When I was a youth, I played the clarinet. It’s an expressive instrument, capable of producing sounds that many say resemble the tone and dynamics of the human voice. Just as a person’s voice becomes a personal signature, the clarinet produces a sound that’s distinctive, recognizable from those of others in the woodwind crowd.
The degree to which we are distinguished by our voices is central to the stories in this issue of Harvard Medicine. We’ve tuned in to the complexities of the voice and vocal structures—what it means to lose voice, regain voice, or change voice to reflect an inner self.
To explore this topic, we’ve brought you stories of what our community of physicians and scientists is doing to unravel how and why neurodegenerative diseases so often rob patients of voice as well as how innovations in the field of laryngology are helping to restore the voices of those who have suffered disease, damage, or trauma. To complement stories of voices lost, we’ve presented those of voices found, either in patient-centered clinical encounters or in the development of compassionate approaches to palliative care.
The importance of the transformed voice also has a place in this issue. Here, we’ve considered how voice and speech therapy can help individuals seeking to shape their voices to aid in gender affirmation. And we celebrate what the voice, in song, can bring to the life of a physician.
How vital voice and vocal expression are to presenting oneself gained special significance for me recently: I became a grandfather for the second time. I find myself talking with my grandson in a voice that generations of grandfathers have no doubt used: soft tones and gentle cadences that I hope will soothe. He, in turn, shares coos and burbles that tell me, or at least my daughter, what he needs, how he feels, and, perhaps, even what he thinks about the new world he finds himself in. He is bringing his voice to this world, and we listen, rapt.
Photo: John Soares