Composer and violinist Richard Sortomme of Mount Vernon, New York has spent his career perfecting melodies and minute details of musical tone, balance and flow. His work has led to breathtaking performances of his compositions by symphony orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic and The Cleveland Orchestra, where he is working on his second commission that he says makes him the most grateful and fulfilled composer living today.
While his musical pieces move audiences and please critics with their inspiring sound, Sortomme struggles with a personal challenge related to sound – the ability to speak fluently. He is one of three million people in the U.S. and 66 million people worldwide who stutter.
According to the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, stuttering occurs when syllables or words are repeated or prolonged, disrupting the normal flow of speech. Stuttering ranges in severity and varies in different circumstances. It often hampers educational and career aspirations, inhibits social growth, and serves as a constant barrier to effective communication in life.
Sortomme stuttered since his youth. Though, he did not let his speech hinder his musical aspirations into adulthood. In recent years, he noticed his stutter worsening. He was particularly concerned when asked to deliver remarks and field questions in front of large audiences before orchestra performances.
“Few things could be more rewarding than having the opportunity to speak about a piece of music I composed,” Sortomme said. “Yet, I experienced trepidation verging on fear swirling around these speaking events.”
Determined to achieve excellence in his speech as he does with his music, in May of 2014 Sortomme attended the stuttering therapy program at Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI – https://www.stuttering.org) in Roanoke, Virginia.
Created by stuttering expert and HCRI Founder Ronald L. Webster, Ph.D., HCRI stuttering therapy is an intensive, 12-day treatment that is grounded in science and continually refined, based on research with thousands of stuttering cases. The center’s clinicians utilize detailed behavioral therapy protocols and advanced technology to teach people how to replace abnormal muscle contractions that cause stuttering with specific, new muscle movements that generate fluent speech.
“Our early research revealed that stuttering is physical. The repetitions, prolongations and voice blockages that we label as stuttering are caused before a sound is ever spoken,” Webster explained. “While there is no cure, HCRI provides effective treatment by focusing where the problem occurs, which is at the muscular level.”
“I knew by the second day of stuttering treatment that the program would work, if I committed myself to what HCRI teaches,” Sortomme noted. He graduated from the therapy program with the ability to speak fluently. To sustain long-term results, he was advised by HCRI clinicians that he needed to practice his newly acquired fluency skills once he returned home.
Sortomme points out that HCRI stuttering therapy is not a quick fix or vaccination against stuttering. He emphasizes that a commitment to ongoing practice is essential for lasting fluency. HCRI provides all program participants with an extensive package of post-therapy tools and support, including unlimited phone and email contact with clinicians. Sortomme stays in regular contact with his clinician and rigorously practices his fluency skills every day.
His HCRI stuttering therapy and hard work yielded results. Only months after treatment, Sortomme served as host at the memorial service for his mentor and great American violinist, David Nadien, which was held at Lincoln Center in New York City. On stage, he spoke fluently and confidently.
“I manifested complete fluency at the memorial service, with none of the blockings or repetitions that plagued my speech for more than 50 years,” Sortomme said.
HCRI research demonstrates that 93% of therapy participants achieve fluency in 12 days and 70-75% maintain fluent speech when evaluated one and two years post treatment. More than 6,300 people from 50 countries have participated in HCRI stuttering therapy. Most program participants tried other stuttering treatments before coming to HCRI.
For Sortomme, the impact of his HCRI stuttering therapy extends beyond the ability to speak fluently for the first time in his life. He says the therapy helped reduce times of stress and he now feels more relaxed in his day-to-day interactions.