Bill Pollak is a popular soul singer who goes by the stage name Billy Price. He’s been based out of Pittsburgh, his “adopted city,” since the 1970s. With a passion for playing rhythm and blues, he’s often busy recording albums, playing local venues, or touring the world with other notable R&B musicians.
Over the years, Billy had noticed a recurring issue with his voice. “My problems were a lack of stamina and thinness in my voice,” he says. “I’m not sure my voice sounded that different, but it didn’t feel as strong.”
When he first saw a doctor, Billy was diagnosed with a cyst on his vocal cords. The cyst was surgically removed and tested to ensure it wasn’t cancerous. However, Billy’s voice issues weren’t solved. He wanted, and needed, more than just surgery if he was to continue pursuing his passion.
Billy’s next stop was the UPMC Voice Center, led by Clark Rosen, MD. “I had heard about Dr. Rosen’s practice and how he specialized in treating singers,” says Billy. “He came highly recommended by another singer friend of mine.”
After his initial visit, Dr. Rosen sent Billy to work with two of the Voice Center’s singing voice specialists: Robert Fire, MM, AGMA, AEA, and Jackie Gartner-Schmidt, PhD, CCC-SLP. These specialists are experts who have both special medical training and experience in vocal performance and teaching. They combine the expertise of a professional singer with knowledge of vocal physiology, laryngology, and speech pathology — much more depth than traditionally trained singing teachers.
Billy says, “Whereas other teachers are classically trained and will do vocal exercises, which are helpful, it’s not what I do. We work directly with phrases I use in my shows.”
Billy started his voice lessons about three years ago. Using pianos and recording devices, Robert and Jackie helped Billy find healthier ways to use his unique voice.
“I’ve worked with a lot of singing teachers, but Jackie takes the way I sing as a given and then helps me to do the things I want to do in a less harming way,” Billy says. “She understands not just the physical side but also the emotional side.”
Over the past 12 months, Billy says, “I began to really be able to tell a difference in my voice. I’m approaching the way I sing differently. It’s sinking in.”
Billy continues to see Jackie once a month for ongoing lessons and therapy. “I’ve been singing for a long time, and when people hear I still take lessons they’re surprised,” Billy says. With a revived voice, Billy has just finished recording a new album to be released in early 2015. It’s a collaboration with his mentor, Otis Clay, and produced by well-known blues guitarist Duke Robillard.
“As a result of working with two people and doing regular lessons, I feel like I can do whatever I want with my voice now,” says Billy.