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2002-06-05 Vocal health okay 9 times out of 10

WHEN a violinist takes his/her violin out of its case, the instrument will, nine times out of ten, work. The player may be feeling under the weather or possibly even have injured a finger or something, but the instrument will, nine times out of ten, be in full working order.

 

When the singer wakes up in the morning he/she is depending on about 2cm of mucus membrane to stretch and work in the right way. The violinist can see the violin, but the singer cannot see their instrument unless with the aid of a laryngoscope or similar device.

The voice is part of the body, so when the body is unwell then there is a fair chance that the voice will also be unwell!

When I gave up my part-time work in order to become a full-time professional singer, I made a very conscious decision to be nice to my voice as far as possible.

If I am to make a living from 2cm of membrane, I am going to be nice to it. In the same way that an athlete or cyclist would warm up every morning, the singer ought to vocalise in short segments to wake the voice up gently, never shocking the voice.

I have never made any secret of the fact that I am the most committed non-smoker in the world! Two of the lowest points in my life were undoubtedly the two occasions I lost my voice and was forced to cancel performances. On both occasions I had just been in a very smoky environment, and not even for a very long period of time.

I was forced to cancel work, and the laryngologist said that I was extremely sensitive, and basically allergic to smoke. And yes, I am aware of the handful of singers who do smoke. But for me to keep in good vocal health, I avoid smoke at all costs. Im afraid I find everything about smoking negative, and thats just the way I am.

As a singer its also important not to allow tensions in ones personal life to affect the voice, and they certainly have the potential to do so. I found it fascinating when a friend informed me that the word for choke and the word for worry in Old English were one and the same word.

If you have worries in your life, these worries have the capacity to choke you, and its hard to sing when youre choking as Im sure youll appreciate. The neck has been proven to be one of the areas to absorb most of the bodys tension.

When there are problems in a singers personal life, its one of the worst careers to be in, as that is when the performer has to act the most, otherwise they will not be able to sing. You have to be able to detatch yourself from your worries. Have you ever wondered how singers can sing at funerals of their friends or family?

With regard diet, a lot of people would say that a good rule would be everything in moderation, though many singers can be very over the top in what they allow into their digestive system. No, no I dont eat dairy produce, I am a singer you know?.

On the day of a performance I would tend to avoid chocolate or any mucus-producing foods. I no longer drink red wine as I find the tannin dries my throat out (God, Ive just realised Im as precious as the rest of them!).

I consume two or three litres of water a day, and am a great believer in the energy-giving properties of bananas! Eating immediately before a gig is a No-no for me, and eating after a gig is ruinous to my fabulous waistline.

As with everything, there are exceptions to the rule, and there are people who can drink red-wine and smoke in the interval of a gig, but I want to be nice to my larynx. After all, I am making a living from it.

A colleague of mine (notice I dont say friend) passed around luscious Belgian chocolates in the interval of a concert. We thanked her obviously but enquired as to why she didnt take one herself. Oh no, I never touch them, theyre mucus-forming and ruin the voice! Interstingly, the lady in question who was trying to sabatoge our performances was a soprano!