Written by Cindy Vaughan
If you did not see Pink’s performance of the national anthem at Super Bowl 2018, go take a look - it’s all over the internet. It was widely publicized that she was singing while she was sick with the flu. This was a perfect example of not only professional dedication, but also professional precision and physical pacing and control.
The question every singer asks is, “what if I get sick or lose my voice?” Let’s take a look and try to answer that question. Pink got through it, many others also get through it, how can you do this?
As singers, we all know that you must feel good to deliver a meaningful performance, but what if you just don’t feel good? What if cancelling is simply not an option?
As a vocal coach I run into this dilemma with my students almost weekly. Vocal demands for performing while sick happens at all levels - auditions, roles in musicals, performance engagements of any type. Sometimes dates can be moved, or there is an understudy eagerly waiting to take your place, but if these are not your options, you just gotta do it! It happens more often in the performance profession than in any other professional career since not many other professions sell tickets, time promotions, involve crews of up to hundreds to prepare for events, all dependent on your .05 - 1 inches of human tissue in your throat and your surrounding overall health.
So what to do?....First, there is physical resilience that can only come from good technique, ongoing respect for the proper physical maintenance of the vocal apparatus, and then - and this is what most singers do not know how to manage well- the pacing of the use of voice during illness, which means careful handling throughout your week, day of performance, and even while singing. These are essential tools of the committed, non-well singer. Here are the three tools explained:
Good technique - There are MANY methods of singing and there are groups of methods with respect to each of the genres and styles. In my opinion there is NO right or wrong type of vocal music but there ARE more and less damaging ways to execute all of them. My job is to deliver technique that is least damaging to this singer while maintaining the art form, authenticity of singer, and basically, the “rules” of the genre. I am admittedly, a “vocal geek” and I have happily spent YEARS of integrated study of many technique methods, human physiology of vocal production, anatomy, physics of sound resonance and vibration, and direct instruction from many professionals in the musical and medical community. I recommend that you start with finding (not necessarily a complete vocal geek like me) but do look for a good teacher who understands the holistic you as a person, body, voice.
Maintenance - Simply put, study, practice, stay healthy. This includes mind, and body. Singing is physical but part of our physical wellness is our mind. Any and all things related to maintaining mental balance that works for you is a MUST, along with the physical. (There are endless sources out there to help you go beyond the basics I listed - find what is right for you)
Pacing - HERE’S THE NUGGET! Using your good technique while observing all you can do to maintain the best of health (mind/body) - pacing yourself is essential.
- During the week- You will need a consultation first to determine what the illness is and how it is affecting the voice. Sing a little if you can, but quietly. If not good, hum. If not good medicate.
- Day of performance -Do an easy warm up in morning, medium again midday, brief again before performing. Depending on how stable, I recommend that you test some full voice moments either midday or in your last warm up. Overall, however, reduce use of voice throughout the day.
- During singing in the performance - This is COMPLETELY DEPENDENT ON YOUR TECHNIQUE. But generally speaking, conserve as you go, don't give it your full voice “all” as usual all the way through, you have to get to the end of the song / show. Plan the areas of song or show you can push a little less while saving up for the “money notes” as needed. If you are in a chorus, sing less forcefully in areas that will not disrupt the group sound, or if you have a show where audience may sing, try pointing mic at audience for your well-known hooks so they can sing it for you (also a great audience participation move any time). The main thing is to manage your voice throughout so that you can still say “Thank You” at the end of your encore!
To all singers: Good luck, have fun and stay healthy!