On with the mission to cure old-lady voice! I contacted Natasha Curham, a speech therapist with wide experience with helping older people. Before accepting me as a client, she advised me to visit an otolaryngologist (ear nose and throat specialist) to check the physical state of my throat. Nodules? Cancer? Gastric reflux? Scarring? Let's see whether those working parts are in good order.
Next stop: the consulting room of Mr Peter Blake. Our conversation was enjoyable and relaxed as he drew out my history. And I do have a modest history of throat problems. (Skip the next paragraph: it's an organ recital, boring.)
In my 30s and 40s, endless sore throats, then cough-cough-cough, perpetually clearing my throat. It drove me mad, not to mention my companions. Eventually gastric reflux was diagnosed, and I began taking the two common prescribed drugs. Which I deeply dislked. Then one day in Japan, friends casually passed me a jar of bainiku ekisu, saying, "Everyone takes this for stomach problems here." A tiny spoon of sour plum concentrate in hot water every morning would reduce the acidity of the digestive system, and thus I was cough-cough-free for a delightful 20-odd years.
But alas, that stupid throat-clearing was creeping back. Just a little. Just now and then. And this is relevant how? Everything's relevant because everything is connected. Constant throat clearing obviously puts stress on your throat and irritates in more ways than one.
Now Peter produced some impressive equipment: a tiny flexible scope which he inserted through my nasal passages. How amazing. No guesswork necessary: he could see precisely what was happening in the depths of my throat when I spoke or sang. (Big word alert: I think this is called a nasopharyngoscope.)
His verdict follows, in brief, and in my words, not his. Errors are mine, not his. My voice is my voice.
My larynx is shaped more like a tent than a box, which means that all my life I've had to force my vocal chords to vibrate. Maybe like blowing a trumpet which narrows instead of flaring at the outlet. As the years go by, the muscles weaken with the strain of that additional effort.
I laughed aloud when I heard the name of my condition: muscle tension dysphonia. So I have got ugly-voice-due-to-muscle-tension. Okaaay... now what?
Image: Throat examination. Image via Internet Archive Book Images. Clinical lectures on the principles and practice of medicine, 1894 by Bennett, John Hughes
Plain English explanation of muscle tension dysphonia, University of Michigan
Video of somebody else's vocal chords in action