Singers Go Public

Spring 2018 saw numerous news items about well-known performers managing vocal risks, some more pro-actively than others. From Broadway to stadium shows to the alt-rock world, vocal health is the new ball to toss around!

First came Lauren Ambrose, Tony award nominee for playing Eliza Doolittle in the current Broadway revival of My Fair Lady, who was asked by People magazine how she spends downtime: “Mostly rest, and not talk or sing any more than I need to!”

Later, Ambrose chose to perform only seven shows per week instead of the Broadway-standard eight (she gave one matinee to her understudy). This was openly criticized by older performers who cited earlier days when “the show must go on” no matter what, and who spoke of performing through serious illness or diagnosed vocal damage.

To some in the “legit” singing world this has been a clash of generations, in which younger performers lack toughness, training, and/or work-ethic. Others would argue that the old-school directive to sing-till-you-die-or-your-vocal-cords-bleed asks for unreasonable sacrifice, as science has advanced and artists know more about medical risks and self-care options. Whichever side you’re on, I think the conversation itself is healthy.

Then, international pop star Sza announced career-threatening voice problems: “I’ve been touring for 11 months. This didn’t happen overnight. I’ve been troubleshooting for a while now and usually steroids and pushing through help. They don’t this time.”

Fortunately, by the next month she was able to thank “the incredible team of doctors and vocal technicians” who helped her, tweeting, “I’m blessed to say my voice is not permanently damaged and I’ve been working daily to get back.”

Yup, working at it daily—recovering and retraining with the right guidance—is the best antidote to barely-getting-by-until-you-can’t-anymore. (And gratitude here for Sza’s mentioning the non-MDs on her team!)

The last example was singer-songwriter Neko Case, interviewed on NPR, who was honest and direct about her discipline on the road. “I love touring. [But] it’s an incredibly physical task because singing on its own is super physical, and then, when you add guitar playing to that, and connecting yourself to other people onstage, it’s incredibly physical.

“So I’ve got to eat right. I have to go to bed at a certain hour. I’ve got to drink a lot of water. I’ve got to go to the gym, like, otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to do it. But it’s so worth it… if you can figure out how to keep at it without your innards crumbling from exhaustion or boredom.”

That’s what I call working smart. It’s challenging to do, but the only way to sustain a long career.

For more tips—and quotes from artists who know how to survive—check out my book Everyday Voice Care: The Lifestyle Guide for Singers and Talkers, now a required text at music and theater conservatories nationwide.

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