A Symphony of Self Care: Redefining Singer Health

A Symphony of Self Care: Redefining Singer Health

“Vocal health” is a phrase heard by budding singers nearly as much as “legato” or “raise your soft palate.” Countless singing authorities will advise you to prioritize your vocal health as much as you can. However, more often than not, the discussion centers around the vocal folds themselves and fails to encompass the rest of the singer. Don’t get me wrong: all of those tips your teachers, coaches, and colleagues have given you about those little flaps of tissue in your throat can be very helpful. However, you are so much more than your voice, and your voice cannot exist without you. 

Performing is an act of service during which we reach inside ourselves and pour our souls out onstage for the world to see. This act, while rewarding, can be deeply mentally and emotionally exhausting. In “grindset” culture, it is profoundly easy to find our cup running empty and yet continuing to pour. But the thing about empty cups is that we cannot pour from them forever.

This then begs the question: how can you refill your cup? 

Disclaimer: Everyone’s financial, emotional, and social situations are different. These are simply things that I have compiled from my own experiences in the industry along with the experiences of various mentors and colleagues that I have observed. As is always the case with advice of any kind: take what works for you. Ignore the rest. 


Say no and take breaks

This is huge. Sometimes you are offered an opportunity that is so exciting. It’s a dream role, it pays well, or maybe it’s with a company you’ve always wanted to sing with. There are a million reasons why it’s tempting to accept gigs even when, looking through the music or at your schedule, it doesn’t feel feasible. It’s okay to say no to a gig because you don’t have the bandwidth to take it. It’s okay to tell a company that, while you appreciate their offer, you don’t feel like you would be able to represent yourself or their company to the best of your ability in that particular role. In fact, when phrased correctly, most companies will respect you more. 

Extending this beyond turning down potential gigs, it’s important to give yourself a bit of respite in your day-to-day life. You cannot possibly refill an empty cup if you do not stop to allow yourself time to do so. The time you need for that replenishing will vary due to many different factors: how much singing you’ve been doing, your personal life, deadlines from a day job, illness, etc. But ultimately, there are times where we must simply stop singing for a bit. Your career will not fall apart if you take a day (or even a few days) off from practicing.

Go to the doctor

This one definitely has financial constraints. However, you cannot sing your best if you are struggling with physical or mental ailments. Therefore, if access to a primary care physician and a therapist are possible, I think both need to be prioritized. 

If you have insurance, there are likely resources on your provider’s website to help you find practitioners in-network. If your insurance is provided through a place of employment (whether it be through a spouse, parent, or yourself), an HR representative from the employer would also be equipped to assist you in finding an in-network practitioner. 


If you do not have any sort of insurance, look into community health centers in your area. They frequently have a pro-bono budget and/or the ability to give you a referral to a resource that does have a pro-bono budget. Be wary of solely online providers of mental health services. While these tend to be more affordable than traditional therapy options, you might not even be guaranteed to be speaking to a licensed professional. If going this route is the best option for you, read the terms of service. 

Find a hobby

It was incredibly tough for me to come to this realization in my own life, but music isn’t your hobby anymore: it’s your job. If you do not find yourself something else to do to decompress, it will become increasingly more likely that you will burn yourself out from the stress. Your new hobby could be anything! Fishing, gardening, drawing, crafting, or anything else that brings you joy. Whatever you do, do not commodify it. Resist the urge. As artists who feed ourselves with money generated by our creativity, it is so easy to slip into the urge to take a “hobby,” perfect it, and sell it. We get onstage and we give ourselves away to our audience. Be selfish. Find something that is just for you. You are allowed to have things for yourself and you will need to be protective in order to keep them that way.

There will be seasons of your life where all of these options will be easier or harder to accomplish. It’s a balance. Sometimes you will get it wrong, and that’s okay. The only thing you can do is take in that information and use it to inform your decisions in the future. However you choose to do it, taking care of yourself is not just an option but a necessary component for a sustainable and fulfilling career in the performing arts.

Emily Gehman

Emily Gehman is a New York City-based mezzo-soprano with a passion for both operatic and choral singing. Recent performances include Second Lady in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, soloist in Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, and Mahler’s Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen. Upcoming roles include Mercedes in Bizet’s Carmen and Fricka in Wagner’s Das Rheingold. She received a Master of Music in Classical Voice from the Manhattan School of Music and a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from Colorado State University.