Jaylene Johnson's loss of voice earlier this year found her reassessing her true identity.

Singer loses her voice but gains perspective

“You are first and foremost a child of God,” says Jaylene Johnson

WINNIPEG, MB—Jaylene Johnson’s music has won awards, been featured on television, and touched the lives of thousands across Canada. But after surgery damaged her vocal chords and left her unable to sing effectively, Johnson has been forced to question her own identity.

Johnson, a Manitoba singer-song writer who describes her voice as “at its peak” before the surgery in October 2012, says she inquired about possible complications before the procedure. Doctors told her there would be a one in 1,000 chance of a perforation that would leave her breathing with a whistle. Anxious about her future, Johnson asked friends, family, and fans to pray.

Following the surgery, Johnson’s breathing seemed fine but her throat was, in her words, “on fire.” During the subsequent months she struggled through several shows and knew that something was not right with her singing voice.

Her vocal range and control faltered and when the problems began to spread to her speaking voice she sought further medical attention. A breakdown of medical machinery delayed any diagnosis and Johnson waited until May 2014, more than a year and a half after the surgery, for a specialist from Toronto to review her case.

The news was devastating. A hairline scar had formed along Johnson’s vocal chords. Another surgery would be required with no guarantees it could fix the problem. Johnson had to face the very real possibility her singing voice would never be the same.

But Johnson says the past year has still had glimpses of hope and God’s providence.

The Anglican Church of Canada commissioned a musical project from St. Benedict’s Table, Johnson’s home church, for the 2013 Advent season. The song, “Come Lord,” written by Johnson, was to be included in the project. She joined with fellow musician Steve Bell to record the piece. While in the studio producer and engineer for the project, Dave Zeglinski, hit record and asked Johnson and Bell for a warm-up take to set recording levels.

Bell started playing guitar and Johnson began to sing. She describes the experience when the duo began to perform, “You just know your body is attuned to something bigger that is right and good and you know it to the core of your being. I just felt it and it was awesome.”

After the warm-up take, Zeglinski asked for a first official take but Johnson’s voice failed and she was unable to sing through it. After listening back to the warm-up take, everyone present recognized it was the one to be used for the final recording. Johnson recalls, “Steve and I just looked at each other and we knew.”

Moments like the recording of “Come Lord” give Johnson encouragement for her future. Currently she is on limited vocal rest and will meet up again with her surgeon in October to reassess her situation.

Despite the highs and lows throughout her singing career during the past decade and a half, she now recognizes that her real identity has very little to do with her singing. “You are first and foremost a child of God,” she says. “That is my identity and really everything else is just the wrapping.”

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About the author

ChristianWeek Western Correspondent