A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about finding your voice, on how wonderful and powerful it is to sing. I think all of us should be singing daily, whether at Carnegie Hall or in the shower, because it feels good in the body and the soul. I still believe that, but you know what?
It’s allergy season.
Now it’s time to talk about saving your voice.
I love springtime, but the tree pollen and various grasses and weeds all tend to make me stuffy, sneezy, and, eventually, hoarse. Of course, this can making singing more difficult. Since I’m a music therapist, being able to sing is important. This means that this time of year, I’m putting extra thought and energy into protecting and preserving my voice.
Here are the main things I do to preserve my voice during allergy season:
Nasal irrigation. This is my #1 tip for anyone dealing with sinus issues. I use this Sinus Rinse kit from NeilMed, with regular table salt since the packets included in the original kit ran out. You may also have heard of neti pots – these accomplish a similar purpose, although I’ve heard that they can be more difficult to use than the squeeze bottle method. I do this nasal irrigation every morning year-round, and I up that to twice a day during allergy season or when I feel a cold coming on. It. Works. Wonders.
Medications. I would be on vocal rest much more often without allergy meds. Talk to your doctor about which ones would be best for you.
Hot herbal teas. I usually choose something with lemon or peppermint, especially when my throat is sore.
Drinking lots of water. My reusable water bottle goes with me everywhere.
Chewing gum. I don’t do this during sessions or meetings with other professionals, but I do chew gum in the car and in my home office. It seems to help with keeping my throat moist and the coughing at a minimum.
Musical adjustments. I have no problem transposing songs to keys that are more comfortable on a day when my voice is shaky, or skipping certain difficult songs entirely. I avoid straining my voice, as I would by singing for a very large group or talking or singing over instrument playing.
Session planning adjustments. On days when my voice is weaker, I plan more interventions that involve less singing on my part – using recorded music, visual cues, and more musical direction from the guitar, piano, or oboe. I don’t usually like using a microphone, but on days when my voice is weaker, I use a microphone when one is available.
Vocal rest. When my voice gets weak, I try to treat it gently and rest as much as possible. Sometimes, this means reducing my workload for a day or a week while I give myself time to heal. It’s easy to feel guilty about canceling or postponing sessions just because I don’t have a voice, but I know that 1) I’m less effective as a therapist when my voice is not up to par, and 2) I have to take care of myself so that I can be effective as a music therapist in the long term.
The topic of vocal health comes up a lot among us music therapists, and several of my colleagues have written posts recently about vocal health.
- Kat Fulton of Rhythm for Good wrote about her struggles with laryngitis, including taking a month of silence to care for her voice and herself.
- Rachel Rambach of Listen & Learn Music wrote about losing her voice and the adjustments she makes in her clinical work when this happens.
- Jessica Edwards of Therapeutic Harmony wrote about how she decides to stay home when she’s sick. Actually, her posts on Twitter yesterday about losing her voice and going on vocal rest are what sparked the idea for this post.
So, music therapists, what are your methods for dealing with the stresses and strains on your voices? Does anyone else struggle during allergy season?