Advice (from a Professional Opera Singer) on How to Get Your Voice Back

opera-1200I lost my voice completely on a book tour trip to Ft. Lauderdale this weekend. Though I’ve lost my voice very rarely (maybe one or two other times in my life), this didn’t shock me: It came at the end of a month in which I either traveled or hosted guests in my home every single day and averaged two speaking engagements per week. And I’ve been on and off the road talking about Seinfeldia for nine months now. But the inevitability of my laryngitis did not ease its effects. The weekend itinerary included speaking for an hour at a local high school, speaking on a panel at a Barnes and Noble, chatting with library foundation donors for a few hours, and then speaking to patrons at a private dinner for which they had paid significant amounts for the pleasure of my company. In other words, I couldn’t just not talk.

Lucky for me, one of my best friends is a professional opera singer and speaking coach, Melissa Collom. She gave me such good, specific advice that I thought I’d share it here. This is our text exchange that day.

Jennifer Armstrong:

Ok so I woke up with 100% laryngitis this morning and need to speak at a dinner tonight. Any tips for voice recovery?

Melissa Collom:

It’s going to be tough, but you have asked the right person. Steaming is your friend. If you don’t have a personal steamer, Bring some water to a boil then turn it off and hover over it with a towel over your head to trap the steam. Do this for about 10 minutes now and about an hour before you leave the house.

Drink about 2 L of water/herbal tea over the course of the day. Avoid caffeine and alcohol because they are dehydrating.

Herbal throat lozenges are also helpful because they stimulate saliva production and soothe the throat. Riccola or something like that.

Also, most importantly, talk as little as possible over the course of the day.

About an hour before you’re going to leave for your dinner, steam your voice then do some gentle humming. Pick a familiar song or two so  that your voice doesn’t have to work too hard to find the notes and then tried doing it in a few different ranges. Humming is a very gentle way to engage  your vocal folds.

Jennifer Armstrong:

This is wonderful, thank you!

Melissa Collom:

You’re most welcome! You may still sound like a bit like a foghorn, but hopefully you’ll be able to get some good sound out.

Jennifer Armstrong:

Well luckily there’s a steam room in my hotel so we’re off to a good start.

The next day …

Melissa Collom:

How did it go by the way?

Jennifer Armstrong:

I mean, I lived. It was more the chatting all night that killed me, but people paid to be charmed by a writer. (You know how that is.) So I powered through, my throat hurt like hell overnight, and I’m slowly recovering now. But the steam room definitely helped.

Melissa Collom:

One famous diva told me that her strategy was to load up a plate full of food and keep her mouth full the whole time so other people would have to do the talking!

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