A tired voice needs to be ‘worked’ just the right way –says Leontine Hass
I’m singing in a west end show as a swing at the moment, covering two lead roles which are both vocally extremely challenging. I’m finding myself exhausted and my voice has started cracking a few times. I’m getting more and more nervous and don’t know what to do – any advice?
Being a swing is exhausting!
For some of our readers, I’ll clarify the terminology of the term ‘Swing’.
A swing is a singer who covers several lead roles.
In some shows this is taken to an extreme, where a swing not only sings different roles on different nights, but also sings various roles with fast costume changes on the SAME night, or sings one role on stage and another from the pit, where they cannot be seen.
Swings tend to be younger singers who have very good vocal facilities, but are not experienced or well known enough to be cast as the lead.
My west end students will readily testify that being a swing is physically exhausting as the performers need to command such a wide repertoire.
I find that young vocalists often fail to see the danger signs and are also hesitant to stand up for themselves and say to their Musical Director that they are just being worked too hard.
If there is a bout of the flu going around the cast of the show, swings are worked into the ground.
If this is what has happened to you, it is not surprising that you are wearing out.
The nature of the beast is that the show must go on; however, if you lose your voice as a result of relentless vocalizing 8 shows a week, that will not do the show any good either.
So, I would communicate with your creative team and explain that the workload is too much.
Explain that you need a day or two to rest your voice.
My advice to you is to go to your singing teacher immediately.
Make sure that, even though you are vocally tired, you warm up your voice properly; gliding and stretching is marvelous for a tired voice.
Lots of lip trills and sirens sliding up and down throughout your range are vital.
If you have to belt in the show, make sure your belt is warm.
Practice retraction of the vocal folds frequently throughout the day; retraction widens your false folds, and feels like hard silent laughter.
When a singer works hard and gets stressed, the muscles in the neck and back often become very tight – this has quite a serious impact on the voice.
I suggest that if your back is tense, that you go and get a good massage, and spend some time stretching.
The danger of being physically tired is that many singers forget to support the voice properly and let the larynx do all the hard work.
However, it is just when you are physically tired that your body should try to take the strain off the voice.
Make sure your lower abdominal muscles are being sent towards the spine as you sing, and that your ‘lats’, the muscles in your back, are working.
If you imagine that you are on the end of a rowing machine and push your elbows down, you will get the idea.
At the same time, try to relax your tongue root and your jaw—stress often increases tension in these two areas, which makes singing in general, and especially the singing of high notes, much more difficult.
Remember to focus on your preparation when you sing.
If you are physically ready, your voice will respond well. Your intake of breath should feel like a wide, open and silent breath rather than a violent ‘hoovering’ action; breathing-in is your chance to set yourself up properly.
Finally, get as much rest as possible, drink plenty of water, and make sure you lift the head of your mattress up, to avoid any possibility of acid reflux.
Being a swing is wonderful training and will stand you in good stead in the future, but it is very hard work.
The Word and Music Company
Advanced Performers Studio
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