage nervous, but with the mentality that I would succeed. Since I have nodules, it is difficult to sing phrases because I do not have the proper breath support any more. My performance was a little choppy and I cracked one time in an obvious place, but overall, I was pleased with my performance. I had worked hard for that spotlight and was proud of myself for never giving up hope. Believe it or not, Sarah was right… the sun did rise the next day! I shall continue to perform with the Marist Singers and who knows, perhaps one day I will follow my dreams of being on Broadway or becoming the voice of a cartoon character!
The saying really is true, “you never know what you have until it’s gone”. As I mentioned before, I believe everything happens for a reason and I believe that I developed vocal nodules so I could learn to appreciate and whole-heartedly love my god-given talent. Every day I am blessed to have a voice and I will never again take my talent for granted. It’s not often that you get a second chance at a good thing.
Below is a link to my performance in Love in the Afternoon singing Midnight Train to Georgia. Enjoy! 🙂 .
— Brittany MacLeod
Class of 2013
Follow me on Twitter @BMACtastic
Photographs taken by Mike Williams