Vocal Health, Part III: Singing While Sick

There’s nothing like being knee-deep in rehearsals for an upcoming show and waking up one morning with a sore throat.  Or a drippy nose.  Or that feeling where you’re so tired you can barely summon the energy to get out of bed.

Even just a hint of sickness can send any singer into crisis mode.  So how do we deal with it?

Prevention: The First Step

Well, “dealing” with sickness starts with good prevention.  During the colder months, there are germs EVERYWHERE and it is realllllly easy to catch something if you’re not taking care of yourself.

If you start exhibiting symptoms, the earlier you deal with them, the better.  Everyone has their regimen of things they do when they feel a virus coming on.  If your symptoms become full-blown, there are a myriad of drugs and natural remedies out there to help relieve them.  Figure out what works for you, seeking advice from a health professional, if necessary.  The important thing is to stay on top of whatever remedy helps you – don’t get lazy!

So, What About Singing?

In a perfect world, singing while sick wouldn’t be a thing.  Even in our imperfect world, you should avoid singing while sick if you possibly can.  Alas, however, sometimes singers find themselves in a tough situation, and it can be hard to know what to do.  There are no hard and fast rules for singing while sick.  Everyone’s body is different, every virus is different, and sickness can be unpredictable.

DISCLAIMER: Before I go any further, the contents of this post are GUIDELINES ONLY.  What I am about to say is based on my knowledge of vocal health/physiology and on my personal experience, but I am not an ENT or laryngologist.  I cannot see your vocal folds and thus cannot and do not prescribe any specific course of action for your particular situation.  Singing while sick can be a very risky business, and it’s imperative that you make the decision to do it under the guidance of someone who knows your voice well, and/or someone who can give you a proper diagnosis, if necessary.  If you are unsure what to do, consult your teacher/coach, an ENT, or other qualified voice professional.

What Kind of Sickness Is It?

Virtually all voice professionals would agree that you definitely should NOT sing if:

1. You have any malady that directly affects your throat or lower respiratory system (sore throat, swollen glands, strep throat, laryngitis, bronchitis, mono, or anything that manifests as an unpleasant, hacking cough).

2. You have a stomach virus.  Vomit really wreaks havoc on your folds.

3. You have anything else that severely inhibits the amount or quality of sound you normally put out.

If your sickness is basically a head cold (sinus congestion, runny nose, etc.), it MAY be okay to sing IF there is nothing wrong with your throat, your lungs, or your tummy.  I’m not saying that singing with a head cold is a walk in the park, or that your body and voice won’t feel incredibly fatigued after.  But my point is that it could still be SAFE to sing – even if it’s not COMFORTABLE.

Other Things to Consider

When you get sick, one register – either chest or head – often gets attacked, while the other may still function well enough to be used.  So, consider the kind of rep are you slated to sing.  Difficult music?  High stuff?  Low stuff?  Solo?  Choral?  Consider the tessitura (i.e., the general vocal range) of your music, and figure out if the right vocal things are working properly to sing it.

If your singing commitment is still a few days away, consider the trajectory your virus might take between now and then.  If you’ve only got sinus congestion now but tend to end up with a yucky cough after a few days, it may be better to bow out if you can.

If You Choose to Sing While Sick, Remember:

1. Your sick voice is not going to sound or feel like your healthy voice.  Don’t beat yourself up for sounding “less than your best.”  Instead, just sing with the best technique you can, and go by feeling, not by sound.

2. Don’t overdo it.  Your sick voice will not have the stamina that your healthy voice has, period.  If you sing too much or too heavily when you are sick, you will pay for it for it, sometimes for days afterward.  So be very, very careful.

3. The stronger your technique, the better your voice will hold up under sickness.  This is why we practice: so that when conditions are less than optimal, we can still sing healthily and beautifully.  I promise you that if you continue to work hard at your technique under the guidance of a good teacher, you will reach that point someday.

Again, if you are unsure about what to do, talk to your teacher or coach.  They know your voice and will be able to give you an informed recommendation and advice on how to proceed.

So, stay healthy, and keep practicing!

Spring Cleaning

Spring has arrived here in New England (sort of?)!  Yes, there is still snow on the ground, but soon we will be seeing more green, more sunshine, and even longer hours of daylight!  Yay!

There is something truly invigorating and motivating about coming out the winter stupor and seeing new life bursting forth everywhere.  You suddenly have more energy and a more positive attitude.  You somehow feel like you can do ANYTHING!

It seems natural for us, then, to imitate nature’s “out with the old, in with the new” theme and clean out our own closets/bedrooms/apartments/houses/backyards.  We throw away or donate things we don’t want or use anymore.  We take stock of what we have, set goals and make plans for the warm weather months, and seek out new ways to improve our lives.

If we do this in our homes and with our possessions, why not take on a similar project in our artistic lives?  When was the last time you re-evaluated your attitudes, habits, and goals as a performer?

As performers, we put up with a lot of not-enjoyable things.  We face competition, intense pressure, rejection, drama, and exhaustion, to name a few.  Like the darkness and cold of the winter months, these things can really have a negative effect on your psyche, sometimes without you even realizing it.

So this spring, stop and think about your artistic mindset a bit.  Are there any mentalities, attitudes, or situations you can “clean out” or “throw away?”  Once you’ve done your spring cleaning, replace the old negative stuff with fresh, positive attitudes and goals.

Here are just a few of the things you can eliminate:

1. Negative self-talk.  If you say or think too many negative things about yourself, you will eventually start to believe them.  Trust me, your self-esteem will plummet faster and more dramatically than the descent from the top of a roller coaster.  It is one thing to be honest with yourself about your shortcomings; it is completely another to make yourself feel worthless because of them.

2. Unnecessary excuses.  Stop blaming your failures or bad luck on other people or circumstances.  Instead, learn how to take ownership of your artistic ventures, whether or not they are a “success.”

3. Toxic situations.  If you can’t stand the politics and off-stage drama that permeates the school musical every year, then maybe consider finding a new, healthier opportunity.  If you feel that your chorus’s long rehearsals are using up so much voice that you don’t have enough left to practice your own rep, then consider setting chorus aside for a while to focus your vocal efforts on your personal practicing.

4. Comparing yourself to others.  This a specific and very dangerous brand of negative self-talk.  When you’re envious that you’re not as good as someone else, your focus becomes warped.  It becomes impossible to evaluate your own holistic progress if you are hyper-focused on your competition.  Conversely, if you are constantly muttering about how so-and-so got the lead and, how come? because you are so much better than her, then it means you are either a) insecure, b) conceited, or c) a very sore loser.  It doesn’t matter if you ARE better than so-and-so.  What matters is that you’re too busy letting someone else’s successes get in the way of your own growth, instead of taking ownership of your own artistry.

Once you’ve done your “cleaning,” here are some positive things you can put in place of the old stuff:

1. Short-term, realistic goals.  Instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of your artistry, simply acknowledge them and start taking steps to fix them.  Something like, “I want to fix technique x by the end-of-year recital.”  Be specific and realistic, and enlist the help of your teacher or coach if necessary.

2. Self-honesty.  This means acknowledging your strengths as well as your weaknesses.  Or, if you’re prone to making excuses, it may mean thinking of new ways to combat or deal with the negative circumstances you’ve faced in the past.  Be proactive, not a victim.

3. Seeking out new, positive opportunities.  If you’ve faced a lot of criticism or rejection in a certain area lately – like never getting the leads at school despite auditioning really well – maybe it means it’s time to branch out and look for new opportunities.  Find a place where your particular skills are valued.  This may take a while, but trust me – you WILL find someone who appreciates you, if you continue to work hard and look around enough.

4. Knowing your worth.  Every artist has his strengths and weaknesses.  There will never NOT be something to improve upon.  The key to a healthy self-confidence is to know what your particular, unique skills are, and how to put them to good use.

So, in short, stop being negative and passive, and start being positive and proactive!  Taking ownership of your performing life will help the true, unique YOU continue to shine.  So, happy spring, and happy cleaning!

good performing techniques

The Mixology of a Good Performance

Have you ever sat there in the audience, listening to a singer who maybe *sounds* good enough, but whose stage presence is just… awkward?  I’m talking hapless, seemingly random gestures, a deer-in-headlights look, a wild lack of visual focus, and/or an obviously huge emotional disconnect from what they are singing about.  Yes? Read more

theater camp Beverly MA

The Ten Commandments of Rising Stars Week!

Summer is our favorite season here at Rising Stars – it means our camps and theater intensives are just around the corner! This year, we’re very excited to run THREE musical theater programs – the first, our Musical Theater Intensive for Homeschoolers, runs June 11-15 in Beverly, MA; the second, Rising Stars West, runs June 25-29 in Gardner, MA; and our traditional Rising Stars Camp runs July 23-27 in North Reading, MA.

(These programs all have different names but are essentially the same.  They just have different titles because of boring legal reasons that I won’t go into.  All you need to know is that, no matter which of our programs you are enrolled in this summer, your experience will be fun, awesome, educational, empowering, and probably – no, make that definitely – very sweaty.) Read more