Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Notes from Dr. Darnell's Convocation on Voice Health

"Taking Care of Your Speaking Voice"

Notes by Jeanie Darnell

Musicians, performers and teachers, maintain busy schedules.  It is important to take care of one's body, health, and speaking voice for lecturing and communicating.  The National Association of Schools of Music has now made it a requirement that music faculty, staff and students learn how to keep vocal wellness.

Conserving your voice means that you use your voice wisely, avoiding abusive behaviors and misuse.

A hoarse or raspy voice indicates that there is a problem with your voice.  Healthy voices are clear and resonant.

What is vocal abuse and misuse?

1) Shouting, screaming, and extended loud talking:

This doesn't only happen when you are arguing or yelling at sports' events, but when you are talking over noise when you are traveling (in car, bus, airplane--motor, air conditioner, outside noises), when you are in restaurants and crowded rooms such as parties, or speaking over background music and TV in everyday places.

Be conscious of the noise around you to preserve your speaking voice.  Do not push the voice.

Talking too loud and too long can leave you vocally fatigued for days.

Be aware of your posture when traveling, so to use good breath support when speaking.  Drink plenty of water too because heaters, air conditioners, and recirculated air dehydrate you.

Avoid alcoholic beverages and caffeinated beverages when flying, and drink more water the day before, during and after you have flown.

2) Excessive throat clearing and coughing:

If you have clumpy mucous, you may be dehydrated, or you may be suffering from allergies or an upper respiratory infection.  Acid reflux also causes excessive mucous in the throat.

Try to determine the reason.  Drink plenty of water (about half your body weight per day, and sip throughout the day and evening).  Your pee should be a pale color.

If you have allergies, inhalant or food, seek treatment.  Allergies are sometimes seasonal, but often chronic.  Post nasal drip is irritating to the vocal track.  If the allergies are inhalant, it helps to irrigate your sinuses with saline for that purpose, in morning and at night.  

If the vocal track lining is inflamed and you speak, you are more susceptible to injury (just as if you had a blister on your foot, and decided to walk 10 miles).

Tight, tense, and sore throat sensations indicate a problem--do not ignore!  If you have an infection, seek medical treatment: it may require antibiotics to heal.

If you have a common cold, push fluids, eat well, rest, and sleep with a humidifier.  Using a decongestant such as Afrin or Sudafed for a few days may help (best to check with your doctor).  Zinc supplements help you to heal faster (Ziocam).

Expectorants/Tussins are good for thinning mucous, but they require more hydration.

Clearing the throat and coughing slaps the vocal folds together abruptly.  It often takes three weeks or longer to recover from the symptoms of bronchitis or a severe respiratory illness.  Take care and use the voice as little as possible when sick.  You are more susceptible to hemorrhages and developing nodules when you use inflamed vocal folds.  Warm honey and water is soothing to an inflamed vocal track (half and half).  Lint from tissues can inflame it.

Laryngitis will usually subside after a day or two with complete vocal rest. If you persist with whispering, it will take weeks.

You must seek medical treatment for chronic acid reflux (GERD or LPRD).  It's very damaging.  (The sphincters at the top of the esophagus and at the junction of the stomach allow acidic digestive fluids from stomach into esophagus and or throat.) Reflux results in hoarseness, chronic coughing, frequent throat clearing, pain in throat, problems swallowing, post nasal drip, referred ear pain, and bitter taste in mouth.  (Lump in throat.)

3) Speaking at an inappropriate pitch level:

People sometimes alter their voices to sound culturally acceptable.  Everyone has a vocal range to their speaking voice that is healthy.  It is generally around a P4 above the lowest note you can sing without strain.  It is usually where you say "um hum".

Speak in phrases--breathe between!

Vocal fry (think of car battery sound) occurs when you are pressing the vocal folds together by talking too low and without proper breath support.  Make sure you are NOT grinding on your voice, as it will develop nodules from this misuse.

4) Speaking without proper support:

You must breathe and release air through your vocal folds to phonate.

Maintaining good posture helps.  (Speaking on your back for extended periods is difficult.).

Being conscious of taking good breaths is important.  Avoid speaking too quickly or too loudly.  Speaker phones are sometimes helpful.

5) Smoking:

Smoking causes the fluid of the epithelium (vocal fold lining) to gather and causes irregular vocal fold vibration, resulting in a hoarse, raspy sound.  Smoking also causes lung cancer.

Avoid smoking.  

6) Excessive use of medications, and alcohol:

Avoid recreational drugs altogether. Inhaled drugs are especially damaging to the voice.

Antihistamines can over-dry the vocal folds.  You may have to use milder ones, and drink more water.  Ask your doctor for advice.  Our bodies react differently to them.

Avoid excessive use of blood thinners such as aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen can cause hemorrhages.

Alcohol and caffeine are drying to the vocal folds.  Drink in moderation.

7) Unhealthy environmental conditions:

Avoid exposure to chemical fumes, dust, mold, and smoke.  Dry climates may require that you drink more water.

Avoid polluted environments if possible.

Playing music in smokey bars is difficult for your body.


8) Whispering:

Don 't whisper.  It presses the vocal folds and causes unnecessary friction.  It's better to speak out gently, or write notes!

9) Eating too much salt, or drinking too much caffeine:

Salt is drying.  It causes vocal folds to swell.  Peanuts, pop corn, potato chips should be avoided before lecturing.

Drinking too much caffeine dehydrates you.  

Small amounts of salt and caffeine are OK.

Take care of your body.  Hydrate!

1) Rest-- your voice will perform better if you are getting 8 hours of rest each night.  If you are tired, your energy level will drop.

2) Eat sensibly--a balanced diet so you have all if your nutrient needs met.  Plenty of fruits, veggies and some protein to sustain you.

3) Exercise regularly--this strengthens your immunity, bones, muscles and cardio vascular health.

4) When in cold environments, cover yourself.  Breathe through your nose.  Wear a scarf around your neck, and or a hat.

5) Pace yourself!  Do more talking earlier in the day when you are fresh!

6) Use amplification when possible to preserve your voice.

Abusive singing activities:  singing too high, too low, too loud or too long.

Belting by screaming out lower voice.


Warm-up for 5-10 minutes: use lip trills, humming, buzzing, vocalises in the middle easy range.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Spring repertoire assignments

Happy new year, folks! Following are your repertoire assignments for the spring semester. I've chosen repertoire with an eye to planning your recitals or half recitals, even though for some of you that might be years away. As always, if you don't like something, please say so and Dr. Yang Temko will help you find something else. Have one song prepared well enough for you to work for your first lesson with her. 

I've left copies of some music on my door to get you started: everything else is in my office or in the library, which you can copy as needed. Please remember to sign out any music you borrow, and return it promptly. This is your opportunity to exercise your research skills: get to know the library, online sources, etc. Look on this blog for links to helpful music sites and translation sites.

I'll miss you, but will be in and out of town and only an email away. Sabbatical dosn't mean I've completely disappeared. Have a wonderful semester and know that I love y'all madly!


Selina
Purcell's "Fairest Isle," "Tu lo sai" (in your Italian book) or "Sento nel core" (a copy for you is on my door), Handel's "Verdi prati," Dowland's "Now, O now" or "Behold a wonder here" (on my door), Schubert's "Liebhaber in allen Gestalten."

MK

Anything else from Quatre Chansons de Jeunesse, Handel's "Tornami," Strauss: "Kling!", "Breit über mein Haupt," Doll Song from Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Rodrigo: last two songs from Cuatro Madrigales Amatorios.

Nole

Any of the remaining Songs of Travel, finish off "Avant de quitter," Fauré's "Au bord de l'eau" and "Automne," Brahms's "Sonntag," "Wie Melodien" and/or "Dein blaues Auge." If you plan to do NATS, check online for their repertoire requirements and prepare your choices accordingly. Feel free to use a few we've done this past semester.

Beau

"Gia il sole dal Gange" "Pieta Signore" "Danza, danza" or "Che fiero costume" (all in your Italian book: choose two), "An Schwager Kronos" (two copies are on my door for you).

Molly

Lotti's "Pur dicesti" (on my door for you) and "Intorno all'idol mio," Handel's "Va godendo" or "Non lo diro col labbro," Schubert's "Lachen und Weinen," Duke's "Little Elegy" or "I can't be talkin' of love."

Madison

Dowland's "If my complaints" (by request!), Debussy's "Nuits d'étoiles" and "Mandoline" (if time), Bellini's "Dolente immagine" "Labbandono" "Vaga luna" or "Per pieta" (pick two or more), Mozart's "Vedrai carino" from DON GIOVANNI.

Kristin

Purcell's "If music be the food of love" (copy on my door for you), Paisiello's "Nelo cor piu non mi sento," Schumann's "Widmung" (copy on my door), Handel's "O sleep, why dost thou leave me," Bononcini's "Non posso disperar."

John

No new rep, as we've designed your recital: start with anything we haven't done yet. By mid-January, you'll want to choose NATS rep and start running groups (or at least 2-3 songs) per lesson.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Jury forms available

Dear students, congratulations on your juries yesterday. I was proud of each and every one of you. Your jury forms are available. I will be happy to meet with any of you December 11-12 or on Tuesday, December 16. Just email me and let me know when you'd like to stop by, and we'll go through your forms together. After this week, I am on sabbatical and my availability will be very limited.

Thanks, folks!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tiny Change #12: make a plan

Many of us go from emergency to emergency, rather than taking the time to plan what we really want to do or how we're going to do it. This week's exercise is to plan one little (or big) thing in your life, then execute that plan.

Let's say it's planning to study for your biology final next week. Think through exactly what material you need to cover and how much time it will take to really assimilate it. Then schedule that time into your calendar and stick to it. Does this feel different than pulling just cramming the night before the exam?

You can (and should) also do this with your big goals. What do you want to be doing five years from now? What do you need to be doing three years from now to know you're on the right track? One year from now? Then what do you need to do this month to get there? This week? Today? This could be a great New Year's Resolution exercise.

Write it down. There's real power in committing on paper. Even better: write it down, then share it with someone you trust to hold you accountable. That will be your contract with yourself.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tiny Change #11: Food Journal

Ahhh...Thanksgiving. A day (or a weekend) of gorging and relaxing. It's over now. Or is it? As a dear friend said over this past weekend, it's not what you eat on Thanksgiving or Christmas that packs on the pounds: it's what you eat in between those holidays.

But this isn't so much about weight. It's about how you feel going into the last week of classes. So this week's task is to keep a food journal. You can write it into your calendar, use an online journal like this one, or you can use my favorite fitness and food app, My Fitness Pal. The nice thing about the last one is that it calculates the calorie count (and other nutritional information) of everything you eat, including restaurant food.

The key here is to note just how much you're taking in, and how you feel at key points in the day. Do certain foods make you feel especially clear-headed? Gassy? Fuzzy? Tired? Congested? You may have never thought about it before. Now take a week to take note how you feel after a meal, a snack, at the end of the day. You'll probably start to notice a pattern.

You might realize that you're dragging in the middle of the day because you tend to eat cereal or simple carbs in the morning. Then you might realize that by 3pm, you haven't had any protein. If you'll be taking a three hour test at noon, you don't want to go into that test riding a sugar high. You'll never make it through that test with a clear head.

Realize, too, that you need to enter everything you drink, too. Water, sweet tea, Coke, pumpkin latte, beer. Every little bit: drinks count, too. You might be surprised just how many [empty] calories you're drinking each day, and they can add up before you know it.

Your body is YOUR machine. What are you putting into your engine? That's the question this week.

We'll check in later and see how you're doing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tiny Change #10: pick a hobby


It may seem ridiculous to suggest that you have time for anything other than upcoming finals, performances, juries, work, homework, and some semblance of a life, but you do.

Even if it's just 10 minutes a day, do something that gives you pleasure. Choose something that has nothing to do with your major, your work, your everyday life...just choose something you enjoy. Lose yourself in it. Notice how you feel afterward, and notice how your return to your work with a greater sense of purpose.

My hobby is calligraphy. I'm not as good as I used to be, but I've found coming back to it great fun. You could try painting, drawing, calligraphy, reading something not for school, or any number of things. Consider picking something you haven't done since you were a kid: you might find a special kind of joy in revisiting something that ignites your inner child. The point is to enjoy, not work at it.

Have fun!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

THE ELIXIR OF LOVE at UAB

 UAB Opera and UAB Chamber Singers present a co-production of Donizetti's delightful opera, THE ELIXIR OF LOVE, sung in English. Performances are November 20-21 at 7:30pm in the Alys Stephens Center. For tickets, call 975-ARTS. Student and group rates available!