When your daddy is a singer turned DJ, your grandmother and great-aunt are opera singers and your uncle sang backup for Sam Cooke, being heavily influenced by music is almost unavoidable.
Therefore, it was no surprise to his family that singer-songwriter Omar Trouvére fell in love with music at a young age.
His sonic journey began at 10, when his great-aunt began taking him to church, where he sang throughout most of his teen years. For a while, Trouvére performed only there, as he had developed a fear of singing in front of people after being shunned at home for his musical interests.
He was not allowed to sing at home. Trouvére’s father, who put his own dreams of stardom on hold for marriage and his family, “violently discouraged” him from embracing music, he says. To keep the peace, he sang only at church or when his father wasn’t home.
In eighth grade, two classmates took him to an audition for the school’s production of Oklahoma!. Trouvére landed a lead role, and from then on he was in as many plays, concerts and musicals as possible until he graduated from high school.
“Singing was my outlet for expression,” says Trouvére. “Singing, music and performance became an icebreaker and connector for social engagement. All my friends were theater nerds and choir kids. I sang the national anthem at every assembly, pep rally, football game, event and national game.”
He went on to study jazz and contemporary music composition with a vocal concentration at Five Towns College in New York, perform in community theater and work extensively singing background and sample vocals for producers and songwriters.
Years later, dizzy spells and breathing troubles warranted a trip to the emergency room, where Trouvére says he was misdiagnosed with bronchitis, given antibiotics and sent on his way. When a seizure later that year left him unconscious on the bathroom floor, doctors discovered that the breathing woes and exhaustion he attributed to his rigorous schedule as a teacher and performer pointed to something far more serious.
In December 2014, he was diagnosed with stage III lymphatic cancer. A tumor in his jaw caused it to stiffen and clench regularly. A tumor in his throat occasionally made swallowing a challenge. The 12 tumors in his lungs caused his ongoing breathing issues. Three brain tumors affected his cognitive (and performance) abilities and short-term memory.
“Everything [needed] to operate your body as a vocalist was compromised,” he says. “It dampened and muted my whole creative self.”
After a month of surgeries, Trouvére couldn’t do much, but he could write. Tinkering with songs while healing proved to be therapeutic at times. Music helped him cope with the shock of living in a body that felt newly foreign and debilitated. Things changed when he discovered Jaime Woods’ album Troy. Listening to it became a major part of his daily life.
According to Trouvére, something in Woods’ music spoke to his spirit and brought him back to life. “It touched something in me that helped me feel again. There is a purity and honesty to it,” he says. Because of that album, he laughed, cried, danced, hummed and sang along, regardless of how he sounded.
It was a wise decision to turn to sound for solace, a mental health expert suggests. Music can help people manage stress, enhance memories and process trauma, says Nickolas Gaines, suicide prevention program director for the U.S. Department of Defense. It can also build rapport and encourage vulnerability among groups of relative strangers of different ages, sexual orientations and economic levels.
“When I’d put on a song like ‘Amazing Grace’ in these groups with people fighting through difficult circumstances, by the end I have had war veterans—people who have to wear that mask and represent strength and safety for a living—standing up, holding hands, crying together, getting all that stuff out,” Gaines says. “That type of release can be comforting. It can save you.”
And Trouvére, who is performing again and recently completed his first new post-cancer song, would agree. “It helped me feel, for the first time in ages, like myself,” he says. “It was my first step toward being a human being again.”