19.7.22 -Help! I’m sick but I’ve got to sing! Should the show still go on…?

 

Hannah Smikle

It’s the week of an exciting gig/audition/recording/opportunity and you start to feel that
niggle in your throat. A scratchy swallow. A little sniffle. A slightly congested nasal passageway.
Before you know it, you’re downing Berrocas, buying Manuka honey, and praying that this little
tickle doesn’t turn into anything more sinister… but sometimes it does.

Call it psychosomatic, typical, or just bad luck, but why is it that on the week of something great where you need to be on top form, the lurgy strikes? A sore throat is a singer’s achilles heel, and for some (myself included), when we start to get that feeling that something’s not quite right, we don’t just lose our voice, we can lose our head as well! Anyone else relate…?

So what can you do when you’re not feeling great, but you still need to work/audition/record… fill in the blank here.

Firstly, ask yourself, do you NEED to work/audition/record etc? This is a hard one, and so many times I’ve just needed someone to give me permission to say no! Or maybe, to say yes but with some firm boundaries. Or to reschedule. Sometimes it’s a weighing of risks – what your body is signalling to you vs the expectation of the commitment, and making a judgement call.

Firstly, ask yourself, do you NEED to work/audition/record etc? This is a hard one, and so many times I’ve just needed someone to give me permission to say no! Or maybe, to say yes but with some firm boundaries. Or to reschedule. Sometimes it’s a weighing of risks- what your body is signalling to you vs the expectation of the commitment, and making a judgement call.

I remember seeing a fantastic video podcast once about singing when sick on The Naked Vocalist channel on Youtube, and at one point they said that even Adele rescheduled Wembley, and of course more recently Las Vegas, so if she can do it, I’m sure you can too!

So my first question would be, can you actually just cancel or reschedule your commitment, as frustrating as it is?

Is it safer and healthier all round to just say no?

As a vocal coach, I’m always thinking about a singer’s vocal health first, but as a singer personally, I know that it is far more complex and not always that simple. It can be so challenging to balance our health with our passion, the opportunities we have and also our identity.

It can feel like such a wrestle when it comes to cancelling a show or stepping back from a commitment. There are so many emotions, expectations and anxieties often at play, and this can cloud our decision making, or make us feel totally stuck in knowing what to do for the best.

I honestly know this so well, and it is really, really hard. Ultimately, only you can decide what feels right for your voice, body and wellbeing, but sometimes that can be a tough decision to make.

 There is hope though, and there are lots of things you can do to support your recovery if you and your voice are needing some TLC.

While there might not be a cure for a common cold, there are many things you can consider to encourage optimum vocal health as good practice, but particularly when you’re feeling a little under the weather:

STEAM

Steaming is a wonderful way to provide that warming, comforting hydration to dry throats and blocked noses. From the DIY option of using a pan of hot water, and sticking a tea-towel over your head (the way Grandma used to do it, but be careful!), to an electric facial steamer or a Dr. Nelson’s portable steamer, there are lots of ways you can get steamy on all budgets!

Often recommended by voice clinics as a great component of a warm up for even 5 minutes, it’s also a brilliant way to start your day, or cool down post show. Another option for those who don’t like it hot, might be a nebuliser, which is a cool mist option. There is variable research on the effectiveness of both, but it’s well renowned that singers love steam, be that hot or cold!

Steaming vs Nebulising: https://www.thenakedvocalist.com/upgrade-your-vocal-steamer/

 

 

STRETCH

Taking time to stretch your body, and in particular those areas of tightness or tension relating to the head, neck and shoulders to relieve discomfort.

Incorporating movement and stretching in your warm up and cool down will increase the effectiveness of your vocalising, and reduce the time needed in your vocal warm up/cool down! Just 5-10 minutes will really help, but if you have a little more time why not try out Rosie Secker’s Yoga For Singers classes in the membership or Vocal Gym, or see my Stretch and Release video in the Member’s Hub:

SOVT

Using SOVT exercises for some gentle voice work to keep mobile and flexible is a great way to vocalise while in recovery mode. You must be respectful of your body’s pain signals, and be mindful of when it’s the right time to sing, even if it is straw work, but these exercises tend to be safer and less effortful when returning to singing post illness.

 

Examples of these could be: Puffy cheeks, lip trills, tongue trills/raspberries, lip trumpet, NG, NN, MM, hums, voiced fricatives, straw work with or without water, and many more! Why not check out the Vocal Gym’s SOVT Wednesday class with Rachel, or you can find some Accent Method inspired Vocal Gyms in the archive led by myself!

 

LARYNGEAL MANUAL THERAPY

If you are really struggling with tightness, soreness, a hoarse voice, or even some muscle tension that is impacting on your voice, you could try vocal massage, or LMT. Performed by a qualified physiotherapist experienced with working with performers, this treatment helps to release the tissues and muscles surrounding the larynx and therefore improving mobility and comfort post-treatment.

 

I’ve had a number of LMT sessions in my time, and after one 30 minute appointment I could audibly hear my vocal tone improve, my effort levels decrease and my vocal agility and ease increase. It might not be for everyone, as it can feel pretty strange to have someone applying pressure to your larynx(!), but it can be a great option ahead of a show, on a busy run of gigs, or after returning to singing post illness.

 

BAPAM has a practitioner directory with recommended registered therapists, where you can find someone in your area: https://www.bapam.org.uk/practitioner-search/

 

If you’re based in London or the surrounding areas, you might like to check out Physio Ed: https://www.physioedmedical.co.uk/ or The Voice Care Centre: https://voicecarecentre.co.uk/

 

If you’re based in the North, Dan Turnell is fantastic and comes highly recommended: https://www.danturnellphysio.com/services/laryngeal-manual-therapy/

 

 

HYDRATION

 

Upcoming classes & courses at The Sing Space:

Aside from the topical hydration of getting your steam on, be that hot or cold, you also want to be drinking plenty of fluids. Water, squash, juices, tea, coffee all count- yes even caffeinated drinks as they still have a great water content! Keep it flowing all day, little and often- downing pints of water will only make you need the loo, so try to keep it regular! Maybe set yourself a reminder or download an app if you find it tricky, and definitely in the warmer weather make that extra effort.

 

A good indication of whether you’re drinking enough water is the colour of your pee- the clearer it is, the more hydrated you are! Remember, nothing you eat or drink touches your vocal folds, they rely on your systemic hydration, so keep it coming!

VOCAL REST/NAPS

If you have to be speaking or singing, schedule vocal naps throughout your day. Small breaks between meetings, opt for a text convo rather than a call, or just keep quiet when you can!

CURB YOUR SOCIAL APPETITE!

As hard as it is, sometimes we just have to get a little bit serious about our singing! Voice use is voice use, and that dinner party, lengthy phone call or late night hang out might just be the thing that costs us in the morning when it’s time to sing. Be mindful of your commitments, can you reschedule to next week…?

HAND SIGNALS

If you have a busy home life while you’re trying to recover, you might need to find some fun ways to communicate while your voice is returning! Try hand signals, texts, writing post-its or using a whiteboard. Get your family or housemates on board if you have company at home- it could even be a bit of lighthearted fun!

MENTAL PRACTICE

Got the fear of not being able to rehearse? Enter mental practice!

Studies show our muscle memory from imagining the act of demonstrating a skill vs actually doing the skill has little difference in the outcome, and in some cases mental practice has proved more beneficial! So why not try putting the music on to your song, sitting with your lyrics and doing your best lip sync? You’ll still be learning the words, aurally, visually, and from a motor perspective, while absorbing the melody and timing, and your voice will thank you for not going full throttle!

FUEL YOURSELF WELL

Eating well for recovery and repair is really helpful for getting our health back on track. Your body might respond well to natural foods, raw food, colourful foods, sources of protein, vitamins, and nutrient dense recipes. Use this time to really love your body and fuel it well!

REST WELL

It’s not always easy to say to singers, “make sure you get 8 hours sleep!”. Quite often that is more frustrating than helpful to hear! Maybe you’re ill and are in pain. Maybe you have small children. Maybe you find sleep difficult. Maybe you’re on tour, or travelling.

 

Instead, it might be a good reframe this and think about resting well, whatever that means to you. Of course, sleep is a priority, and is so valuable for the rebuilding, recovering and restoring our physical and mental states. Sometimes however, that’s just not possible in the doses that we really need. In addition you could try: reading, napping, listening to music, solitude, relaxation, a massage, mediation, binge watching Netflix..! If it feels restful and not stressful, and it is promoting your wellbeing, make time for these moments where you can as you recover.

 

JUST SAY NO!

When all of the above is still not curbing the niggles or the sniffles, maybe it’s time to say no? There’s no easy way to make that call, but if you really have tried to implement what you can to optimise your vocal health and whole person well being and you’re still struggling, it might just be best to sit this one out, so you can take other opportunities in future.

Other top tips for when the show must go on:

 

  • Don’t be afraid to change your keys!
  • Use your accompanist/band- it’s their time to shine! Give out instrumentals and let them go virtuoso and so you can take a vocal break!
  • Take good breaks, don’t compromise on your set timings
  • Be quiet between sets- go to the toilet/dressing room/car and don’t speak!
  • Make a judgement call on the post show socialising, if your voice is tired, “TAXI!”
  • Cool down!! Don’t miss this crucial step to resetting your voice post show- Steam, Stretch, SOVT, and at minimum do some descending glides!

 

*This is very general guidance, and should be applied where appropriate, listening to your body and voice for what is best for you. If you are experiencing pain, discomfort, fatigue, loss of range or changes to your voice that have not resolved within 3 weeks, guidance is to seek a GP referral to a ENT clinic, preferably a joint Voice Clinic where a Voice Specialist/Speech Language Therapist can assess your vocal function. You can self refer through your GP and request this assessment at your local voice clinic, or seek support from BAPAM who have in house GP’s who can assist in making referrals through their free online and telephone clinics: https://www.bapam.org.uk/performing-arts-medicine-clinics/

 

A gentle reminder to you today; You are human, and your beautiful voice is a human instrument. Sickness, fatigue, and stress unfortunately can take its toll on our bodies, and impact on our vocal health. Go easy on yourself, be kind. There is support available, and solidarity I’m sure amongst our wonderful Sing Space community. You are not alone. You will get through this.

Hannah is a Sing Space recommended coach and you can read and book a 121 lesson with her HERE.

RIFFS & RUNS MASTERCLASS

Work your vocal flexibility and agility with our Riffs & Runs week. Whether you’re new to riffing or you’re a seasoned pro, you’ll find loads to up your vocal improv game this week. Hannah will help you break down the phrases in both our songs so that you can replicate, simplify or go your own way for a great musical and vocal workout.

UPCOMING CLASS - 21st

Bring a song or come and support your fellow Sing Space-ers. Throw out the rule book, come in your jammies, learn the lyrics first or don’t. This is your space. No need to impress. This class is with hannah this week!

UPCOMING CLASS

Connect the body, breath, mind and voice. 

Rosie uses yoga flow and elements of yoga to connect to the breath, release unnecessary tension, improve alignment, add voice to movement and focus the mind. 

All welcome, no experience needed!

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