Phoebe Madden Fought Lyme Before Continuing To Sing
Phoebe Madden Fought Lyme Before Continuing To Sing
Phoebe Madden looks like a runner. Indeed, she does like to run and workout.
But that's only because it helps strengthen her body for what she truly loves: singing.
The petite, girlish Madden, who lives in Cowesett, can belt out a Broadway tune while dancing, or sing a lament at almost a whisper while making it all seem effortless. On September 4, she will perform three pieces on the program with the Rhode Island Philharmonic during the annual Summer's End concert at Eldredge Field.
"The philharmonic heard the CD that I recorded last spring," Madden said.
"The Summer Arts Festival Organization board came to my students' concert at Christmastime last year, and they heard the CD, too. So it came together for the Summer's End concert."
Madden has performed off-Broadway, in regional and stock theater, and has toured nationally. Last spring, she recorded her first CD. She also often performs at area churches – once per month at East Greenwich's First Lutheran Church, as barter for teaching space. The parish at St. Gregory the Great in Warwick gets to hear her regularly, and has sung at the local Methodist and Baptist churches.
"This is really a peak time," said the singer. "I'm looking forward to the future, but I also know that this is a special moment in my life, my journey."
Lyme disease, diabetes
But it hasn't always been this good for Madden. She is still fighting the effects of Lyme disease, which she contracted three years ago.
"I got Lyme disease that was not diagnosed until a month later," she said. "It resulted in meningitis which affected my brain and damaged the nerves on the left side of my face which was paralyzed and drooped, like Bell's Palsey. I stopped singing for awhile to get better and look more presentable, because people would be so distracted by my face."
Madden said that the illness was particularly difficult because she was born with very little vision and hearing on her right side.
Then, the Madden's oldest son was diagnosed with type one diabetes.
Said Madden, "For a whole year I was feeling very sad about my sagging face, and when our son was diagnosed with diabetes, the focus had to go on him." She said that today Philip is "doing great."
Today, Madden is doing much better, too.
"It has been a strange journey, but I've learned good things from it," she said.
"At times I thought, 'Why have you done all this, the concerts, the teaching, the CD. Your oldest son has diabetes. Your twins are toddlers.' But I needed to sing again to get well. A mother has to be true to herself to take care of everybody else."
Madden continued, "It is harder for me to sing now, because the left side is locked. On the other hand, it's my therapy. I feel closest to God when I sing. It's who I am. I can't not sing! But I'm singing better than ever because I've had to fight. Singing is very athletic, and I've had to train like an athlete to get my strength back."
Sporting a big smile, she added, "Also, for three years my husband massaged my face every night."
It has helped that Madden has strong faith. "I'm a very religious person, so I feel that God got me through the worst of it," said Madden. "And I am thankful for so many people who have gotten me through it, with prayer, bringing meals, coming to hear me sing. It is a tremendous community that we live in. I hope to be giving back."
Madden grew up in Rye, New York and earned a bachelor's degree in theater and dance at Trinity College in Hartford. She also holds a master's degree in teaching. Indeed, continuing to teach her students, "with my face hanging down," provided structure for Madden and forced her to be in the present.
For years Madden has provided voice lessons to teen girls and young women.
In fact, Cowesett native, Emily Kaczmarek, began lessons with the New York transplant at age 11. Kaczmarek has been part of the two-women and two-men ensemble that Madden put together over the past three summers to sing and dance a program of Broadway tunes at the Towers in Narragansett.
Now a 19-year-old educational theater major at NYU, Kaczmarek said, "What makes Phoebe such a great teacher is that she doesn't just teach you how to sing, technically. She teaches you how to tell a story through song and how to be vulnerable on stage. Phoebe teaches girls how to have confidence. She always says, 'You are enough.' That just means that singing a song simply and from the heart is going to be a better performance any day than something that is really choreographed and theatrical."
Another admirer, Evette Mellin first heard Madden perform the national anthem at an event. "Her singing made me feel that I had been transported to another place. She sings so intimately to you."
Mellin works for the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce in Warwick and recommended Madden for a Chamber event. "When she sang at our event you could hear a pin drop. I was just enthralled with Phoebe. I also think that there is a lot of talent in Rhode Island that we don't know about or appreciate. I think she's one of them."