Make a healthy choice to use your voice

“Every single thing you do with your voice is a choice, not a default.”

Someone said this the other day, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out where I heard it. When I figure it out, I’ll update this and give her credit.

As singers, we have to make to choices that are healthy. Because if we don’t, we can cause damage which could be easy to recover from or could cause major problems.

Nearly 2 weeks ago, I was heading downtown and, as I approached the on-ramp to the freeway, there was an accident ahead and all traffic was moving from the right to the center lane. I put on my signal, like a person does, and started to move over. The person in the SUV in the center lane would not let me over.  And a car was coming in from my right from the cross street, and I very nearly got hit by both of them. In my new car.

I screamed. I screamed loud and I screamed hard.

Fortunately, my car and I were both all right, and once I got onto the freeway, I realized that … my throat hurt. It felt squeezed and pressured, and just … not good. I had a wedding to sing the next day, I had Mass to cantor the next evening, and Choir Mass at the Cathedral was starting up on Sunday. Was I going to be all right?

The wedding went well (there wasn’t a lot to sing). Cantoring was a bit rough – I had a lot of phlegm, and my stamina wasn’t great. Choir Mass was okay. I just sang when there were parts on the hymns, and I sang the anthem, and then I shut up for the rest of the weekend. I couldn’t put myself on full vocal rest, because I had teaching to do that week and a couple of rehearsals, but I wasn’t able to get on top of the practicing I needed to do for the concert I’m doing in December.

I was fine by the time church choir rehearsal rolled around on Thursday. The ache lasted that long. I’m still taking it easy – I’ve started practicing again, but judiciously.

I could’ve given myself a vocal fold hemorrhage (example below).fullsizeoutput_1e02

I could have done some serious and long-lasting damage. Fortunately, it just seems to have been a strain. I think I strained the muscles around my larynx rather than the vocal folds themselves, because the discomfort felt external.

Screaming is not my default. It was a choice, and it was a really bad choice.

What choices are you making when you use your voice? Are all of them wise choices?

“Her voice was broken, so I sing aloud”

I work every day to make her proud
Her voice was broken
So I sing aloud.
—Emma Langford

I went to Milwaukee Irish Fest this year and heard some really top-notch Irish music by a lot of young artists who may be using traditional Irish instruments, but are singing about contemporary and deeply personal themes. The one that impressed me the most was the first person I heard on Friday, singer-songwriter Emma Langford.

Her range and vocal colors reminded me of a young non-smoking Joni Mitchell. Her stage presence is engaging and entertaining. And then she sang a song addressed to her 13 year old self, who had been diagnosed with vocal nodules and was told by her doctor that she had three options:

  1. She could have surgery
  2. She could go on vocal rest for 2 years (accompanied by voice therapy)
  3. She could keep singing and have a career as a Rod Stewart tribute artist (her words, not mine – but don’t they sound like something I’d say? maybe that’s why I like her so much)

She chose option 2. And for two years, she couldn’t do what she loved to do most.

I’ve had bad bouts of bronchitis that affected my voice (and my pocketbook), and the feeling of not wanting to do what I feel I was born to do left me feeling – broken. Not just my voice, but my spirit, my heart.

Emma sang, simply and without accompaniment, to tell that 13 year old girl that everything was going to be all right:

I work every day to make her proud
Her voice was broken
So I sing aloud

I think that 13 year old girl that still lives within her – and in all of us, whether we’ve suffered a vocal injury or some other physical or psychic injury – would be proud of her continuing to sing aloud and beautifully, with no sign of ever having had any damage.

She sings about everything from her own personal struggles with anxiety, to songs about getting her boyfriend back after stupidly breaking up with him (and any songwriter who writes the lyric, “Yeah, dick move on my part,” is golden), to songs about the love between a broken church bell and the ruins of a church (probably the most “Irish” sounding of all the songs).

There are so many songs I could share, but this one is her new single. It’s completely different and comes from her upcoming CD. Enjoy this video and check out her YouTube channel. I think you’ll enjoy it. Wait for her “trumpet” solos. 

So sing aloud and be proud. It’ll be all right.