By Jacey Sheets, CHS and Himes Studio Alum, now studying Theater and Music at NYU

 

My experience in Mrs.Himes' Studio changed my life. No, this statement is not meant for dramatic effect or cliche. Truly.

 

I ended up in Himes' studio by a chain of events rather than by choice. I had always taken private voice outside of school since I was young, as I was heavily involved in community theatre and other performance activities from a young age. When I arrived at Central High School, I was reluctant to join one of the provided voice studios there and decided to keep training outside of school. I truly loved my voice teacher that I trained with from Freshman to Junior year. But slowly over my high school years, singing started to become more and more difficult. It was work to just produce a clear sound and after 20 minutes or so of singing my voice became fatigued. I found myself having to heavily manipulate my voice in order for it to perform anywhere near the level I wanted/my performance activities demanded. I developed a love/hate relationship with singing in general, as I loved performing and wanted to grow as a singer, but my voice was unpredictable and I had no control over the quality of its performance, which made me extremely insecure about my ability. I dreaded every single solo or vocal recital because I had no idea how it was going to turn out. I could practice and perfect all I wanted at home but every time I sang, the sound quality was so unpredictable, I was afraid of what would come out on stage. Last minute my voice could become hoarse or I wouldn't be able to hit certain notes that would just disappear at random. Singing became a horrible, frustrating, anxiety and battle rather than a joyful, expressive, artistic experience. 

 

This sent me on a wild hunt for the source of this force that was interfering with my ability to sing. For over a year (starting in 8th grade) I jumped around on all sorts of allergy medications, prescriptions, and sprays believing the cause of all the excess noise, hoarseness, and vocal fatigue was allergies. After no medication seemed particularly significant, I went to an allergist in hopes of finding what it was causing my allergies and what treatment to pursue. I discovered I was allergic to nothing. NOTHIING. All the months and months of pills, sprays, etc. were for nothing. The allergist then suggested my vocal health woes may be linked to acid reflux, as the symptoms can be very similar. This made much sense because I've always struggled with a sensitive stomach particularly susceptible to acidic foods! BAM! That was it! I finally found the culprit causing my vocal battles. 

 

Then began the next few years of acid reflux medications. I went through all sorts of prescriptions, research, and behavioral modifications to treat acid reflux. I went through just about every major acid reflux pill a 65 year old man would have in his medicine cabinet. I eventually ended up on Dexilant, which is one of the strongest acid reflux medications on the market that you see NO ONE my age taking, mostly only older adults suffering with severe reflux brought on by age. This medication is only supposed to be taken for 6-8 weeks, in order to heal damage already done, then you move on to a lower grade medication or behavioral modification to simply maintain and control future reflux. I was on Dexilant for two years, which brings us to Junior year. 

 

Junior year, I was cast as the lead in the CHS musical, which was primarily song and very, very little lines (even for a musical). Therefore I was demanded to carry an entire show vocally for about two hours every night. At this time I was also competing in Texas All-State Choir competition. Individual practice for both All-State and the musical, voice lessons, choir rehearsals, show choir rehearsals, and musical rehearsals, demanded a TON from me vocally. Slowly through the process my voice began to deteriorate. All singing was difficult, painful, almost impossible at some points. I was so angry and frustrated with myself and my voice because I was unable to perform and fulfill my responsibilities and commitments. My directors became upset with me as well as I was not performing to the level required for the show. I was letting every body down. 

 

By the week of the show my voice was almost non existent. I could barely sing any of the show music or hardly even talk for very long. I went to an ENT and discovered that I had pre-nodules, basically small callouses that were growing into full blown nodes. He also saw lots of scarring from where I had nodes in the past. He gave me steroids so I could make it through the musical and instructed strict vocal rest. 

 

I was absolutely miserable and dreaded doing the show so much, I found myself wishing I would become stricken with some severe illness so I wouldn't have to perform. Nevertheless, I finished the show weekend and by the end, I had no voice and a crushed spirit. I used to love performing, but at that time I hated it. My voice was trashed, and I was hopeless. 

 

I went back to the ENT and he told me I needed to start speech therapy and continue with strict vocal rest. We began looking for a speech therapist, to help retrain my vocal and speech habits as they were unhealthy and contributing to the vocal damage. By coincidence (or not, I believe it was very much planned) my mom and Mrs.Himes ran into each other while out shopping and started talking about my vocal troubles. My mom told her we were looking for a speech therapist and discovered that Mrs.Himes was a licensed speech therapist in addition to a vocal coach! 

 

Mrs.Himes told my mom about how she combines both speech pathology and vocal training to heal and retrain the voice. This was perfect as most speech pathologists mostly work with speech disorders and not vocal performers! Even after this option was presented, I was still stubborn to join her studio as I didn't want to give up my vocal teacher that I loved and had trained with since freshman year. But my voice was so damaged, even my vocal teacher herself said that she felt it was the right decision to move studios as my condition was past her training and I needed the speech therapy that Mrs.Himes offered. 

 

So after much teeth pulling, I finally made the move to Himes studio. We started at square one. I began with simple speech exercises, literally retraining how to speak healthily. Gradually we worked more and more singing exercises. I had to undo years of bad habits. It was so tempting to just manipulate my voice to produce the sound I wanted, but this was the very thing that got me here. It took so much patience and small steps. Mrs.Himes was understanding, put absolutely no pressure on me to "perform" at any demanded level, and completely invested in my recovery of my vocal health and my personal health. 

 

At this same time, I experienced some large events and changes in my personal life that sent me into severe depression. Mrs. Himes not only cared about me as a singer but as a person. She walked me through a horribly difficult time, helping me to stay afloat every day, as just simply getting throughout the day was extremely difficult. I've never had anyone, outside of my family, care and invest in me as much as Mrs.Himes did. When I wanted to completely give up every day, Mrs.Himes helped me to continue to move forward, in my vocal training and personal life. The rest of the year continued like this. Every day was a complete battle, just being at school was a challenge. 

 

But the year went on, and I managed with the help of Mrs.Himes. I competed in solo and ensemble and made it to state. I was a Semi-Finalist in the National Association of Teacher’s of Singing competition in the Musical Theater Division. I participated in the recitals and for the first time ever, it felt easy. I didn't absolutely hate and tear apart my performance. I was actually proud of my pieces. Because of Mrs.Himes, I made it through that year. She truly saved my life and my future in performing. 

 

Through this process, we had discovered that the medication I was taking for acid reflux was greatly aiding in my depression. I immediately stopped the use of the Dexilant, as my prolonged use of it depleted calcium and magnesium in my body, encouraging/causing much of the severe depression I was experiencing. 

 

Summer came and I continued to train with Mrs. Himes. I was still struggling with a lot of sadness and was still discouraged from a future in performing. Mrs.Himes continued to listen and help move me forward. Once the summer recital came around, my voice was almost completely normal and uninhibited. I did the recital with a lifted spirit and a clear, healthy voice. I was happy and proud of my performance. I enjoyed it so much! I truly enjoyed performing and had fun again! It was amazing! 

 

When my senior year arrived, I was a transformed singer, performer, and person. I was on absolutely no medications for reflux or anything, as it was truly my bad vocal habits causing most of the damage, not reflux, allergies, etc.. My voice was in the best condition it had ever been in and so was my spirit. 

 

This would not have been the case without Mrs.Himes. Without her, I would have given up singing and performing all together and settled on another career and path. I may not even be here altogether. 

 

My senior year was the best year at Central. I had amazing experiences in Voices of Central show choir, Chamber Choir, CHS theatre, broadcast, everything! I performed as a lead in the musical, and for the first time, received compliments strictly about my voice! I almost cried when someone told me that I had an amazing voice a future in singing! I've always only received commentary on my overall performance or my acting, never my singing. It was amazing. It became my favorite musical to date! It was fun, easy and thrilling. None of which would have happened without Mrs.Himes expertise in training and healing vocal disorders. 

 

Through out my senior year, I was lead in the musical, performed a solo at the Christmas and Spring choir concerts, advanced to State and made a 1 in solo and ensemble, was again a NATS Semi-Finalist and performed with VOC show choir at Nationals in Chicago. The Himes studio end of the year recital was my favorite recital ever. All of these blessings, successes, and joys would not have been possible without Mrs.Himes. 

 

I am now pursuing a career in performing and attending New York University on scholarship for a B.F.A in Drama and will continue training vocally with plans of continuing in musical theatre. Mrs. Himes saved my life and my career. You will not find a vocal coach as invested, specialized, inspiring, encouraging, amazing, giving, talented, diverse, caring, and personal as Mrs.Himes. The difference of her students upon arrival and departure is night and day. EVERY single student I’ve seen in her studio improves DRASTICALLY every single performance they do. She is truly one of a kind, and life changing. A specialist in her craft. I owe her so much. Mrs. Himes is amazing.