3 Ways to Sing Through Cold, Flu, and Allergy Season
By Jaime Babbitt
Ah, who doesn’t love the fall? The leaves are changing color, the weather is feeling gloriously crisp, and ragweed is blooming faster than “Flight of the Bumblebee”. Choral singers can be more susceptible, too; once one person gets a bug, chain reactions can easily occur. Sneezing, coughing, post-nasal dripping — what are choral singers to do?
Well, I’ve sung in every state in this great country of ours and I’ve left a trail of tissues in each one. Here’s what I’ve discovered:
An Ounce of Prevention
Well, maybe more than an ounce. Fall is the time to pay attention to your immune system and shore it up accordingly. Here are items no singer should be without:
- Saline nasal rinse.
- Apple cider vinegar (1 tbsp. in 8 oz. of water and drink — a little honey will help the “medicine” go down).
- Zicam – or extra zinc.
- Apples – an apple a day, you know the rest.
- Garlic, if you can deal with it. It keeps vampires away, too.
- Citrus/vitamin C every day.
- Sunshine/vitamin D every day.
- Yoga mat (for stretching, meditating, yoga.)
- Hand sanitizer with moisturizer. You’re welcome. And your section mates will thank you, too.
Do. Not. Panic. If. You. Start. To. Feel. Sick!
This sounds simple, but it’s not so easy. Your inner state of being affects your health as much as any external factor so it’s important to remain calm and realize that you can and will get through your performance(s). Firstly, thinking that it’s a tragedy and horrible and awful will make it happen, so do your best to stop thinking that way. Secondly, remember that you are part of a group and that while each voice is crucial, your mates can shore you up/beef it up a bit on your behalf. Hey, that’s what friends are for. (If you’re a soloist, that’s a different story, but the advice remains the same. However, if you’ve got a case of laryngitis, you’ll want to let your choir director know immediately so they can figure out the proper path of action.) Still, the onus is on you to be the best you can be on show day, so here are some things you can do:
The Three‘s: Sleep, Steam, Silence (or shut up, for my less polite colleagues). Sleeping at least eight hours, steaming either in the shower or in front of a boiling kettle or pot. Keep your mouth at least a foot away. No burning of your throat allowed! Staying as quiet as possible, aka voice rest will do you a world of good.
When you do warm up, take it easy; Don’t push your voice when you’re sick — and don’t go barreling into a full-out warm-up. Instead, take the time to warm up GENTLY throughout the day in 10-minute increments; then, walk away and do it again in 40 minutes or so. This will help you see where your voice is today, and to get it to gradually come back around. Start on an ‘EE’ vowel, on the highest pitch you have that day and GENTLY sing down sol-fa-mi-re-do (or 5-4-3-2-1 for the numbers folks) “EE-EE-EE-EE-EE.” Then take that “EE” vowel down chromatically from there on the sol-fa-mi-re-do pitches. Your voice may sound bad or funny– that’s okay. However, it is not ok for your voice to feel bad or funny. If it does, stop immediately.
A word or two about medication: this is a personal decision and I hate to say that my way is the highway on this. Still, I’ll tell you that I’m not a fan of medicine when I’m sick. Firstly, I like to know how I feel and secondly, anything that dries me out dries out my vocal cords as well. (In Nashville, however, I usually need to take Flonase if I want to keep severe allergic headaches and sinus pressure at bay. I hate this fact but that’s my decision and I’m sticking to it.) However, I will not take Benadryl, Sudafed, Claritin, Zyrtec, etc., and I don’t take flu or cold meds at all. Again, this is a personal decision and one you can make in the privacy of your own mind and body! Do what’s right for you, but don’t just jump on the medicine bandwagon without thought, research and trial and error!
Accept What Is and Believe in Yourself
Now, this doesn’t mean delude yourself; if you have laryngitis, then you have to accept what is and move on from there. But if you can accept what’s happening, believe in your ability to prevail and do your best to march forward and sing, it’s going to serve you a heck of a lot more than going to the catastrophic “I can’t! Why me? Why now?” place. Nothing is a matter of life and death except life and death. Taking good care of your voice in times of sickness and in health is a great way to live anyway, so tell yourself how strong you are and that you’re promising to do your best…and I promise you you’ll do just that. Happy singing!
Jaime Babbitt coached voice/performance for Disney and wrote Working with Your Voice: The Career Guide to Becoming a Professional Singer (Alfred Publishing). As a session singer, she’s “jingled” for Coke, Pillsbury, Chevrolet and hundreds more. She’s sung thousands of gigs and toured with Leon Russell and Sam Moore. Jaime sang BGVs with George Strait, Courtney Love, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Webb, Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus, Johnny Mathis and more, performed off-Broadway and coaches voice in NYC, LA and Connecticut. For info, workingwithyourvoice.com