All posts by June Bowser

Don’t Damage Your Hearing!

Good hearing is very important to a singer, but we don’t often think about it. Unfortunately, you may not realize your hearing is compromised until the damage is irreversible. Prevention is the best and perhaps only tool to keep your ears in good shape.

Exposure to very loud noises, even briefly, can be very dangerous, but even moderately loud noise or music over a period of time can spell trouble. If you play in a rock band (or even a concert band) you may be at risk. Hearing protection is called for if you use machinery like a power saw, lawnmower, motorcycle or air compressor. Working in a noisy environment such as a bar or factory can cause damage that adds up over time. Do you play piccolo? How about hearing protection on you right side, at least when you practice. And headphones are a common source of hearing damage. It’s entirely too easy to crank up the volume to a dangerous level. (Don’t trust the manufacturer to limit the upper end for you.) Warning signs are when you need to turn the volume up to get the same thrill as previously and when the people around you can hear what you are listening to.

You may not be aware of any signs that your hearing is failing, but you’ve gotten into a dangerous zone if things sound muffled after a rock concert or party. If you value your hearing you will not stand close to the speakers. If you have to shout to the person next to you, you should probably move farther away from the sound source.

And lastly, you probably know that you shouldn’t put anything into your ears. You could harm the eardrum. But even something as innocent as tissue can easily leave bits behind that end up causing a blockage. If your ear itches or gives you other problems, you should see a doctor. Your family physician may be able to help, or your may be referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist.

 

Voice-Related Links

Some good information on the physiology of the voice and voice disorders can be found at:

The Voice Foundation.

Vocal fry is very common these days. Is it hurting your voice?

https://theconversation.com/keep-an-eye-on-vocal-fry-its-all-about-power-status-and-gender-45883?platform=hootsuite

What about those kids on America’s Got Talent?

http://dropera.blogspot.com/2012/01/about-those-child-opera-singers-heres.html

What things cause wear and tear on your voice, and what happens as you get older?

http://www.vulture.com/2016/10/mysteries-of-the-aging-voice.html

Alexander Technique

http://www.openspacesatwest.com/

This is Dr. Larry Hensel’s website. Alexander practitioners are rare in this part of the country. He’s in Laramie.

Would you like to see what the vocal folds look like?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2pLJfWUjc8 – Explanation and diagrams

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XGds2GAvGQ  – Quartet scoped

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfOZxJnY4c8 – Scope and no scope

I’ll bet there are some things you’ve got wrong about the Copyright law.

http://www.templetons.com/brad/copymyths.html

What can you do with a music degree?

http://musicschoolcentral.com/can-music-degree-70-careers-salaries-revealed/

 

Too Much Water?

Once again I’m seeing headlines that warn against drinking too much water, and they’re making me uncomfortable. These articles rarely tell you how much water they’re talking about, and it would be unwise for many of us to cut back.

The usual daily recommendation for water is eight to ten 8 ounce glasses. Some say  1/2 ounce (or more) per pound of your body weight. Or 8 ounces for every hour you are awake. For a 150 pound individual those recommendations would translate into 64-80 ounces, 75+ ounces and 128 ounces. I figure that means at least 2 liters or 67 ounces per day.

Yes, it’s possible to over-do it, but most of us are still short of these healthy levels and nowhere near the amount it takes to harm yourself, which is something like one liter within an hour. The body can’t process that much.

How do you know if you’re taking in enough water? The easiest way is to look at your urine. If you are dehydrated it will probably be dark. The rule is “Pee pale!”

You may need more water than average if:

  • You have diarrhea or vomiting
  • You are at a high altitude
  • You exercise hard or sweat a lot
  • You live in a dry climate
  • You consume a lot of caffeine, alcohol or salt
  • You’re a singer!

So aim for 2 liters of water throughout the day, and keep your voice healthy!

Beginner’s Guide to Musical Theater

From comic strip characters (Annie, Li’l Abner) to real people (like Fiorello LaGuardia, Maria Von Trapp, Eva Peron), wars (in Shenandoah and Miss Saigon), novels (Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera) and Bible stories (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar), musicals are more than just song and dance.

The Best-Loved Musicals

Note that the film version of a musical may be quite different from the original. Songs are often cut, added, transposed, re-ordered or given to a different character.

  • My Fair Lady
  • Evita
  • Hello, Dolly!
  • Fiddler on the Roof
  • Anything Goes
  • West Side Story
  • Oklahoma
  • The Sound of Music
  • Cats
  • Les Miserables (often just “Les Mis”)
  • Wicked
  • The Phantom of the Opera
  • Music Man

An interesting one that isn’t very well known is Lost in the Stars, which is based on Cry, the Beloved Country.

1776 isn’t one of the big ones, but it’s one of my favorite. You may think a musical about the Continental Congress and the signing of the Declaration of Independence would be as interesting as junior high History class, but it is quite entertaining, even while quoting from historical documents, like George Washington’s letters to the Congress from Valley Forge. And the hero is – wait for it – John Adams! Who knew?

Important Composers of Musicals

Cole Porter

Andrew Lloyd Webber

Irving Berlin

Stephen Sondheim

George Gershwin

Some are better-known as a composer/lyricist pair, such as:

Lerner and Loewe

Rodgers and Hammerstein

Gilbert and Sullivan

Famous Music Theater Singers

The Broadway singer has a bright sound which helps get the words across. Not always as beautiful or as “round” a tone as the classical singer’s. Their priorities are clear words and emotions, along with character. Even ugly voices have a place. Madame and Monsieur Thenardier in Les Miserables are ugly people, and their voices show that.

  • Betty Buckley
  • Bernadette Peters
  • Robert Goulet
  • Julie Andrews
  • Pearl Bailey
  • Carol Channing
  • Barbra Streisand
  • Ethel Merman
  • Barbara Cook – She sang the songs in many of the film musicals without credit.
  • Mandy Patinkin
  • Rex Harrison
  • Florence Henderson
  • Zero Mostel
  • Topol
  • Bob Hope
  • Kristin Chenoweth
  • Shirley MacLaine
  • Jimmy Durante
  • Dick Van Dyke
  • Patti LuPone
  • Jeanette MacDonald
  • Alfie Boe

You may want to check out Auditioning for Musical Theater.

Beginner’s Guide to Jazz Singers

A jazz singer does not have to have a perfect voice. The feeling and the musical style are more important. Vocal imperfections can even be a plus, as it makes the singer memorable, like Louis Armstrong’s rough voice. “Scatting,” or improvising with nonsense syllables, is an important skill. These are the big names you should be familiar with in the world of jazz. (Some have also sung in musicals.)

  • Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)
  • Cab Calloway (1907-1994))
  • Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996)
  • Nina Simone (1933-2003)
  • Ethel Waters (1896-1977)
  • Della Reese (1931-    )
  • Bing Crosby (1903-1977)
  • Dinah Washington (1924-1963)
  • Jane Monheit (1977-    )
  • Billie Holiday (1915-1959)
  • Judy Garland (1922-1969)
  • Sara Vaughan (1924-1990)
  • Bobby McFerrin (1950-    )
  • Nat King Cole (1919-1965)
  • Mel Torme (1925-1999)
  • Frank Sinatra (1915-1998)
  • Diana Krall (1964-    )
  • Lena Horne (1917-2010)
  • Rosemary Clooney (1928-2002)

Behind the Judges’ Table

What are those adjudicators thinking? Don’t you wish you knew? Well, I can give you a good idea. First of all, they’re human and frequently distracted. If they yawn, they may be thinking, “I really need another cup of coffee,” or, “These things are always so long. I wonder what time it is.” But if you’re lucky, they may be thinking, “I love hearing new people. Let’s see what this one has to offer.” And that may very well be the case. These are teachers, agents or conductors who truly enjoy singers and vocal music.

If you’re listening in on their thoughts you may also hear, “What in the world was he thinking, singing that piece. He’s not ready for it. I wish I could hear him sing something he’s good at.” Or perhaps, “She sings it pretty well, but I can’t see her doing that part.” So always sing what suits you.

If you seem a little “green” and inexperienced, that’s not the end of the world. But do thank the judges and be pleasant and appreciative to your accompanist. This will not go unnoticed. Opera managers have been known to ask the stage manager just how singers behaved backstage. Snooty prima donnas who can only appear nice onstage are cut.

Excuses and complaints will not be appreciated. If you have a cold and want to sing anyway, don’t tell them about it unless they ask.

What to Wear

The visual impression you make can be very important, so think carefully about your clothing. What you wear can telegraph a message you are unaware of, like: “I really don’t know anything about the world of opera,” or “I don’t care what you think of me.” The last thing you want to do is offend them!

Let’s start with what is expected at something like the district NATS auditions. At this level you are learning all about singing for judges, including the unspoken rules about attire. Judges may write comments about your clothing because it’s an opportunity for you to learn what is expected.

One thing to always keep in mind is that what you wear should show respect for the person listening. This is not the time to “make a statement” or to “be edgy” or “look really hot.” Don’t try to be noticed by wearing an extreme or bizarre outfit. If people can only think “That’s outrageous/punk/ugly” the whole time you’re singing, that’s all they’ll remember about you. This is like a job interview, and you should be demonstrating that you respect the auditioner and appreciate their time.

In general, judges absolutely do not want to see:

  • Your tattoos
  • Jeans
  • T-shirts
  • Clothing with words
  • Tennis shoes
  • Sweats
  • “Goth” makeup
  • Belly button
  • Flip-flops
  • Piercings (More than one per ear)

Men should think in terms of dress pants with a button-down shirt and a tie. Jacket is optional. Closed-toe dress shoes, not sandals. When auditioning for an opera company or conductor you should wear that jacket.

Ladies, since you have so many style choices, you can go wrong in many more ways. Ideally you should choose a dress no shorter than 2 inches above the knee. Pantyhose are preferable to bare legs and leggings are out. Heels look nice but don’t go too high, especially if you’re not very comfortable walking in them. Don’t show too much skin, like spaghetti straps. Some singers feel that looking sexy will get the judges’ attention, but judges can be very turned off by it, perhaps even offended that you would try it. You want to go for elegant and sophisticated.

Formal wear is appropriate for some elite competitions. Basically, if it’s the finals of something like the Metropolitan Auditions or if it happens in the evening in a concert hall with an audience, a tuxedo or gown is probably expected. Ladies, you can go one degree more revealing, like a V-neck or leg slit.

Some Common Pronunciation Errors

The way we usually speak is not necessarily appropriate for singing.  What with regional dialects and general sloppiness, we put up with much inaccurate speech that we don’t even notice. When singing in English the best way to be understood is to use what’s sometimes called Elevated Standard American English. It’s what has long been equated with “correct” pronunciation. Before CNN came along, all national newscasters would have sounded like this. It was considered understandable to all Americans, with just a bit of an educated and authoritative quality.  (Note: This may not be the way to say the words of a country song, spiritual, character piece or Death Metal hit, but familiarity with proper pronunciation helps all singers make better choices.)

There are a huge number of words that are commonly mispronounced. See if you say these words correctly:

  1. Recognize – Don’t forget the G.
  2. Strong – There is no SH at the beginning.
  3. New – Should rhyme with few.
  4. Pen – In this part of the country it often rhymes with pin. Incorrect!
  5. Immediate – Does not start with uh.
  6. Dream – There’s no J at the beginning
  7. Tree – No CH at the beginning.
  8. Twenty – Eh, not uh, and there’s that second T to remember.
  9. Educate – That’s a D, not a J. Try Ed-yoo-kate
  10. I’ll – Should rhyme with aisle.

For some reason, Israel is not sung the way we say it. It is sung Iz-rah-el. That’s actually closer to the way it’s spelled.

Remember that English is hardly ever phonetic. When you learned to read, sounding out a word may have given you trouble with  nuptial, iron and thigh, along with many others. And if you compare through, though, ought, and rough, you can see that the way words are spelled can be very misleading. Singers need to be aware of the sounds of a word not the spelling.

The International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, is used to write out the way a word sounds, and is used by singers to notate foreign words as well as correct English pronunciation.

Beginner’s Guide to Opera

You’ve just started lessons and want to learn more about music history, opera singers and classical song. Good for you! This is the great historical tradition behind all western singing.

You might start with the vocabulary list at Vocal Terminology, and then read through “Singing” on Wikipedia. Lots of good information there. Need to know more? Opera for Dummies is a really good introduction – fun, informative and easy to understand. And remember: You need to read up on the story before hearing or seeing an opera, unlike music theater, which is usually easy to follow. And don’t be surprised if the stories sound familiar. There are operas based on Shakespeare (Othello, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Falstaff), fairy tales (Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella), Bible stories (Salome,  Susannah) and historical figures (Richard Nixon, Ann Boleyn, Julius Caesar, Harvey Milk, Ghandi, Lucrezia Borgia). Some are funny, like the one with aliens subdued by a music teacher (Help, Help the Globolinks!), or the one where a man can’t get his girlfriend off the phone (The Telephone). Gianni Schicchi is all about a family arguing over a will. The part of the dead man is sometimes “played” by a non-singing personality, like a local politician. Opera is not scary!

Note: You may not want to use a name before you’ve learned how to properly say it. If you let people know you’re new to opera, they’ll help you out. But pretending you’re well educated in this field could backfire. That being said, here are some names to get you going. I hope you will look them up for more background and listen to the singers on YouTube.

Classical Singers You Should Know

Beauty of tone is frequently more important than acting, in opera. I think as you continue your voice studies you will begin to appreciate the operatic voice.

I may have missed your favorite singer, but, hey – it’s my list.

Opera Singers

Names are linked to YouTube, where you can hear these greats. In most of the clips you can go to the end if you’re anxious to get to the high notes.

  • Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) – Often called the greatest tenor of all time. Hard to tell, since the recordings are from the earliest years of phonographs.
  • Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007) – No one ever accused him of being an actor, but Man! could he sing. I think he’s better than Caruso. Listen through to the end of this one for one of his thrilling high notes.
  • Maria Callas (1923-1977) – A revelation in that she proved one can sing opera and act at the same time. Sometimes that took her over the edge vocally, though.
  • Beverly Sills (1929-2007) – Probably my favorite coloratura soprano. Beautiful singing and always full of personality on stage. She really showed her fun side when singing with Carol Burnett.
  • Joan Sutherland (1926-2010) – Australian coloratura.
  • Lily Pons (1898-1976) – Very famous French/American coloratura from the 30’s,40’s and 50’s. She sang in Hollywood movies and was quite popular. In this clip she is wearing a very daring outfit that most sopranos could not pull off!
  • Placido Domingo (1941-    ) One of “The Three Tenors.”
  • Jenny Lind (1820-1887) – “The Swedish Nightingale” A 19th century soprano that P.T.Barnum brought to the U.S..
  • Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938) – Perhaps the first Russian opera singer to be a familiar name in the west. I don’t know if any other bass ever became a household name.
  • Marian Anderson (1897-1993) – Broke the color barrier at the Metropolitan Opera when she appeared there in 1955.
  • Anna Netrebko (1971-    ) – A Russian soprano with a dark sound and movie-star looks.
  • Fritz Wunderlich (1930-1966) – Who knows what he could have done if he hadn’t died so young? A beautiful tenor voice.
  • Leontyne Price (1927-    ) – Had a very successful career when black opera singers were still uncommon.
  • Bryn Terfel (1965-    ) – Since he’s still in the middle of his career I’m not sure if history will rank him with the others, but I think he’s got a wonderful voice.
  • Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012) – Yes, he sang opera, but may be better known for his Lieder (German song) singing.
  • Natalie Dessay (1965-    ) – A fine french soprano who could sing the spots off of the hardest coloratura roles while delivering very fine acting. Things get very interesting in this clip at 4:55. Unfortunately, she has retired from the operatic stage. No one can sing those coloratura notes forever.
Not Exactly Classical
  • Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944) – Famous, not good. Recordings of her singing are available from the 30’s and 40’s, and you will probably howl with laughter. The sad part is that she believed her audiences were filled with people who came to adore her, not to laugh.
  • Anna Russell (1911-2006) – A wonderful comedienne who sang her way through Wagner’s famous Ring Cycle singing every part and cracking jokes all the way. What Victor Borge did for piano she did for opera.
  • Mary Schneider, Australia’s Queen of Yodeling (1932-    ) Not a classical singer, but the CD is all classical orchestral music. I don’t know if I like yodeling, but this is jaw-dropping.
Classical Singers Best Known for Films
  • Paul Robeson (1898-1976) – Famous for singing “Ol’ Man River in the 1936 film Showboat, but he was also known for “straight” (spoken) shows and political activism.
  • Jeanette MacDonald (1903-1965) – Sang many film operettas with Nelson Eddy in the 30’s and 40’s.
  • Mario Lanza (1921-1959) – Perhaps best known for The Great Caruso.

Famous Operas

Opera is usually sung in the original language. Experts will tell you that it is never the same if the words are not what the composer had in mind, but it may not matter much, in the end. Opera singers must be able to sing in at least Italian, German and French.

Some operas are equally well-known by their English title.

  • La Boheme, 1897
  • Tosca, 1900
  • Aida, 1871
  • La Traviata, 1853
  • Die Fledermaus, 1874
  • Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), 1786
  • Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute), 1791
  • Candide, 1956
  • Porgy and Bess, 1935
  • Tristan und Isolde, 1865
  • Carmen, 1875
  • Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), 1818
  • I Pagliacci, 1892
  • Madama Butterfly, 1904
  • Eugene Onegin, 1879

Famous Arias

I’m guessing you’ve heard these, even if you’re new to opera. Don’t believe me? Look them up on YouTube.

  • “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi
  • “La donna e mobile” from Rigoletto
  • “The Toreador Song” from Carmen
  • “Habanera” from Carmen
  • “Largo al factotum” from The Barber of Seville
  • “Der holle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” from The Magic Flute
  • “Letzte Rose” from Martha

Famous Oratorios

Oratorios are similar to operas, but usually on a sacred story and not staged. Cantatas and classical settings of the Mass are usually categorized here.

Messiah

Elijah

Carmina Burana – Not very sacred!

Some Famous Composers of Vocal Music

  • Verdi
  • Puccini
  • J.S. Bach
  • Handel
  • Schubert
  • Schumann
  • Wagner
  • Mozart
  • R. Strauss
  • Debussy
  • H. Purcell
  • Rossini

Keeping Your Voice Healthy

Most musicians don’t have to depend on their personal health the way a singer does. In that regard, we’re rather like athletes. All kinds of things going on in your body, mind and emotions will affect your singing. Many of those things cannot be controlled directly, but by staying in the best possible condition we can function as performers through quite a few of the ups and downs. Here are some of the basics:

  • You should maintain a healthy weight and stick to good eating habits.Overall health is your foundation.
  • Exercise goes a long way to keep your body strong and resilient. Aerobic (“cardio”) in particular will help with your breath support. If you do weight-lifting try to avoid the grunting and a glottal lock.
  • Singing should never hurt. If you are doing something that feels bad, you are hurting your voice.
  • Smoking is terrible for a singer. But you guessed that, didn’t you? Of course it’s harmful to your lungs, but it also hurts the vocal cords themselves. And pot burns hotter, so it is even worse.
  • Hydration is essential. There are various guidelines out there for how much you should drink (I’m talking about water!), but a good general one is about 2 liters per day. If you drink a lot of caffeine or live in a dry climate then you should plan on a bit more. Alcohol and many prescriptions medications also dehydrate you. Remember to pee pale! It’s the best way to know that you’re well-hydrated. (If you take B vitamins or even a multi-vitamin, your urine may be bright yellow. Not a problem!)
  • Many allergens affect the vocal tract. Do what you can to deal with them by avoidance, as depending on antihistamines and steroids can have deleterious results.
  • Excessive use of your speaking voice can be very taxing. Loud talking and comical voices can quickly tire your voice. Cheerleading is a stressor, as is talking over background noise (like in a vehicle).
  • Do not use your voice if you have laryngitis. Whispering is not a good idea. Instead, carry a pencil and paper around for a few days. If you keep trying to speak when you have laryngitis you will prolong the healing and you may cause permanent damage.
  • But not all sore throats are laryngitis. When in doubt, see the doctor. A laryngologist is a doctor who specialized in the voice. They’re sometimes called “Ear, Nose and Throat” doctors.
  • Learn about reflux and take action if necessary.
  • Remember to protect you hearing. Machine noise, rock concerts and band practice can all add up to damage your hearing. If you sing in a band you should have some kind of monitor that lets you hear yourself, because you may over-sing if you can’t.
  • Practice regularly, but not always loud and long. Get used to how your voice feels when you are singing easily. Your practice should be less about “building up singing muscles” and more about making a habit of your best/easiest sound.
  • Other things that can have repercussions on the voice include hormones, surgery, prescription drugs and mental or emotional state.
  • You can’t truly hear your own singing, so you need to trust your teacher’s ear. Eventually you’ll learn to sing well by the feel of it.

You only have one voice. You can’t abuse it and then expect a doctor to make it right again, because it may never be the same. Another thing that people forget is that when the voice doesn’t feel right we tend to compensate with habits that are not ideal. These new (or old) bad habits may stick with us after the voice should be healthy again. Here are some things that are harmful to your voice or just plain taxing. How many are affecting your voice?

  • Screaming, talking forcefully all the time, talking in the car, lots of laughing
  • Doing funny voices
  • Dry air, not enough water intake
  • Glottal attacks and throat effort in your speech
  • Coughing, clearing the throat
  • Breathing very cold air
  • Poor diet, lack of sleep, stress
  • Cheerleading
  • Allergies
  • Allergy medications
  • Aspirin, ibuprofen
  • Caffeine, alcohol
  • Smoking, especially marijuana
  • Talking, singing or whispering when you have laryngitis

Sure, some of these are hard to avoid. The singer must spend a lifetime working to minimize the stresses on the voice, though. If you have allergies, for example, do everything you can to be good to your voice in other ways, like drinking lots of water and eating properly.

Eating just before bed is a favorite ritual for some of us, but this can lead to acid reflux when you lie down, which is very hard on the voice. Eating spicy foods for dinner or eating too much of anything within a few hours of bed are best left to the non-singers. If you tend to have heartburn and stomach problems and if your voice is rough in the morning and
improves through the day, you should ask a doctor about reflux. (For more about
reflux, see What is GERD?)

Please remember that alcohol, caffeine, pseudoephedrine and even water are very dangerous if you ingest too much within a short period of time (1 or 2 hours).

Wintertime Immunity

Singers have to stay on top of their health at all times. A little cold can leave you with a cough, irritated vocal cords, or a sinus infection for weeks, making singing an unpleasant activity and perhaps leading to more serious damage to the voice.

In order to avoid illness as much as possible, be sure to eat well, get regular sleep, and be a bit fanatical about washing your hands, disinfecting doorknobs, and steering clear of sick people. Vitamins might help keep you strong, and water has a beneficial effect, too. Some people like to take herbs like echinacea and garlic. These work best if taken when you’ve been exposed to a bug but haven’t gotten sick yet. They may not help at all after the sore throat has begun. At that point you might try breathing steam to clear out your respiratory system and help the entire respiratory system heal.

And if you do come down with something, consider the following.

The Advantages of Being Sick

No, it’s not crazy . Think about this:

  1. When you’re sick you don’t expect so much of yourself. You tend to expect the singing to not sound good, so you relax and let it go without employing your usual extra effort. The result is free singing that you normally wouldn’t allow yourself. And if you can’t stand what you hear, put your fingers in your ears!
  2. If your throat hurts, you’ll work extra hard to get the sensations (effort) away from it, which is always good. This is a good time to go for forward placement.
  3. At the beginning of a cold you often sing better because the mucus is thinner on your vocal cords.
  4. Sometimes the congestion in your head is situated just right so that the focus is really obvious.
  5. You can learn a lot by working when the voice is just a little under the weather, since you have vocalize easily and really pay attention to the sensations.
  6. This is a great time to concentrate on memorization, expression and character.

Don’t push too hard for high notes, perfect clarity or long rehearsals, and you should
be okay. But remember to do no singing (or speaking, whispering or even whistling) when you have laryngitis.

What Should I Eat?

You will need to observe what happens to your body and voice when you eat particular foods. It’s very individual. That said, there are certain things that singers usually try to avoid. Observe your reaction to things like milk (any dairy products) and sugar. They might make a lot of phlegm. Nuts and popcorn can easily cause you to cough, which irritates the vocal folds quite a bit, so you don’t want to take that chance within a few hours of singing. Spicy or heavy foods late in the day can make for reflux, resulting in a scratchy voice in the morning. Caffeine may not leave your body as well hydrated as you might think. You’re taking in the fluid of that cup of coffee, but the caffeine content keeps you from benefiting from it like you would from plain water. Chances are that you’re wasting your money if you always have to have the fancy bottled water. Aspirin puts your vocal folds in a fragile state, so that they are vulnerable to damage if you sing. Many (most?) prescriptions drugs have a side effect of drying.

Some singers are very attached to hot lemon water with honey and cough drops. Both can easily be over-done and cause drying of the throat. And anything you feel psychologically dependent on in order to perform should be suspect. You’re in a much better state emotionally if you can be a normal person and go into your performance relaxed, rather than in a panic because you couldn’t find the right brand of herbal tea.

Helping Your Voice Heal

The voice can be damaged, but, on the other hand, it can be remarkably resilient. It needs moisture, rest and time.

  • Hydration with fluids is doubly important when on the mend, but you may also want to inhale some steam. Don’t burn yourself!
  • If your sinuses are dry or irritated you could try using a neti pot. It looks like a tiny tea pot. Put salt water in it and flush your nasal passages by putting the spout to your nose and leaning over a sink. (Breathe through your mouth, or you’ll drown!) If the water is lukewarm you won’t even feel it. Look up instructions online and you’ll see pictures to help you figure it out.
  • When you have laryngitis the time element is crucial. If you speak very little for 3 to 4 days you will get your voice back sooner. But don’t whisper! That’s harder on the vocal folds. So speak gently and minimally.
  • Sleep is necessary for your body to heal. Make it a priority.

Water and sleep are essential for a healthy voice!

Suggested Listening

These are some of my personal favorites.

Classical Singers

Sopranos

  • Kathleen Battle
  • Barbara Bonney
  • Maria Callas
  • Natalie Dessay
  • Renee Fleming
  • Edita Gruberova
  • Sylvia McNair
  • Beverly Sills
  • Cheryl Studer
  • Joan Sutherland
  • Kiri Te Kanawa
  • Dawn Upshaw
  • Deborah Voigt

Mezzos

  • Cecilia Bartoli
  • Susan Graham
  • Marilyn Horne
  • Christa Ludwig
  • Frederica Von Stade
  • Elina Garanca

Countertenors

  • Brian Asawa
  • David Daniels
  • Drew Minter
  • Bejun Mehta

Tenors

  • Jussi Björling
  • Andrea Bocelli
  • Ian Bostridge
  • Franco Corelli
  • Plácido Domingo
  • Jerry Hadley
  • Luciano Pavarotti
  • Fritz Wunderlich

Baritones and Basses

  • Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
  • Sherrill Milnes
  • Samuel Ramey
  • Bryn Terfel
  • Mathias Goerne

Non-Classical Singers

Audra MacDonald – A music theater singer with a Juilliard-trained voice.  Very expressive.  I especially like the CD, How Glory Goes.

Baltimore Consort – A renaissance /Celtic folk group with a great lead singer, Custer LaRue.

Christine Lavin – A singer/songwriter who sounds very natural and easy to listen to.  Her songs are about real life and sometimes very funny, like “The Shopping Cart of Love”.  My favorite album is Attainable Love.

Ella Fitzgerald – What’s to say? Just about the greatest jazz singer ever.

Il Volo – Like The 3 Tenors but not strictly classical and very young. They hit it big when they were about 16 years old.

Ute Lemper – A German theater/jazz singer.  Very intense and original as an interpreter.  I love the dark cabaret songs on Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill . She’s not afraid to make unattractive sounds for emotional reasons and it really works.

Therese Schroeder-Sheker  – If you want something really beautiful and relaxing, try Rosa Mystica.

Alfie Boe – Came to fame as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, but classically trained. Wow, what a tenor!

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – His name’s a mouthful, but just call him Iz. He’s the only Hawaiian musician I want to hear. A great musician. Perhaps his most famous song is “Over the Rainbow” blended with “What a Wonderful World”.

Bobby McFerrin – He’s so fun to listen to, you might not notice that he is a terrific singer. He has a free sound that he can use over a very wide range and can adapt to varying timbres. You may know him from “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Other belters: Bernadette Peters, Linda Ronstadt, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Vanessa Williams