Wild Fires and Your Voice

Every year, it seems that California’s wild fires become more frequent, bigger, and closer to our cities. People in evacuation zones naturally face the biggest risks and disruptions. But everyone in the region can see and smell the smoke that turns our sky such an eerie yellow-gray.

Vocalists use our airways in special ways, and so we have our own reasons to be concerned. For those in or near a fire zone, here are my suggestions:

GENERAL HEALTH RECOMMENDATIONS

  http://www.lungusa.org/site/pp.asp?c=dvLUK9O0E&b=36064

The American Lung Association says “remain indoors and avoid inhalation of smoke, ashes, and particulate matter in the area. Ordinary dust masks, designed to filter out large particles, will not help…refrain from exercising outdoors, especially if you smell smoke or notice eye or throat irritation….When driving your car in smoky areas, keep your windows and vents closed. Air conditioning should only be operated in the “recirculate” setting.”

SHOULD I STILL WARM UP?

If you don’t have chronic breathing or heart problems, and you’re not feeling shortness of breath from the smoke, an abbreviated, gentle warmup of body, breath, and voice is probably OK. But if your nose or throat feel irritated by the smoke, even a little, assume that your vocal cords are slightly inflamed as well. It’s important not to push your voice in this condition.

Instead, sing more quietly, for shorter periods of time, and in a conservative range. Don’t try to test or force your voice higher, louder, or longer than it wants to go, for these few days.

Just as when you have a mild cold, pushing or straining to try to sound “normal” will just bruise your cords further, and reinforce bad habits of technique. Even if you don’t feel shortness of breath in routine activities, expect your singing breath to feel different, and allow yourself shorter phrases (refill more often).

MANAGING ALLERGIES

from http://www.allergyconsumerreview.com/asthma-smoke-allergy.html

If you feel nose/throat irritation or congestion following smoke exposure, interpret this as an inflammatory response, not so much an allergic response. To support the protective tissues of nose, throat, & lungs: Drink lots of tea (hot or cold); decaffeinated tea is fine.

Try using a nasal moisturizer, such as an over-the-counter saline spray or saline gel that you can swab or dab inside the nose. Or rinse your nose using a Neti pot (or the nasal attachment on a dental irrigator, pulsing setting), with a solution of 1/2 tsp non-iodized salt to 1 cup warm water. The mild steroid sprays such as flonase or nasocort may help for the worst days, but check with your doctor to be sure they are OK for you.

I MAY HAVE TO EVACUATE MY HOME. HOW CAN I FOCUS ON MY VOICE?

Life and family come first of course! But when preparing for possible evacuation, don’t forget your musical instruments, and backup copies of important recordings (demos or masters), right along with the usual recommended supplies, legal & medical documents,  prescription meds, and computer backups.

I’M JUST FEELING WIPED OUT FROM THE HEAT AND SMOKY AIR.

If you’re not up to normal voice practice, you can still do mental practice (imagine warming up and singing with perfect technique). Or use the time to memorize scripts and songs, or to take care of the paperwork you otherwise procrastinate.

I FEEL OK, BUT STRESSED.

Keep your daily routine as normal as possible. Keep up intake of high-nutrition foods, with extra stress-relief supplements like vitamin B, C+flavinoids, multi-minerals, and plant-based anti-inflammatories.

If you cope better with stress by taking action, call artist friends in riskier areas, offering storage for their musical instruments and song libraries, their pets, or to help packing their stuff.

When the smoke clears, and daily routines get back to normal, you’ll have something new to write songs about. Here’s a bit of mine:

End of October, the canyons were burning

Arson and wind stir a terrible flame

Orange tornadoes and animals running

None of our memories are ever the same

Fire and Air, Earth and Water

Changes will come from one or another

Where do you stand when your life is reeling?

Feeling the fire, holding your ground

Till the healing waters come down

Feeling the fire, holding your ground

Till the healing waters come down

“FEELING THE FIRE” (c) Joanna Cazden 1993,

on Living Through History CD (p) 1997

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