All gigging singers can empathize with and learn from Adele –says Kathy Alexander
She used to smoke. She has bad talking habits. Is Adele responsible for wrecking her own voice?
One thing is for sure: blaming the singer with aloof accusations can ignore the big picture.
Adele Adkins is, after all, a gifted and driven young artist who is paying a price for her high performance standards and a relentless schedule.
Even with perfect training and health, it’s a lot to ask of your vocal folds to resonate with power and emotion all evening long, night after night.
Like a professional athlete, a touring singer is asking her body to function at the threshold of its capabilities.
A Challenge for All Singers
To survive under these circumstances, a singer must dedicate themselves to health and training, just like an athlete.
The problem is, many singers don’t think about vocal health until, like Adele, their voice shuts off with a vocal fold haemorrhage.
“Adele’s fans experience a deep kind of nourishment at her concerts,” says Speech Pathologist Joanna Cazden.
“She, in turn, feels a bond with her audience during a show, which makes it horribly tempting to sacrifice herself, give more and more, ignoring the feeling that her voice isn’t working right.”
Adele’s on-line apology to her fans describes several times when she performed despite being sick or when her voice did not feel right.
“The vocal cords are extra-vulnerable to injury during that time,” says Cazden.
To get an acceptable sound on swollen equipment, a singer has to push the voice, compromising their technique.
Why Didn’t She Hold Back?
To an artist like Adele, whose voice and lyrics expresses so much raw emotion, the thought of having to hold back and sing cautiously in a concert must be repulsive.
Also, having to cancel a concert because of a measly cold or sore throat can make a singer feel like a wimpy, self-absorbed fool.
Another reason singers are not more careful when they are sick is because they’ve gotten away with it before.
“When you are young,” says singing teacher Noreen Smith, “you can get away will all sorts of unbalanced vocalized sounds and your body will bounce back.”
It could have been all of these reasons that contributed to Adele ignoring warning signals, piling symptoms upon symptoms and, finally, having to totally shut things down for a time.
Clearly the way ahead is a combination of vocal rest and the development of good technique – but sometimes this can only be learned through the fire of life.
Maybe we have to be ‘bad’ before we can learn to be ‘good’ – it’s just the way life works.
Some Lessons for All of Us
When you mix illness with a non-stop performance schedule, you get a wrecked voice.
Yet there are techniques that can help Adele – and all of us singers cope with the stresses.
Think, for example, of Adele’s sassy speaking voice.
“One very common problem for singers is to be careless about how they talk,” says Cazden. “With interviews and so on, the offstage persona can seem just as important to maintain, so the vocal cords may be getting bruised and used-up from morning to night, not just during the music.”
She says singers can weather more high-pressure singing if they use a balanced, resonant sound when chatting off stage and over coffee.
This is why I’m going to think more about my voice use on – and off – stage.
Thanks, Adele, for getting me thinking.
Kathy Alexander is a writer, singer, vocal coach and choir director. She has appeared in Vision TV’s Let’s Sing Again, The Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra and the Victoria International Jazz Festival (main stage). You can see more of Kathy’s work here.