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January is not a holiday month!

Dale with Elizabeth Benson and Auburn Music Theatre students.

I have been having the most magnificent time in the United States and thought it might be update time. As I write this I am sitting in Starbucks at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music after watching a “Vocal Athlete” class with the incredible Wendy LeBorgne. I am staying with Wendy in her beautiful home for the next few days and shadowing her (lucky me – right!) at work. For those who don’t know, Wendy, along with the wonderful Marci Rosenberg, authored The Vocal Athlete, which is a fabulous pedagogical text for contemporary voice teachers. Seeing her in action with sophomores applying the principles of exercise physiology and motor learning in practical and specific ways to ensure triple threats voices are not compromised by the incredibly physical work they do onstage in music theatre was such a privilege.

I arrived in an extremely cold New York on the 28th December and proceeded to do a music theatre binge – 7 shows in 7 days. Three of those days had no performances – so it was intense! I saw Dear Evan Hansen, Come From Away, Hello Dolly, Hamilton, Spongebob: The Musical, The Band’s Visit, and Once on This Island. A truly diverse range of productions with incredible performers. I am so fortunate. There is nothing like seeing these shows live. Every performance I attend changes me just a little bit and informs my ideas about what the marketplace is doing, what singers are sounding like.

I was hit by the massive snowstorm and was stuck in New York and extra night but managed to arrive in Orlando at Central Florida University for the magnificent Music Theatre Educators Alliance (MTEA) conference. Amazing educators, information from Broadway producers, artists, and a fantastic panel from the cruise ship industry discussing what it takes to get employed! I was lucky enough to present on the final day, after some shifting around (my presentation was originally designed for the first day), and I have made new connections and friends from this great event.

My flight to Orlando was not without drama and I arrived in Savannah with a full blown chesty cough and cold. I worked from Savannah (which had snow on the ground – a rare event) then visited family in North Carolina who promptly tucked me into bed until I was well enough to continue on!

Next to North Greenville University where I conducted a masterclass for contemporary and worship students. Voice teachers Luke Browder, Seth Killen, Mark Eshenbaugh and Cheryl Greene (Head of Department) were so welcoming, and it was great to work with their talented singers.  My next day was to include speaking with the pedagogy class and another lecture in the afternoon but a snow fall meant roads were impassable and my day was cancelled. I soldiered on, getting to Auburn in two days – allowing for ice on the roads (very scary!).

Elizabeth Benson, Mary Sandage and Dale in the Auburn voice lab!

Once in Auburn I was lucky enough to visit with Mary Sandage, amazing voice scientist working out of Auburn University. Then it was off to the music theatre department with friend and colleague Elizabeth Benson who heads up MT Voice. I lectured and masterclasses with students, as well as observing Elizabeth in the studio. It was a wonderful couple of days.

And so, here I am at CCM. For those in Australia who don’t know , this is a very big prestigious school. The graduates experience extraordinarily high placement rates upon graduation, either on Broadway or in touring productions. I’m looking forward to an afternoon observing classes, and I am very grateful to the wonderful Wendy LeBorgne, and her husband Ed, for their hospitality. Lets hope we can get Wendy in Australia someday – she is a powerhouse!

And now for the practical. I’m back in Australia early February, lessons will start either Friday 9th / Saturday 10th, depending on my recovery after the flight. I’m SO keen to get back to teaching. And study – of course – the doctoral work is never far away! Please contact me email if you need to speak before I get home – I have had some texts come through, but the time difference means that these might be coming in at awkward times! Thanks!

Coughing and singers – what to do!?

My personal steamer

Ok, so I have been sick with a lung infection for a week and coughing everyday – making me sad, my vocal folds sad, basically my lungs and trachea and vocal folds and throat are all bit sad at the moment.

Why is coughing so bad for singers?

Coughing, clearing your throat, sneezing, vomiting – they all irritate the vocal folds. Coughing, clearing your throat and sneezing all create a large force of air rushing past your vocal folds at a high speed and your vocal folds “clap together” or vibrate very strongly – check it out on youtube here. Coughing is vocal fold violence! Vomiting can result in stomach acid coming up the oesophagus and irritating the vocal folds leading to further irritation.

OK – a disclaimer – I am not a doctor. Check with your doctor first – especially about medications and for your individual situation.

So, how do you avoid coughing when you need to cough to get the sputum / mucous out of your chest when you are ill? These ideas have worked for my students and I:

1. You are probably going to have to cough. Just saying. I live in the real world, I hate coughing, I avoid coughing, but I do it, you do it, it happens. You need to move that mucous out go the lungs somehow. Accept it, then move on to cough reduction mode!

2. When you feel the need to cough or clear your throat have a sip of water. It can often take away the urge to cough which is important if the cough is a dry irritating one that you just need to try and stop. Also, tea with honey, or lemon and honey in boring water sipped slowly can sooth the throat and slow the cough reflex.

3. Thin the mucous. If the mucous is thinner it easier for it to cough up / be reabsorbed back into the body with minimal coughing.

  • Drinking fluids helps thin the mucous / sputum (sputum is mucous that is in your lungs).
  • Steam helps thin the mucous – steamy showers, humidifiers (keep them clean) and I love my  personal steam inhaler. A bowl filled with boiling water and a towel over the head is great too (Thanks Grandma! She used to do this for me when I was little and sick and it works a treat).
  • Medication like Bisolven tablets contain bromhexine which thins, loosens and clears mucous in the lungs. I find these help reduce coughing. (Check with your doctor!)

4. I usually don’t take decongestants or cough suppressants which dry the mucous out because we need the mucous coating on our vocal folds to function as singers, however, at night time a decongestant or cough suppressant which avoids night time post nasal drip  and that awful dry sore morning throat can be just the thing (Postnasal drip – mucous drains from the back of the nose down the throat and into the …. stomach or lungs? Whatever – it is disgusting, right?). Be aware, though, that often these can last for up to 24 hours and you will feel better, but your vocal folds might be dry dry dry and singing on them may irritate them further. Again – check with your doctor! I never sing with a decongestant in my body.

Ok, so I hope that helps to you address any coughing problems. Feel free to send me your helpful tips.

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