Adele Revisited

In the news yesterday, Adele announced she was canceling the rest of her tour due to a recurrence of the vocal cord hemorrhage that required surgery in 2011.

I have several thoughts on this, many shaped by friends who are experts in teaching healthy non-classical singing technique.

First, a blind spot for pop singers. Every professional tennis player has a coach for their entire career. If a professional runner has a slight motion fault, she will immediately be given coaching to correct it. At the professional level, it isn’t just team sports, but individuals, who receive regular coaching to not only improve their skills, but to prevent repetitive errors that can lead to injury.

Why isn’t every professional singer using a coach to ensure vocal health? Either Adele isn’t using an expert voice coach, she isn’t using them enough, or she isn’t taking in the coaching. And this has been repeated a number of times in recent years. Playing arenas is hard work. It’s little wonder that injury is possible–but trained professionals know how to avoid it. Witness the hundreds of Broadway singers performing eight shows a week, healthfully. Or consider Ella Fitzgerald, who toured constantly in smoky rooms, and maintained a free and healthy voice throughout her career.

Adele’s powerful recorded sound is incredibly affecting, but she probably needs to modify from the studio recording, which only needs to be repeated once, and her touring performance, which has to be repeated again and again, and in the context of a long show. (A 12-song album might be recorded over months!)

Second, why isn’t her record management team insisting on this kind of coaching? It’s incredibly short-sighted of them to invest millions of dollars in recording, promotion, touring, and more, only to risk her entire future with unhealthy vocal production.

Third, a word to the classical voice professors, who are undoubtedly muttering about how it is not possible to sing healthfully in this style. IT IS. SHE ISN’T. She is not a trained singer, but the hundreds who graduate from commercial music programs every year in the U.S. are, and could undoubtedly replace her on her tour without risking vocal damage. They know what they’re doing.

And if your college has marginalized, eliminated, or ostracized their vocal jazz/pop/commercial music program, you are part of the problem – by saying it can’t be taught healthfully, you’re forcing young people to figure it out themselves, at great risk. Better to bring them in, teach them healthful vocal technique, and see them succeed in careers with the skills they need to support themselves.

It’s a tragedy that Adele may never tour again, and will be an even larger tragedy if she is forced to stop recording. It’s all the more tragic because it’s clearly preventable.

(PS: Some earlier thoughts on vocal health here)