Voice doctor to the stars

Having trouble getting back in tune? A checkup with the opera doctor could be the cure for what ails those stressed-out vocal cords.

Daniela Nardi is suffering from a power failure. “My voice, it just isn't as powerful as it used to be,” the Toronto-based jazz singer complains. And so, like countless other singers, movie stars and celebrities, Nardi finds herself sitting in Dr. Brian Hands' Toronto office with a long camera shoved down her throat.

Hands is the proprietor of Vox Cura, the only free-standing medical clinic in Canada dedicated to doctoring the professional voice. And judging by the head shots of celebrities that line the walls of his office–from Mick Jagger to Nicole Kidman–business is good.

As a young doctor, Hands found himself assigned to the Canadian Opera Company in 1975. Thanks to the boom in live theatre and music during the 1980s and 1990s, he soon found himself with a unique new specialty. “Anyone who came to town with a voice problem would figure the opera doctor was the one to see,” he recalls. Now he's recognized around the world. “I'll get a call from Milan or New York asking if I can check out so-and-so when she arrives in town,” he says.

Initial consultations are covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan if the patient is a resident. His videostroboscopy and speech therapy is not–for the camera down the throat he charges $550 for a two-hour consultation. But Hands discovered that doctoring high-maintenance creative types requires more than just modern medicine. Alongside his state-of-the-art videostroboscopy, which allows him to slow down the up to 1,000 vibrations per second of Nardi's vocal cords to examine them in minute detail, he also administers what he calls “energy medicine.”

“A professional voice problem is rarely physical,” says Hands. “Most of the time it's baggage that is affecting their voice: stress, relationship failure, stage fright.” So when he puts away his $100,000 camera, he starts talking about chakras and creative energy centres. “There is usually a repressed issue between the fifth chakra in the neck and the third chakra in the diaphragm,” says Hands, grabbing his stomach. “And when you relate the problem to performers like this, their eyes just light up. I'm talking their language.” He's as much Buddha therapist as voice doctor.

So after a lifetime getting singers back in tune, what of the doctor's own vocal career? Hands figures his Grade 5 music teacher grasped his talent correctly when handing out roles for the school choir–he made the tick-tock sounds for “Grandfather's clock.”