Singing through Allergy Season

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by Jan Seides
Tuesday 17th February, 2015, 6:17pm

You’ve waited for months for this night!

It’s your CD release party, Master’s recital, debut performance, big-deal conference showcase, month-long tour or something equally important. You definitely want to be at your best, and your vocal performance to be as flawless as you can make it. And on the morning of the “day of”, you wake up, and — uh oh……

You sound like this:

What do you do?

I live in Austin, Texas, the Allergy Capital of the Universe! (No, really!) Here, it’s always allergy season. Allergies are a way of life. But I sing and talk for a living.  I’ve had friends who were forced to cancel their CD release parties because of allergies, and could thereafter never get that all-important momentum going again. I myself have been known to skip shows in the middle of a tour, because I had no voice. In fact, part of that tour was a competition of performing songwriters, and I watched the judges write me off as soon as I opened my mouth. Sucks.

So in December 2014, I became part of a Christmas caroling group which has been in operation in Austin for 20 years. They now had more work than they could handle, and were starting a second group, which included me, to take the overflow. Before too long, we had a dozen shows all through December. We learned 30 or so of the nearly 50 songs that the original group had in their repertoire. We rehearsed once a month starting in May, and then once, or even twice a week in October and November to get ready. And during that last push, I suddenly remembered CEDAR SEASON!!!! (Put a lot of fear in your voice when you read those words).

It’s not real cedar. It’s called mountain cedar. No actual mountains, but it doesn’t really matter, because it’s actually a form of juniper — or at least that’s what I’ve been told. Whatever it is, in December the trees “get busy”, resulting in yellow pollen in the air, on your clothes, on your car, everywhere. If you want oxygen at all, you’re going to breathe it. And lots of immune systems don’t like it.

Cedar season is accompanied by mold season, and other unidentified allergens, so if you escape one, another is bound to get you.

Well ….

I’m pleased to report that, after my initial panic, I did make it through December, never canceling for even one of the gigs. And did a few others besides the caroling ones. I was not entirely unscathed, so I’ll be looking in the comments for other ideas, but after all that work, both on my part and on the part of the woman who heads up this endeavor, I was damned if I was going to waste it.

Here’s what I did:

Far and away, the most effective thing I did was this:  I started warming up the minute I was out of bed, and I kept it up all day. I used to be afraid to do that, because I thought I would blow out my voice before the show, but I tried it this time and it totally worked! By the time I had warmed up a little at a time, I was able to sing. It wasn’t my very best voice, but it was the best I could do at that moment, and it worked.

I got a steroid shot that did help clear it up faster, when I was being assaulted by allergens. But you can only do that once a year. It didn’t keep it from happening at all. Good theory, but, no.

I cancelled all unnecessary talking on the day of a performance if my voice was fragile. For me, it feels like talking is harder on my voice than singing, so I tried really hard not to do any talking all day. (For me, that’s REALLY hard. I deserve an award!)

 

Siren-ing (Put your tongue over your throat. Start from your midrange and go up like a siren until you hit your top note, and then go down until you hit bottom, then back to midrange. On one breath, usually.), I started with a variation on that I tried early on the first morning. I put my tongue over my throat, and starting from the lowest note I could reach, I went up by half-steps, stopping each time I couldn’t get a strong note and starting again from the bottom a few minutes later. I kept that up all morning until I could consistently reach the highest note I would need. Then I just continued doing the sirens the rest of the day.

 

Tried to remember to breathe from my diaphragm all day long.

 

Entertainers Secret & Throat Coat Tea.  (Whole Foods sold me Olba’s pastilles, and I had a bottle of Singers Saving Grace. They might even have been effective, but they tasted so bad, I never did either one again after the first time.) You can get Entertainers Secret online, and Throat Coat Tea is available at most supermarkets, and definitely at Whole Foods and other stores like them.

 

Tylenol and/or Ibuprofen.  They’re both anti-inflammatory, and can be taken together, since they work two different ways. Helped to calm my poor vocal cords down.
Like I said, it wasn’t my very best voice, but it worked.

See? Much better. (Oh wait. That isn’t me….)

These ideas came from Mady Kaye, Art Kidd, Clare McLeod, Brenda Freed, and my mother (the “stop talking” one).

 

 

Please feel free to let me know your favorite remedy in the comments.

 

 

 

 

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Category: Music, singing, Teaching Music, This ‘n’ That

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7 Comments
Author Comment

March 2015

Thursday 12th, 7:44pm

by Jan Seides

From Brenda Freed, Vocal Coach:

"I just wanted to ask you about the “tongue over the throat” for the siren. I usually say tongue gently behind bottom teeth, neither pushing from to the bottom or the top.

Are you opening the mouth on the sirens? Just curious. But great topic for a blog post!"

Author Comment

March 2015

Thursday 12th, 7:45pm

by Jan Seides

Thanks for responding.

Yes, mouth open, tongue in back. Info from Clare McLeod who teaches voice at Berkeley.

Author Comment

March 2015

Thursday 12th, 7:46pm

by Jan Seides

From Brenda Freed, Vocal Coach:
I don’t get it. I always say tongue gently behind the bottom teeth, just lying there relaxed. If you put the tongue in the back it blocks the airway. Usually the goal is to open the airway. What is putting it in back suppose to achieve. Maybe I’m not doing it correctly.

Hey, I’m always open to learning something new. J

Author Comment

March 2015

Friday 13th, 1:16pm

by Jan Seides

From Clare McLeod, Assistant Professor, Voice, Berklee College of Music:

I do differ from your description the siren, though. Tongue over the throat? Perhaps I wasn't clear. The "ng" shape of the back of the word "Sing" can be made with your tongue high (and this will help increase range of siren too. Your tongue can be in many different positions, high and forward - which the tongue will do on an "NG" - but back is generally to be avoid (ended up with kermit the frog sound) and saying "over the throat" seems to imply this.

Also, this Siren I taught you is an "Estill" siren - I didn't invent it and while a few other methods seem to have their own version of something called a siren, the one I taught you is from Estill Voice Training.

I'm also not sure what you mean by strong note - none of this should be loud, but maybe you mean clear? Voice is hard to talk about sometimes!

Author Comment

March 2015

Friday 13th, 1:21pm

by Jan Seides

Thanks, Clare. I actually have been putting my tongue further forward than "over the throat", but your description makes that more clear than mine did.

As for the "strong note", I meant one that was steady, rather than weak and wobbly. Loud wasn't an option, actually, since there was pretty much no volume available that day.

March 2015

Tuesday 17th, 10:11am

Okay. That’s better. Like I said, I advocate tongue gently behind bottom teeth, period.  Voice stuff IS hard to write about!

And, I always just use “belly breath”. Everybody knows where their belly is, no mistake. Diaphram – generally thought of as higher than the “belly” I’m talking about. Just let me know if you want me to re-post this to your blog.

March 2015

Tuesday 17th, 10:12am

Okay. That’s better. Like I said, I advocate tongue gently behind bottom teeth, period.  Voice stuff IS hard to write about!

And, I always just use “belly breath”. Everybody knows where their belly is, no mistake. Diaphram – generally thought of as higher than the “belly” I’m talking about.

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