Working Through Illness

From time to time, everyone must pass through seasons of forced rest and recovery. Often through no fault of our own, we find ourselves exposed to germs at a time when the immune system we rely on is depressed for one reason or another. One mentor of mine phrased it thus: “Sometimes there’s just a bug with your name on it.” It’s important for singers to remember that these times require careful attention to one’s instrument. Vocal rest, when there is pain in the throat or larynx, is an absolute necessity. However, much work can still be accomplished during this time-out from singing.

Score study, which too many singers ignore, to their detriment, can still be undertaken while in the sick bed. In fact, this mental practice is every bit as necessary as the physical kind whenever one is preparing music for performance. Too often we picture “practicing” as something we do in the same manner every day, when it needs to be an organic process that ebbs and flows with our voice’s preferences, moods and hormonal fluctuations day-to-day. Studying the historical context of one’s repertoire is another important step which is often overlooked in favor of literal singing practice. Researching one’s music will always provide greater context and depth to the work, and it can easily be done when singing feels less than therapeutic. Cleaning up one’s diction and clarifying translations of songs in various languages should not be neglected at times when the voice needs rest. Studying musicological discourse on one’s repertoire is another wonderful way to put the daily practice time to good use. When a singer must rest the voice, I recommend trying to honor one’s usual practice time with equivalent time spent doing non-singing practice, research, score study or diction/translation work (when one’s health permits it). Undergraduate voice majors would go a long way in their professional preparation to remember this type of commitment to their craft.

More times than I could count did my undergraduate voice students try to justify an entire week (or more) of no progress made in their song preparation because of sore throats or other illnesses. I reiterated over and over again that those times are GOLDEN for accomplishing this non-singing work that is vital to every successful performance. It may even seem convenient (when looked at in an optimistic light) that one’s voice needs rest so that one can jump into this type of intellectual work that always makes a song’s performance more authentic and well-prepared, because when we possess good health, that work generally gets overlooked in favor of singing through the repertoire for the one hundredth time. Smart practice, my dears, ensures that a work never gets dull, but grows ever more dear to one’s heart through further exploration, experimentation, research and ownership conferred to the one endeavoring to study it. Singers, let us encourage one another to pursue this necessary work when our voices could use a day off.


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