Why being a singer can suck

When a pianist gets a cold, they can still play (although I did witness a young woman’s nose drip onto the keys during her senior recital).

When a violinist gets a cough, he can still play.

When a percussionist – or a brass player, or a woodwind player – gets a sore throat, he can still play.

All these people might be miserable while doing so, but they can still do their job. And depending on the severity of their illness, no one might know they’re sick by looking at them.

When a singer gets a cold, all bets are off. We can’t teach, we can’t perform, we can’t practice (yes, we can practice mentally, which is something, but it’s small comfort when you have an audition or a performance coming up). All we can do is blow our noses, cough, suck on cough drops, and lose money.

This. Sucks.

I write this from my sick bed. On Saturday morning, I woke up with chest congestion and a slight cough. “What’s this?” I thought. “I haven’t had any symptoms, and this thing – which feels like bronchitis – is not the usual way I get sick. Perhaps it’s a short term thing.” It wasn’t.

My usual bouts of URIs go like this:

  • 36 hours of a really sore throat (during which I can’t sing)
  • 72 hours of a raging head cold, the first 36 of which I can sing, although I sound hyponasal, and the last 36 hours of which I begin coughing and all singing is out of the question.
  • 2000 hours of bronchitis, which began during the last 12 hours of the head cold. That number may be a slight exaggeration.

This was backwards. I started with bronchitis – on church on Sunday, I arrived at choir to find that my voice was cracking and dry sounding, despite no real sore throat and no significant coughing. I got through it by holding off on the unison singing and saving myself for the anthem and parts on the hymns.

By Monday night, the head cold started, and it’s still raging, 3 days later. I had to cancel everyone for T/W/Th, and I was going to go to the Voice Foundation in Philly on Friday (good thing I hadn’t registered or bought my bus ticket yet).

The good news is that I have no performances till next weekend (Choral Shabbat Friday, cantoring Sunday) and no auditions till the 18th (Baltimore Theater Alliance), for which I know my material backwards and forwards. It could be worse. It was worse when I got sick like this opening weekend of Man of La Mancha, although that followed the usual progression, and I managed to get through my performances, although not up to my own personal standards.

And there is nothing I can do about this except rest. And cough. And wish I had taken up the marimba.

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

One thought on “Why being a singer can suck

  1. The human voice is the most beautiful and the most fickle of all instruments. All you can do is make the most of the moments when it's at its best and patiently ride out the moments when it's not working. Feel better soon!

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