Saturday, 29 October 2011

Learning to breathe like a baby

I had my first proper session with the speech therapist (Vanessa Jerome, in Dunedin) yesterday. She identified from  my initial assessment that my speaking voice is not as it should be and feels that if we can work on that, it will flow through to my singing voice. So back to absolute basics - learning to breathe properly.

It's amazing how an hour of breathing exercises just flew by. Envisaging myself rhythmically inflating and deflating a balloon with no tension. Then we added an sssssss on the exhalation. Another discovery - I tense my neck muscles on ssssss. I found that by putting my hand gently on my throat I could feel what I was doing and adjust accordingly.  Hmmm yes, but it wouldn't be a good look in a recital! Best I learn to do it without the physical prompt.

Then using zzzzzzzz. When I got it all together it was amazing feeling of power with no effort. So now I need to practice all this and be aware of what I am doing so that eventually it becomes automatic.

Tomorrow I have two lots of singing - firstly normal Basilica choir which will include 'How Beautiful are the Feet' from Messiah and then in the afternoon A Capella Singers has been invited to sing at the St John's Church 150th celebrations. So a couple of opportunities to try and put the above into practice. Wish me luck!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Can I have my voice back please?

First the history. Back at the end of the April I sang the roles of the Dew Fairy and the Sandman in Humperdinck's opera "Hansel and Gretel'. It was part of the Southland Arts Festival. These were my first solo roles and it was a completely awesome experience. My teacher sang the part of Gretel, the lovely Amanda Winfield (who is a fabulous soprano and a complete professional as you will soon see) sang two big roles, the Mother and the Witch, and her very talented husband-in-real-life Ravil Atlas was the director and conductor. (I'll tell you about my experiences of singing my first opera role in another post).

Depsite a bit of a head cold, all was well until I woke up on the Saturday morning of the last performance, opened my mouth to say something and was alarmed to discover that an enraged chicken and taken over my voice. Despite the best efforts of a magic gargle and steam, it was clear to everyone that I was not going to be able to sing. Being a complete amateur I thought this was someting of an insurmmountable problem and with what little bit of voice I could muster was apologizing to all and sundry. And yes, I admit it, trying not to cry. 

Ravil decided that Amanda would sing my part from the wings into a microphone leading to a speaker that was already at the front of the stage and I would mime. I got ready to duck, waiting for Amanda to throw a diva-tantrum along the lines of "I'm already singing two big roles and you want me to sing two others that I will have to sight-read??!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" *hurls breakable objects at anyone in the vicinity* And what happened next, dear readers is why working with professional singers although being completely nerve-wracking for an amateur like me, is also a god-send when something goes awry. Amanda calmly reorganises her costume changes, grabs the score and lightly sings over my two arias (I slaved over those for weeks!) and then as I launch into my 1,346th apology, she turns to me and says with a big smile "It's fine - really". And it was :)

Anyway, the point of all that is that it was the start of the problems with my voice. My voice came back, but only slowly. And now anything more than about half an hour of singing and I get husky. First stop the doctor and a prescription for antibiotics to ensure no silent infection and then prednisone to reduce inflammation. They might as well have been jelly-babies for all the good they did. (Actually real jelly-babies would have been more therapeutic). So then a referral to an ENT specialist in Dunedin where a camera was shoved up my nose and down my throat - not nearly as bad as it sounds - and I was able to watch my vocal folds on a tv screen. Is it vain of me to say that they looked beautiful? The ENT man agreed that they would make a lovely illustration of what-vocal-folds-should-look-like in a text book. Which is all very nice, but didn't explain the voice problems.

So here's his theory, and the reason why I had my first visit to a speech therapist on Thursday: Because my voice took a while to come back after losing it, I unconsciously started using a number of smaller muscles in my neck and shoulder area to help bolster the sound. These aren't designed to take that amount of work and therefore get strained. So I have to learn to stop using them. Back to basics. Lots of steaming still. Oh and for those of you who have ever conversed with me, this will amuse you  - I have to try and slow down my speech a little. Frankly I think I would have a better chance of singing Mimi at La Scala than speaking more slowly but I'm going to try. I know. I. can. do it. if. I. really. try.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


Welcome to my 'singing' blog. I have another blog, but it's supposed to be about my family and I found I was writing more about my singing stuff some days than about family stuff.

First things first. Is it hard to name a blog or what?! And now I've named it, I've got to figure a way of living up to the Amusing part. As opposed to just musing. I wish I could steal some of Sarah Court's ability to write posts ranging from amusing to downright hilarious.

Now those of you who know me know that I'm not the next big thing. No aural resemblence to Kiri Te Kanawa whatsoever. Frankly, I'm too old to be the next big thing. But by golly I'm going to be the next quite-pleasant-to-listen-to thing if it kills me. I'm going to be world famous in Invercargill. If I fail, don't blame my teacher - she should be given a medal for putting up with me and the weird and wonderful noises that issue forth from my mouth.

Which leads me to the topic of my next post - the reason for the weird noises that issue forth. Stay tuned. (A440 is always good).