Matt White sings at a gig. Photo by Natalie Moore, courtesy Matt White.
HOST 1: If you’ve been alive the last few months you’ve probably heard this:
SLUG: Ballard_Nodes_Intro: “Let it goooo let it gooooo and I’ll rise like the wind at dawn…” (0:07)
HOST 2: The hit song “Let it Go” from the movie, “Frozen,” has been on the Billboard Top 100 chart for months.
HOST 1: But fans who try to mimic Idina Menzel’s iconic belt could risk serious damage to their voices. Caroline Ballard reports on some techniques that can help protect them.
When asked how many times her students have asked to learn “Let It Go” this semester, Aimée Steele laughs.
STEELE: A dozen, yea, yea.
STEELE: As much as I think that was brilliantly written it’s a tough song to sing and I approach it somewhat carefully.
Steele has been teaching voice for fourteen years on the Upper West Side and at universities like NYU and Pace. Her issue with Let it Go is belting – a kind of controlled shouting. There’s pressure to have a powerful belt, it’s a Broadway staple these days, but it’s hard on the voice.
STEELE: Over time when you’re pushing up a lot of air through the vocal folds in an unhealthy way you’re going to get – let’s call them – calluses.
Belting slams these calluses together, causing inflammation. Less air passes through the vocal chords, making it hard to sing, reducing range, or worse, causing permanent damage. If these calluse, or nodes, need to be removed surgically, the vocal chords can be altered forever. It can be a career ender.
One singer who tackled nodes is Matt White.
WHITE: I’m a junior at Columbia University// I am a singer predominantly //and I’m music director of my a cappella group right now.
Last year he started having problems with hoarseness and singing through his full range – things he tried to ignore.
WHITE: I was just like oh it’s just cause I drink sometimes and I wake up and my voice is dry. But then I went to an ENT and he stuck the little scope up my nose hey and he was like he was basically like // you just have nodes.
After his diagnosis of nodes, White went on vocal rest for two weeks and spent the summer learning to sing safely. The problem of nodes is as old as belting. This is Steele again.
STEELE: Even Julie Andrews she had surgery for her vocal nodes and we considered Julie Andrews as the beautiful soprano. I think it’s getting more attention because it is becoming more prolific, and especially with the pop singers now.
Pop singers like Keith Urban, John Mayer, and Adele.
SOUND: Adele “Someone like you”
In recent years all three of these artists had vocal surgery – the most invasive kind of vocal correction. But vocal nodes can be prevented. Instead of simply shouting – what some inexperienced singers do – Steele teachers her students to mix between the chest voice and head voice. It’s called a mixed belt.
SCENE: So here I’m in my chest voice “Hey hey hey” and I’ve already brought my chest voice up right so it’s starting to get a little strained my larynx is up I need to release it. So starting to mix “hey hey hey hey” So I’m all the way up at a high F and I’m still mixing. So there’s a real distinction between themixed belt and the vocal color. But we want everybody to think that we’re belting up here on a high F.
Matt White has his own set of warm ups he does now every day. He starts with lip trills.
WHITE: Brrrrrrrr slowly stretching it out and you go as high as you feel comfortable.
He’s back on track, and says his experience with nodes is just another lesson.
WHITE: I don’t think it really changed my voice too much. If anything it made me better because I know I’m not damaging it as much on a daily basis.
White is now pursuing a career as a professional singer – safely.
SOUND: White singing at the piano.
He’s planning on releasing an EP later this year. Caroline Ballard, Columbia Radio News.
SOUND: White singing at the piano