“The sun will rise again, the storms subside again, this is not the end,” Celine Dion sings in her new single “Love Again.”
The Quebec-born artist is making a comeback with a ballad for an upcoming movie, also titled “Love Again,” which she co-stars in.
The single “Love Again” is one of five songs sung by Dion set to appear in the film, and marks the first time the singer has released music since her stiff person syndrome diagnosis (SPS) last year, a rare neurological condition with no cure.
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The film, out this May, follows the story of a grieving fiancé falling in love after losing her partner. Dion plays a matchmaker helping the two main characters come together.
In an emotional video posted to Instagram Dec. 8, Dion explained to fans why she needed to postpone her world tour and how difficult it is for her to sing the way she used to.
SPS is a neurological condition that impacts a person’s muscles, and in Dion’s case, it hinders her ability to perform.
People with SPS have described the condition as “excruciating” and say it causes “debilitating” pain because of heightened sensitivity to noise and touch. The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says SPS has “features” of an autoimmune disorder.
CELINE DION’S SINGING VOICE
Fans may notice Dion’s powerful voice may sound different in her new songs, which is partly due to SPS affecting the muscles near her vocal cords.
“The spasms affect every aspect of my daily life, sometimes causing difficulties when I walk and not allowing me to use my vocal cords to sing the way I’m used to,” Dion said in the Instagram video.
“Voice is an overall indicator of health,” Merrill Tanner, a singer and speech-language pathologist based in Edmonton, told CTVNews.ca.
“When I’m working with someone, I can hear if they have a cold, I can often judge a bit maybe if something’s happened emotionally, or (if they are) fatigued,” Tanner said.
For Tanner, Dion’s voice in her new song was still just as “beautiful.”
“It does sound different to me, it sounds maybe a little bit aged, I would say, but it’s just so gorgeous,” she said. “Who cares if she’s got stiff person syndrome? She can still make a beautiful sound.”
Using your voice to sing involves not just the muscles in the throat area, but the muscles used for breathing. Tanner says voice is very impressionable and can change from day to day depending on a person’s lifestyle.
Strain on muscles, smoking cigarettes, gastric reflux or a head cold can shape how the vocal cords function, she said.
“(During) the aging process, your muscles become less resilient, less, forgiving,” Tanner said. “They don’t recover as quickly…So you can hear that sometimes as people age, their voice sounds a little different.”
Like any muscles conditioned to do an activity, Tanner says if people stop practicing, it can impact their voice.
The symptoms of SPS come in waves for some people, with spasms that exhaust muscles from repeated contractions. Other ways a voice can be impacted is from Parkison’s disease, having surgery around the vocal cord area and dystonia—a disorder that causes muscle spasms and contractions of the vocal muscles.
HOW SPS IMPACTS THE VOICE
Dr. Marinos Dalakas, a professor of neurology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, says several of his patients with SPS have ongoing muscle stiffness.
“When this affects the diaphragm or affects the laryngeal muscles or the vocal cord muscles, the voice becomes very thin, it doesn’t come out strong, it is fragmented,” he told CTVNews.ca.
Individually, these spasms can be caused by a variety of things, such as external factors like loud noises, stress and bright lights, but Dalakas says they can also impact specific muscles and not the whole body.
“The singers might get the stiffness more and then because the voice is so important for them the spasms are focussed more there,” he said. “(It can be) anxiety-driven, but also what’s more important for you in your daily activities.”
Dalakas says when some of his patients are fighting spasms their voices are weak, but for Tara Zier, the founder of the Stiff Person Syndrom Research Foundation, when muscle stiffness takes over, her voice sounds different.
“It’s kind of a hoarseness,” Zier, who was diagnosed with SPS in 2017, told CTVNews.ca. “It’s a little bit different than a cold, where it almost feels restricted, like tight, a little bit of a restricted airway.”
When Zier experiences this change in her voice, it can be hard to “tease” out where the spasm may be happening or what is causing her voice to change.
Emotional and physical stress exacerbate Zier’s SPS, and to her, it feels like everything is “clamping down.”
SPS impacts about one to two million people worldwide, but it often goes undiagnosed because of its invisibility, Zier said.
Despite her SPS diagnosis, it is clear Dion is not letting the disease stand in her way.
“Cause you don’t have to move a mountain, just keep moving, every move is a new emotion, and you don’t have to find the answers, just keep trying,” Dion sings.
With files from CTV’s Megan DeLaire.