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Taking Care of the Voice Pipes
by Lee Coleé-Atnip
How many times have you cleared your throat today? Or are you still dealing with that hacking cough? Do you whisper as a tactic to save your voice? If you are guilty of any of the above you are actually abusing your voice and it may have dire consequences if you are a busy actor or singer.
Good vocal hygiene is as necessary as a good 8x10 headshot. Since Austin and the Hill Country is the allergy capital of the world it is doubly important to adhere to careful health strategies. As performers we are often verbal, passionate control freaks. If a show must go on even if we are sick, we will make it happen. If the body doesn't want to do what we dictate we will often force it to meet our demands. But even during our downtimes we can forget that our vocal health needs attention. Too many times we talk too loud, too much and not even at our optimum pitch level.
A speech therapist once asked me how much was I getting paid for each word I spoke unnecessarily and too loudly. Wasn't my instrument worth the care of a violin, piano, or any other instrument that other artists use to make a living and create pieces of beauty? The point being that our voices should be treated as a high-dollar instrument worthy of high maintenance.
My students ask me what to do if they are hoarse, have "gunk" in their throats or have no breath control. The first thing I always recommend is 24 hours of vocal rest - which means no unnecessary talking, singing, rehearsing or-hopefully-performing. This should be followed by increasing the amount of water normally drunk. Stay away from cigarettes and cigarette smoke and get more sleep. Most of the time this is the solution but I ask them to determine what caused the condition in the first place. Too often it is yelling or screaming, partying too late, allergy symptoms or a flu or cold coming on.
A typical vocal crisis I see so often is one I experienced myself. One season I had a heavy workload of teaching 10 hours a week, preparing for a graduate recital, performing weekends and rehearsing a production of The Sound Of Music. I also had the stress of working with a talented but cruel director who made me start doubting my abilities. Then the allergy season hit and I just felt tired all the time but you just can't stop when so many people are depending on you to do your job. Then one night at rehearsal I started to sing and nothing came out! I freaked out, to say the least. A trip to the doctor let me know I had a vocal nodule, which is a sort of callus on the vocal chord from vocal fatigue or incorrect technique. After three months of total vocal rest, speech therapy to review all of the things I already knew and a loss of several thousands of dollars in income I did recover. Since then I have become fanatical about taking care of my voice and my students' voices.
If you are a professional in the industry the chances are high that you will indeed have episodes
of vocal crisis. It is just the nature of our art. However, you can minimize the damage or avoid it
if you know what to look for. The main thing is to not let your ego convince you the show cannot
go on without you. It can and sometimes it should if you want to have a long career. Besides the
well-known and obvious tips for vocal health (no drugs, smoking, alcohol or screaming and correct singing and speaking technique) here are some other things to watch for:
Does it take more air pressure to speak or sing?
Are you just tired of talking?
Are you even slightly hoarse and does it come and go or seem fairly consistent?
Is your speaking range more limited?
Do you purposely try to speak lower or higher then is natural for you?
(Example: girls trying to sound sexy and authoritative.)
When you sing do you find that your technique is not doing the job so you "push" from the throat?
Are you singing in a range not suited to you or practicing too heavily?
Any of these symptoms are signs of dangerous problems in the making. If you are already past the prevention point, a good speech therapist and voice teacher is an excellent investment.
If you are willing to make some fundamental changes you will recover and get back on the professional track. So "go ye forth and phonate."
Lee Coleé-Atnip is a talent agent, voice instructor and is the Musical Theatre Director
for The Wimberley Players, a very successful community theatre in the Hill Country. Her first children's camp in 2000 presented "Annie," followed by "Guys and Dolls,"
and last year's "Grease." As a talent agent, Lee represents all kinds of live entertainment packages for corporate and theatrical events but coaching and promoting young performers has always given her special satisfaction. This year Lee would like to especially encourage young boys to explore the performing arts. Fiddler on the Roof has many roles suited for athletes, gymnasts and comics as well as singers, dancers and actors. For more information on the camp, auditions and future productions, contact the Lee Colee Studios/Talent Agency at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (512) 847-7934.