April 16 was World Voice Day, and I was happy to celebrate it with the good folks at the Philippine General Hospital’s (PGH) Otorhinolaryngology (in more familiar terms, Ear, Nose, and Throat, or ENT) Department. An offshoot of Brazil’s Voice Day, World Voice Day was first celebrated in 1999.
As part of this year’s celebration, the ENT residents at PGH will do free look-sees for those seeking help with their vocal health and other head, ear, nose, throat and neck-related issues. Loud snorers (spouses getting very little sleep due to this would relate to this as a problem) may want to take advantage of this limited offer.
Because I sing for a living, I consider my vocal health incredibly important. It’s not enough for me to have spot-free and pain-free tonsils or healthy, smooth, pink tissue in my throat. My entire vocal apparatus needs to be strong, supple, and almost fast-twitch responsive to commands.
When I’m working, my paranoia that something would go wrong is heightened to a nearly unreasonable degree; any little bit of discomfort is magnified to a life-and-death situation. What could be the common cold would be interpreted by my brain as a case of pre-laryngitis that would require the most aggressive medical intervention (almost always, that would prove quite unnecessary—kasi nga, paranoid).
Over the years, having visited with my share of ENTs and vocal coaches for this lifetime, I’ve built a storehouse of tips and tricks to keep my voice the way I like it: A well-oiled machine. Let me share a few of those with you, whether you’re a voice professional, a shower singer, or a karaoke enthusiast:
We are often told to drink at least eight glasses of water a day, but one piece of advice by my ENT in London was: If your pee is clear, you’re drinking enough. During hot summer months, it’s a good idea to drink more than you think you need. By “hydrate,” I mean water. If you engage in vigorous sports, those sports drinks might also help (but not when you have tummy issues—they might make things worse). Refrain from coffee and tea, as these can dehydrate you.
Keep it warm
That would be lukewarm, or warmer. It’s tempting during this very hot summer to reach for that refreshingly cold beverage, but my voice tends to seize up after I have one. If you’re a voice professional, you might want to wait until you’re not working. Many muscles make up that voice apparatus; ingesting anything cold is like jumping into an icy lake before running a marathon. Not a good idea. That said, some singers swear by ice water before a performance. This is one conundrum I haven’t solved … and possibly never will.
I’ve made the mistake of not showing up at certain venues, like air-conditioned hotel ballrooms, without a scarf and a jacket. Yes, I’ve paid the price. My body is sensitive to temperature changes (over here, we go from the heat of the outdoors to the frigidity of a shopping mall, office building, or hotel), and whenever I turn up unarmed, I get sick … and the inevitable lecture from my mother begins … “Anak, ang lamig naman kasi doon, bakit hindi ka nagdala ng pambalot?” It’s a talking-to that I get because I’m stubborn and never seem to learn.
Now, this one I got from my husband Rob, a lifelong asthma sufferer. Because of his sheer determination to not land in the hospital once a year, he changed his diet and figured out which supplements to include as part of his health regimen. I’ve adopted part of it, and also stayed away from things that my body is sensitive to, even if it’s food that I really like. We both take probiotics (good flora in our guts help keep our immune system operating optimally) and a good share of vitamins; we eat lots of organic vegetables, grass-fed meats and cage-free eggs, and cut down on sugar and artificial sweetener. But we do have the occasional “cheat day,” and he does have a leg up on me in the exercise department.
This is probably the most difficult advice to follow, especially when traveling across time zones. Jet lag is something I deal with very often, but I’d like to think I’ve trained myself well enough to overcome it.
When I’m working, I try my best to get seven to eight hours of good-quality sleep. I’ve found that when I don’t get that much, my voice is more difficult to activate, and it’s more of an effort to get through a show that lasts 90 minutes, with each minute feeling like an hour of stage time. But when I do get great rest, the performance is a breeze, and I feel like I could sing all night.
I know this greeting comes a couple of days late, but … Happy Voice Day, everyone!