The Case: The Traumatized Voice
The Singer: Carlene, 21 years old, in training and in dress rehearsal for her graduate showcase where agents would be present
For you? Here’s a rescue-remedy for anyone who has to perform and can’t find their voice due to trauma or nerves.
Case Summary: Carlene was due on stage but had been through a severe trauma. She still wanted to go on, but was incredibly tense!
The Trauma of a Lifetime
Carlene was on her way to her graduate show dress rehearsal and hopped off the bus because she saw a better one in front that would take her further!
She was no sooner on the second bus when the one she had left exploded as they drove away; she had witnessed one of the summer ’05 London bombings.
This is an extreme case, but I want discuss it because it shows how deeply our “state” affects our voice.
Also, what ended up working for Carlene should work with any singer facing trauma before an important performance.
Recognising the symptoms of the ‘frozen singer’
Carlene called through to the director with a high pitched croaky voice and because she sang at least two solo sections in the show, he called me for help.
Carlene was determined to go ahead; we talked things through and, though she had clearly been very upset by what she had seen, she somehow felt that performing was her way of dealing with something she had no power to prevent.
We immediately had her looked at by a doctor.
Carlene’s muscles had tightened due to shock – a common response and one that often leaves breath coming shallower and results in poor vocal quality; the tension is then often heightened because the singer fears their voice has let them down and they begin to panic.
After resting for an hour, Carlene was still very tense with poor breath control.
The Vital Exercises
Lying down on a wooden table, Carlene breathed through a ‘v’ shape with chipmunk cheeks – this released air and a light sound over her vocal folds and helped her to engage her diaphragm fully.
Then we hummed sound through her back onto the table so she could feel her back resonance and then she rested for a while again.
She drank a warm clear tea with honey and then sang a ‘neeyah’ shape through her range gently – this is a well-used classic exercise called ‘siren’.
Through all of this we made no attempt to sing and made no mention of the songs at this point.
After another short rest I took Carlene to the stage and she spoke her song lines in situ, then again she spoke/sang them with attitude; we brought the pianist in and they worked together softly on the songs.
Within an hour Carlene was on stage and we watched with our breath held, but she got through the night.
She felt a little unwell after the show so we drove her to an A&E unit where she was observed for a few hours then sent home to rest; she had an aromatic massage the next morning and performed again that evening; Carlene had to continue having regular massage to address the tension that had arrived in the space of those traumatic minutes
The Voice is Still There!
Carlene’s muscles had tightened due to shock – a common response and one that often leaves breath coming shallower and results in poor vocal quality.
This tension is often heightened because the singer fears their voice has let them down and they begin to panic.
It is important to seek medical advice if you are deeply shocked.
This situation highlighted the relationship between the way we are feeling and our ability to express through sound; it’s an extreme case but one that demonstrates how deeply our ‘state’ affects our voice.
The important issue was to bring calm and assure Carlene of the presence of her voice; once she could feel and hear it, she found the confidence to work.
Carlene is a real trooper and has a very busy professional schedule these days, never allowing the slightest obstacle to get in her way!