Jaylene Johnson (Scott Urwin)
The joy that I feel when people connect with my singing, when it touches something in them, or even just makes them feel good, is like nothing else
—Jaylene Johnson, musician
Jaylene Johnson has released a new song just in time for the holiday season. Unfortunately, she can no longer sing it.
The Winnipeg musician is recovering from a recent surgery that left her without a voice. "I had been having trouble with my nasal passages, particularly on one side, as well as deep, debilitating ear pain," she says.
"It turns out the ear pain is unrelated, but the doc told me I had major deviation in my septum. He offered to operate. My big hesitation was a 1/1000 chance of having a permanent whistle every time I breathe, which would obviously affect my singing in a major way. I didn't even consider that a breathing tube would be put down my throat and may cause trauma to my vocal cords."
And after two and a half weeks, Johnson's voice hasn't returned. With scheduled gigs now up in the air, and a weekly web feature currently on hold, Johnson is finding the waiting difficult.
"I use my voice for everything I do, to pay my bills and to drive my passion for music forward. I sing, I record, I do workshops, I make calls, I have meetings, I substitute teach (already killer on the voice) and preach once in a while to boot," she explains.
"On the one hand, I'm really worried...What do I do with gigs I have booked? How will I pay my bills if I can't sub? But on the other hand, I'm a person of faith, and I have to believe that I'll be okay. I also know that anxiety can wreak havoc on our health, so I am doing my best to stay positive and busy myself with other things."
But aside from having an obvious effect on her career, Johnson is also missing the connection that comes from performing. "When I sing, it is one of the few things that brings my mind into complete focus and calms me. The joy that I feel when people connect with my singing, when it touches something in them, or even just makes them feel good, is like nothing else."
In the meantime, Johnson is on a waiting list to see a voice specialist, but it's a long list. She's hopeful that by the time her turn comes up, her voice will be back to full strength. Until then, she's trying to think positively, but is keenly aware of what is at stake if things don't get back to normal.
"I've been singing my whole life. I'm known as a singer. I've made so many sacrifices to be a singer. If I let my mind wander to the worst case scenario, I have an identity crisis," she says.
"What would it mean for me if I could never sing again? It's who I am, isn't it? I have no clue how to navigate these questions just now, and when the thought crosses my mind, it brings instant tears, frankly. I'd rather lose a limb than my voice. But, again, I'm hoping, praying and believing for the best."
While she waits, Johnson is promoting her latest single through social media - the only method now that doctors have told her to also stop talking.
"I am really excited about my Christmas song, 'It Won't Be Christmas 'til You're Home," she says. "So much of my musical formation involved singing classic, novelty songs...This one has a nostalgic feeling in the arrangement, which was very intentional. I know other singer/songwriters will relate when I say that we invest so much in what we do - money and time, to be sure, but mostly heart. We create, we record, we promote - and then, like I have to do with my voice, we wait and hope (and dream!) for the best."