Living With Your Voice

by
Gigi Mitchell-Velasco

Professional Opera Singer & Voice Talent

PART I

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Hello Everyone!

I've never gone public with what I'm about to tell you all, but I think it's important for other artists to know. It happens frequently, and we blame ourselves and keep it a deep, dark secret, which I think should not be the case. Almost everyone that uses his or her voice for a living has had something happen like what I'm about to tell you. You are NOT alone!

AN AMAZINGLY RESILIENT THING:

My teacher and mentor, mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig, wrote a chapter in her autobiography which she called Dialogue with My Voice.  Paraphrased from the German, it went something like this:

Voice:  When I didn't have to work or sing why did you use me so much when I would have gladly rested? Why didn't you leave me in peace?

Christa:  I didn't really use you that much... I took good care of you until that incident.

Voice:  Don't mention that incident please!

Sounds strange to think of a voice speaking to US with a mind of its own, but those of us who use our voices for a living understand this better than anyone. The voice sometimes has a mind of its own. I have been singing professionally in the world of opera, concert and recitals for years, and I learn something new about my voice all the time. That incident, as mentioned by Christa's voice, is what I am about to relate to you, as it also happened to me!

One thing I've learned through all my fortune and misfortune is that The Voice is an amazingly resilient thing; it can overcome and heal from very serious problems and ailments if given the proper care. We can all learn a little more about how to properly rest it, care for it and work with it. I met James Alburger  through his book, The Art of Voice Acting as I was trying to better my skills to start some voice-over work. He liked some of my voice stories that I wrote to him through e-mail and I volunteered to share them with you. Not so surprisingly, VO talents and opera singers have many of the same concerns. In my business we say, "Don't talk too much before you sing." 

Of course, doing VO work is talking, but if you know you have a long session coming up, don't talk too much the day before or the day of. Wake up at least 4 hours before your session for your voice to wake up and the blood to leave your throat. Speaking or singing on a sleepy throat can be as damaging as overuse! Of course, the previous newsletters and James’ book have dealt with very interesting remedies (some of which I discovered on my own, like washing out the nasal cavities during a horrible illness while recording a CD in Europe). This was in addition to having a steam bath every morning at the hotel gym before I went to my recording session. One thing to avoid, however, is dry saunas. This dry heat will kill you!  And unless you want to sound like Marlo Thomas in That Girl, I suggest you never step into one! Also, I would go easy on all inhalations, not just menthol, unless you are perfectly desperate, because you never know what you are sensitive to until it's too late. I found that everything with a menthol and/or even a hint of mint (rosemary too) dries me out.  Plain steam is fine. A small personal steam inhaler is easy to find and is an important thing to have at your disposal. They range in price but should cost you no more than around 40 dollars. I prefer the kind that has a plastic hood that fits around the nose and mouth. Here is one type to look into:

http://www.comforthouse.com/comfort/persteamin.htm

The main thing James wanted me to write about was my battle with GERD (reflux) and how that eventually led to broken capillaries on my vocal cords. This can happen to anyone and was touched on a bit by Ms. Wilson in the last newsletter. Did you ever wake up in the morning and feel like you were getting a little sore throat or felt hoarse, and then it goes away later in the day?  Say, you don’t have any sessions that day and you don't pay any attention to it. Chances are, you have reflux! This was my story in 1997. I went on this way for a year or so, until it got to the point where my breathing became labored and I had lots of phlegm. It was starting to affect my singing as well as my peace of mind. I went to the doctor (GP) and I was diagnosed with adult onset asthma. I was given a normal course of steroids (that asthma sufferers get - some sprays, both preventive and emergency, and off I went). I continued this way for a while, until I started getting hoarse after 10 minutes of singing.

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