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89% of people with Parkinson’s eventually experience vocal dysfunction. These could be any or all of the following; soft voice (loss of volume), monotonousness (uniform pitch and intensity), breathiness (audible excessive emission of breath while speaking) , hoarseness (harsh or rough sounding)  poor voice quality, and inadequate articulation. Those seem to be the major issues associated with speech.

Through the endless hours of reading everything I can find about Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease (which I still do, almost religiously) I stumbled upon an article that made a rather compelling case for using singing as a speech rehabilitation and preventative tool. I figured, hey I like to sing around the house cleaning, or in my vehicle. Oh, don’t judge, you do it too. My next thought was that I need to do it in a forum that would command more voluntary, controlled, and purposeful sounds to escape my mouth in the form of song. Not just your usual fooling around in the shower concert. What better way to make yourself hit certain notes, keys, and octaves than singing in front of a bunch of strangers.

So, I volunteered my friend Joe (names are always changed to protect everyone’s privacy) to go to a local tavern, where it happened to be karaoke night. Joe loves to sing karaoke, and happens to be a singer in a band. Forgetting that I, on the other hand, have always had an exorbitant, crippling, fear of standing there, front and center under a spotlight, and singing in front of countless strangers. I figured the best cure for this seemingly irrational fear…. exposure therapy.

I had been once before, and managed to mumble my way through a song that I’ve had sung to me since I was born, and singing myself since I was old enough to talk. What pray tell could this impossible to screw up song be. Well, the song every American knows better than the National Anthem, American Pie by Don McLean, of course.Luckily there was only a total of five people in the bar that night to judge me. Believe me when I say that my paranoia had everyone voting me off the Island.

By the time Joe showed up, I had psyched myself up so much that there was no way I was gonna possibly suck ass tonight. Oh, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The first couple songs were a struggle to say the least, and I didn’t have the ego cushion of an empty bar tonight. Oh no, there were probably thirty people or so, but to me I might as well have been performing in the Hollywood Bowl. At this point I figured that everyone had already heard me massacre the first two songs, it wasn’t going to matter to them if I turned it into a mass murder across the music genre spectrum.

This was the turning point of my night. I started to not care, which was a huge triumph for me. Though, every time I put that microphone in my hand, my anxiety level, and my tremors, became almost unbearable despite having taken my Parkinson’s medications right before we left my house. By the time I arrived back home, I was elated, swelling with pride. I went, I sang, I sucked ass. But I did it. I overcame one of my biggest fears and didn’t have an aneurysm. Karaoke is now something that I am going to try to do on a more regular basis, for fun (hopefully) and, for my vocal health.

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