Unless you're a penguin.
By Alisha Giampola (Actor)
It's nice to get out of the city in the winter. In the dead of summer NYC can smell like the armpit of a drunk homeless man, but in the dead of winter, it feels like God is smiting you with daggers of ice lightning - so honestly, I guess you have to pick your poison. However, if I were to pick any time of year to escape the city, it would be mid-January to mid-February, when you can no longer go around whistling "city sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style", and you are left wandering said sidewalks with slushy sewer water seeping into the cracks in your 5-year-old wellies that you're sure you'll get around to replacing eventually.
Of course, escaping the city can sometimes backfire on you... like that time I was on tour in February, my least favorite month, but we ended up having a 5 day long sit-down in frozen Wisconsin and another 3 day stay in Philadelphia during a blizzard that actually shut down absolutely everything in the City of Brotherly Love except for our !#*&;$%#@%ing show, including the bank next door to our venue. I've never wanted to be in finance so much in my life.
Some people (read: Northerners, people of Scandinavian descent, and genuinely insane persons) say that I should be grateful, because in the past few years that I have lived in New York City, we have had several unseasonably warm winters. I, however, was born in sunny Florida and am of Arabic and Italian stock and my thin-blooded, desert-tent-dwelling DNA absolutely hates winter and the frigid horse of the apocalypse it rode in on. In my opinion, a winter isn't unseasonably warm unless you can actually wear sandals every day between November 15th and April 30th.
I guess this is all to say that we can't always escape the flu-infested, freezing cold death traps that are the subway stations during these awful, awful winter months, but we can take care of ourselves. So here are some things we should all (all, I say, and not just those of us who use our voices for a living!) be doing to take care of our larynxes and our health in general. Because your body is your instrument, bitches, and would you just let a Steinway hang out without a coat at 3am on a snowy night between 8th and 9th on 47th Street?
Stop clearing your throat.
This is tough one, you guys. The second you start feeling that tickle in the back of your throat when you wake up on that first freezing cold morning and your radiator is going full blast and your apartment is full of dry heat and all you want to do is hack some of that weird stuff up... DON'T. Resist. Drink some water. Drink a lot of water. Wake up fifteen extra minutes early to drink so much water that you have to pee 3 times before you leave the house. Cut through that gunk in your throat with some lemon juice in your water! Take an extra long steamy shower. But don't clear your throat. Don't smack your vocal folds together like they're cheap plastic castanets. Choosing to swallow instead whenever you have the urge to clear your throat is a healthy alternative. Not losing your voice later that same afternoon will make it all worth while. And did I mention drink more water? Just go drink some now. Seriously.
Wear a scarf.
Even if you're outside just for a second to run to the bodega or the laundromat or to get the mail. The muscles around your vocal chords will tighten in response to walking in cold or windy temperatures without the warmth of a scarf and cause unnecessary strain. Also, having a scarf near your mouth when walking in the cold will warm the air near your mouth before you inhale and that icy air has a chance to reach your throat and lungs.
Ugh. My least favorite solution to throat problems. I would rather drink fifty cups of throat coat tea before resorting to total vocal rest because I just love to talk. And talk and talk and talk. But that is the worst. Stop talking. Are you talking/singing/using your voice in literally any way whatsoever in a show during the winter? Stop talking all the freaking time. Shut up for an hour or so. It will save your life. Stop talking over things. Don't have phone conversations with your mom while walking down the sidewalk next to all that construction. Have that phone conversation at home. Where there are no jackhammers. Hopefully.
Don't drink a bottle of wine and then yell over the music at the bar when you aren't feeling absolutely your best. This is a case where I can really stand to listen to my own advice, but truly - learn from me, people. Don't do this. When your immune system isn't happy with you, giving it a bottle of wine and an evening out will just make it angrier. Did I mention drinking water?
Also, karaoke. Don't do that. Really. No karaoke.
We forget on a day to day basis how much our posture affects our speaking voice. And it is our everyday speaking voice that is often our biggest problem. Actors focus on their breath and projection when on stage, and singers know where to place their voice while singing, but all of us revert to our worst habits when calling to place an order for pizza. If I could enroll the entire world in an Alexander Technique class, and then teach it to sing, preferably on a mountaintop, while holding hands in a multicultural way, I would do so. But until then, I would be happy if everyone just stood comfortably erect and always spoke with ease.
If it hurts, don't do it.
Possibly the most important vocal health tip, and the easiest to overlook. I get it. Sometimes you have to just get through that show, or that audition, or that rehearsal. But if it really hurts, you really shouldn't be doing it. If it's a rehearsal, you should be able to mark it until you're better. If it's an audition, you need to weigh the pros of getting through it to the cons of possibly hurting yourself in the process. If it's a show, do you have an understudy? And in the very incredibly likely case of: "obviously not, an understudy, are you kidding me?!", a much stricter regimen of vocal rest before and after the performance should be employed. So much good vocal health is common sense, but it is easy to take this complex instrument - our voice - for granted. Look what happened to the Little Mermaid when she did that. Let this be a PSA for vocal health, kids: don't be like Ariel. Take care of your voice. Especially in the winter.
I leave you with my new favorite exchange ever between two kindergarten kids that I had the pleasure of witnessing yesterday at my teaching job. This is a 100% real conversation, you guys. I swear.
Kid 1, William: Who is this song by?
Me: A very famous composer named Mozart.
William: Oh I know Mozart. His first names are Wolfgang Amadeus.
Me: That's exactly right!
Kid 2, Jacob: Was Mozart as famous as Abraham Lincoln?
William: Oh yeah, but he wasn't a president.
Jacob: Are you sure? I think he was a president.
William: No, they didn't have presidents in Europe back then. They just had kings and queens.
Jacob: How do you know that? I think they had presidents.
William: Nope. I know history, and that's what matters.
Jacob (with deep respect): Do you know Star Wars?
ALISHA GIAMPOLA is an NYC based actor/teacher/writer who had a genuine vocal injury one time and it sucked, so when she says you should go drink a glass of water, you probably should.
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