I have to be real careful with my younger students and constantly ask myself "How much can they take? How much can they give?" But they constantly surprise me. So I had some revelations this week with a 13 year-old who hung in there for an hour of pretty demanding singing and with a sparkle in her eyes managed to make it through a song she never would have been able to tackle just two weeks ago. Once again, the power of music working with the human body and spirit constantly amaze me.
This is a new addition to my blog. I'd like to be able to keep up with the activities of my students on my blog, so that it can be edited more quickly and efficiently than on my website. So . . . please let me know what you are up to and I promise it will get published here!
Sunday, April 20, 2008
This week's revelation is about hard work, sweat, and laughter. "Is it hot in here?" is the typical question for a woman going through menopause. It's also a question for a student really working well in the voice studio. I find myself stripping off layers of clothing during every lesson. (Don't worry . . . there is a limit to how far I'll go!) This week my studio was a veritable strip tease/comedy club! "I'm exhausted!" "Is your voice exhausted?" "No." "I'm tired too but let's take off a layer and keep going for a little while longer." Then when I sense that the student's muscles can't support the tone anymore and/or they are singing "from their throat" we stop. We rest and drink water and breathe easily and let the muscles recover. But those supporting muscles are getting stronger each week and the beautiful, tiny vocal folds are protected and no one walks out unable to speak or sing at the end of a lesson. They may need to take a nap or a shower, but that's OK by me.
Monday, April 14, 2008
In response to a request from Erin C. for remedies, exercises, etc. for overworked voices or ideas for how to handle singing when you're sick, I'm going to share some more ideas from my experience as well as those of an expert. Dr. Anthony Jahn, one of the most highly respected otolaryngologists in the country recommends zinc tablets or nasal swabs, saline nasal spray, a Neti pot (I use mine religiously), and vitamin C. He says to avoid antihistamines if you are going to have to perform, because they tend to dry you out, and that is dangerous if you have to sing. Better to use a decongestant (hence my love affair with Musinex). The mucus gets looser but you won't get dried out. Remember that commercial for hand cream that used to show the dried up leaf vs. the beautiful green leaf? I like to think of always keeping my vocal folds like the green leaf, moist and supple.
When you have a cold, the chances are you are going to be affected in the upper parts of your voice and/or your passaggio. You may also be feeling physically weaker. Be very careful to not tire yourself out, because that's when you are in danger of really hurting your voice. Eat well. Rest well. Cancel or re-schedule any engagements and auditions if you are able to. And remember, a cold will pass, but if you over-sing on it, watch out! You can do damage because you may be singing from an unsupported place and can cause harm to your voice, which will take more time to heal than just the week or ten days that it would have taken to nurse a cold or flu.
As far as overworked or overused voices are concerned, I am not a voice therapist, so I will send my students to an otolaryngologist when I sense that something is amiss that healthy nutrition, rest, good technique and conscientious practice seem to be doing nothing to conquer. A couple of times the doctor has found a cyst, a polyp or even the dreaded "nodes" but I always feel it is better to be informed than to keep on beating your head against the wall wondering "Why can't I sing like I used to?" Dr. Jahn's column in Classical Singer Magazine is enormously useful every month and can be found in the archives on their website.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Wow, has this been a crazy couple of weeks! Not only have I been sick, but at least three of my students have called me with "HELP WHAT DO I DO ? I HAVE TO SING AND I'M SICK!" Questions. All three of them had different issues and I'm going to share what I told them.
First of all was the issue of the baritone singer/actor who not only is performing in a show but had an audition where he had to sing and act a lyrical ballad. I reminded him that he was not just a voice. This young man, as we all are, is a three mode performer. He is a very strong actor, who has a face, voice, and body that can communicate the truth of his song and his character if he trusts them. Sometimes, we are not able to rely on "the voice" being there 100% so we have to ask more of the rest of our instrument to help us out in an audition or performance situation when there is no understudy or opportunity to change an appointment or canceling is not an option. I also suggested he "take it easy" with both his audition song and his song in the show and see what happens. My student took this advice to heart and got wonderful results in both situations.
The other two students who were under the weather were doing recordings and I gave them different advice for very different reasons. One I told to put off her recording, because it sounded like she had actually done some minor, temporary damage to her voice by talking too loudly too soon after being ill and she is a heavy-duty R&B singer at the beginning of a very promising career. The other student is the young soprano I mentioned in an earlier blog, who is at the finishing stages of recording her demo CD and had some "fixes" to do. Just because she wasn't 100% it didn't seem like there was any reason to not try to go into the studio and listen to what we had and try to fix what we could. Despite her fatigue and the fact that she was recovering from a cold, knowing that the "finish line" was in sight and hearing the inspiring sounds she had already made in the previous recording sessions, she managed to do some pretty incredible singing that evening.
And what have I been doing for my cold? Water, water, water, water, water. Rest, rest, rest, rest.
Musinex, every twelve hours. Chicken soup.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
This has been a rough week for me, as I've been ill, and my students have been canceling a lot. Spring Break, "Spring Fever." sudden breakouts of "forgetfulness," auditions and rehearsals for other projects popping up at the last minute, who knows? Everyone has a legitimate excuse. It's not easy being a private voice teacher. I'm frequently last on people's priority list. But I choose this life because I love the independence that it brings me. I worked for an institution before and it just wasn't my style. I hated the bureaucracy, game playing, and loss of freedom that was involved. But with a private studio comes more personal responsibility for keeping track of the business side, not just the artistic, of being a voice teacher. Hence, my website and this blog. I am trying to find new ways to network, to reach out and find new ways to build my contacts, so that when a week like this one happens I can handle it with more serenity than I have in the past. I'm grateful to any other independent contractors out there who read this who would care to respond.