Winter Vocal Health Tips

Every new change of the season brings opera singers potentially new engagements along with an often-drastic shift in the weather. But sometimes that drop in temperature, additional doses of moisture, or the release of dormant dust particles can wreak havoc in a singer’s life. Additionally, with strains of COVID, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), the flu and the not-so-common “common” cold ever present, more than ever singers must find a way to keep their cords correct. 

How many of us deal with seasonal allergies, contagious colleagues, and my personal favorite, the unexpected bit of phlegm that, like an uninvited party guest with no other plans, never wants to leave? I, myself, had a multi-month fight with an upper respiratory infection that wanted to accompany me through my operatic and teaching-artist work, my birthday, and most of the holiday season. 

I had a chance to speak with Dr. Brandon Kim, Otolaryngologist and Soprano Alexandra LoBianco (MET, Seattle Opera, Santa Fe Opera) for some tips on how singers can keep those vocal cords in tip-top shape.

Check the Folds!

Dr. Kim: If you notice a change in your vocal quality, then it is always a great idea to have an ENT look at your cords to make certain that the change isn’t something serious. Having an assessment of what your healthy cords not only sound like but look like is a key first step.

LoBianco: I do a lot of self-talk and self-manifestation. Part of the self-talk is speaking health over myself. Mindset has a lot to do with everything. If my mind is already thinking of being healthy then I start making healthier choices on a daily basis.

Get Moisture Flowing

LoBianco: Do I do all the other singer things as well, yes! I have my Flonase SensiMist for my seasonal allergies, and I keep GeloRevoice on me most of the time to keep from having dry mouth because of the changing temperatures. I also have my vocal mist nebulizer that my voice therapist suggested as steam is the fastest way to hydrate the chords.

Nasal Health

Dr. Kim: It is important to also address nasal hydration. Changes in temperature can cause dryness. For clients suffering from dryness I recommend personal steamers, saline spray, and saline sinus rinses. These products help thin mucous, deter post-nasal drip, and can wash out allergens. 

Rest

Dr. Kim: We must remember that if singers are sick, when they sing, they are spreading germs at a higher level than a person speaking. I often ask clients, is this engagement a make-or-break moment for your career? Can you prevent further illness to yourself and others? 

LoBianco: I am a deep believer in sleep. Getting a good night’s rest is probably one of the top things we can do for our bodies at all times of the year

Keep it to Yourself

Dr. Kim: We are social beings, and it has been proven that isolation has been unhealthy, so we want to get our and connect. Wearing a mask in public spaces is still one of the most effective ways to keep from spreading our germs as well as protecting ourselves.

Final Thoughts

LoBianco: Planned rest periods and not feeling guilt about them is also essential. Our bodies are our instruments, and our nervous system is attached to the larynx. So, it is essential to rest and recharge

Dr. Kim: Aim to prevent illness by listening to your body. Drink plenty of fluids and remember that acid reflux can also be a contributing factor to a shift in vocal quality. And as always, stay connected with your ENT professional.

Eric McKeever

Eric McKeever is a New York-based opera singer whose 2022–23 season includes performances with Opera Columbus, On Site Opera, Opera Delaware, the Penn Square Music Festival, and the Casals Festival of Puerto Rico. He is also a passionate arts educator having worked as a teaching artist for the Met Opera Guild and served as the manager of education programs for Kentucky Opera. He holds a Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from The Ohio State University and obtained his bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance from Capital University.