The Singer’s Lament: The Silent Marathon We Run Every Day
It’s that time of year; the time when rehearsals are taking place, school and church choirs are being whipped into shape, choral conductors are engaged in tessitura gymnastics, modeling every part for every choir member, determined to create something beautiful for all to hear. Students are frantically memorizing their jury pieces, promising themselves that if they sing through it just one more time they’ll have it. All this on top of part time barista, waitress, retail jobs, children to care for, meetings to attend, and the everyday vocal demands that life necessitates. With all the aforementioned, how in the world does one find time to rest those two small bands of muscle that create such beauty? Singers find it hard to imagine that the voice comes from muscles that are somewhat fragile, are needing of care, and are, unfortunately, not invincible. These small bands of muscle are susceptible to injury, and the more demands we place on them, the higher the chance for this to occur. But we must sing, we must perform, we must model, we must teach, we must rehearse, we must work, we must communicate as humans – we must- we must – we must.
Let’s completely switch gears for one moment and imagine an elite runner, one who eats right, trains well, hydrates, stretches and possesses an all-around great form. This runner has trained for the upcoming marathon, runs it successfully and even has a new personal record! Could he/she do it all again the very next day? Of course not, you think, but it’s not the same; Singing is completely different. If I use great technique and drink lots of water I’m good! The reality is that simply isn’t true, but we’ve all been programmed to believe that it is. Recognizing that singers are vocal athletes is the first step to ensuring those small muscles receive the care they need. This doesn’t mean we can’t teach, rehearse, or talk to our friends. It does mean, however, that somehow we have to find balance to allow for vocal fold recovery time. How much time one needs is difficult to study and remains unclear. Some studies have suggested this can range from eight to sixteen hours, a very wide range. And, much like a professional athlete probably differs from person to person. My friend can run and run and never gets an injury! My friend can sing and sing and sing and never has a problem! Those people are so annoying, right? Most singers struggle from time to time no matter what they admit to others.
So, left with these realities, what can one do? Find balance. Be creative. Take voice “naps”. If you know you have a crazy vocal day, find extra sleep that night and extra voice rest the next day, find students to model for you, use a microphone when teaching (it counts as voice rest), mark your rehearsal, back off with group singing (sorry choir teachers), reduce your social talking, and know your limits. Many times, backing off for just one or two days (really backing off, not pretending) is all one needs to feel vocally rested and ready to go. Finding the right usage-to-rest voice balance and respecting it will keep your voice in the right shape for years to come.