Tenor John Mac Master knew he had arrived when he debuted in Pagliacci at the Metropolitan Opera in 2005. It had taken him over 20 years to get to this point, waiting for his voice to mature. “Overnight” he became an opera star, in demand around the world. Then, three years later, he developed a potentially career-ending problem with his vocal cords. He turned to Dr. Jennifer Anderson.
ENT specialist Dr. Jennifer Anderson is the otolaryngologist-in-chief at St. Michael’s and head of the Voice Disorders Clinic, which for more than 15 years has been one of the few clinics in the country to treat complex voice disorders. Dr. Anderson and the team diagnose and offer medical and surgical treatment to 2,000 patients a year. The clinic also tends to the unique needs of professional singers like John, whose vocal well-being is critical.
Tenor John Mac Master’s problem was a polyp – a scar that remains on the vocal cords following an injury or strain. For John, that potentially meant the end of his career – just after he had achieved his breakthrough. Dr. Jennifer Anderson operated to remove the polyp, and, after a recovery period, John was back in top form.
In his third year at university John headed up a Christian rock band. One of his fellow singers started to take lessons, and John remembers thinking: “I want some of that!” He started classical singing lessons, and his teacher was so impressed that she suggested John study voice. He did just that at McGill, later joining the Canadian Opera Company (COC) chorus. Then COC artistic director Lotfi Mansouri told John he needed further study, and so he moved to New York City, where he served as associate music director for Saint Jean Baptiste Church.
After more than a decade, John came back to Toronto to audition for a talent agent, which led to an offer to perform in The Phantom of the Opera, first in Toronto and then in New York. John also auditioned for Mansouri again, now at the San Francisco Opera, who hired him. He has since appeared in opera and concert houses around the world, including the Met.
John’s problem was a polyp – a scar that remains on the vocal cords following an injury or strain. For John, that potentially meant the end of his career – just after he had achieved his breakthrough. Dr. Anderson operated to remove the polyp, and, after a recovery period, John was back in top form.
Singers rarely talk about their vocal problems in case they lose engagements, but John Mac Master wants to lift the veil so that younger performers know that it’s not uncommon and that help is out there.
St. Michael’s is raising funds to support a Chair in Voice Disorders, which will help St. Michael’s attract leading talent to the Voice Disorders Clinic and provide a renowned researcher with the resources to pursue new treatments and therapies for patients. Research will progress faster, offering new and better treatments for patients.
This position will also attract other researchers seeking to collaborate on groundbreaking research. As well, a host of graduate students will bring their fresh insights to St. Michael’s, leading to innovative therapies and treatments.
The famed Canadian tenor Jon Vickers used to acknowledge his voice as “a gift from God”. For John Mac Master, “Whether I was leading the chanting the psalm in the service at Saint Jean Baptiste or performing opera, singing is my vocation, my calling.” Thanks to Dr. Anderson and the Voice Disorders Clinic at St. Michael’s, we will be able to hear his magnificent tenor voice for years to come.