Famed voice teacher helps Duluth man speak again after surgeryDavid Garon of Duluth had a hard time speaking after surgery to his neck. He has found his voice again thanks to help from famed voice instructor Gustavo Jimenez. The Three Bridges International Chamber Music Festival brought them together.
By: Christa Lawler, Duluth News Tribune
Left unchecked, David Garon’s voice dips into a low robotic sound characteristic of those who have had a tracheotomy.
But through his work with the Three Bridges International Chamber Music Festival, the Duluth man met an international voice coach who has given him tools to sound more like himself.
“I got my voice back from Pavarotti once removed,” Garon said he likes to tell people.
Garon has Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disorder that for him causes a head jerk tic. Five years ago he had surgery to repair nearly 50 years of damage to his neck. Five of his vertebrae were fused, and he had a tracheotomy, which left him with the growly and robotic voice.
He said he worked with voice therapists, but didn’t make progress in regaining his natural sound.
Meanwhile, family friend Samuel Martin had started the Three Bridges festival, and Garon signed on as a volunteer graphic designer. The association gave Martin an idea: Why not pair Garon with Gustavo Jimenez, the festival’s director of voice?
“David is a good friend of mine. Gustavo is a good friend of mine,” Martin said. “David had been to voice therapists and told to do this and do this. Gustavo is one of the best vocal teachers in the world. I might sound like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. I said, ‘If anyone can help you, Gustavo can.’”
Jimenez is a heldentenor who has studied with Luciano Pavarotti and Franco Corelli, as well as subscribing to the vocal theories of the late Dr. Owen Brown, a pioneer in voice therapy who worked with the likes of baritone James King.
Jimenez said he noticed that Garon wasn’t speaking in his vocal range. Garon was relying on muscles rather than his vocal cords to make sounds. And his vocal cords were in rough shape from lack of use.
“We can color our voices,” Jimenez said. “That’s what David was doing. He was speaking too low. We immediately found his range.”
But it’s something he did — not taught — that really struck Garon, who is a composer but does not sing. Jimenez sang for him.
“He just sang full voice,” Garon said. “It was so inspired. I was so inspired by someone of his caliber singing to me. I felt like I was on the big screen.
“Gus is one of the most amazing voices in the world as far as I’m concerned.”
When Jimenez returned for the festival in 2011, it included another session with Garon. They worked on creating primal sounds to get the vocal cords back together and to get blood circulating. They did breathing exercises to create a fuller sound and get rid of abnormalities in speech — like a breathy “H” sound that might creep into the beginning of a word.
Reunited for a third year, Jimenez said Garon had “incredible improvement.”
“I thought that my voice would always sound like that,” Garon said. “I thought maybe it was good enough. He showed me it wasn’t difficult to get it back to where it was.”
This was Jimenez’s first go-round with a non-singer. During the Three Bridges International Chamber Music Festival, he will provide masters classes that are open to the public at 10 a.m. Monday and June 11 at Weber Music Hall.
The Three Bridges International Chamber Music Festival pairs professional musicians with pre-professionals for intensive rehearsal sessions and performances. There are seminars, master classes, lessons and concerts.