Winter Weather and the Voice
Very often, I am asked about proper care of the voice and if it's necessarry to do certain things in order to maintain a healthy larynx. Of course, the general answer is YES, but there are many ways to go about this. Vocal health and maintenence aren't always a one-size-fits-all solution. Because we're dealing with an organic instrument within the body, a lot of success depends on an individual's biology.
That being said, there are some basic ideas that are good to put into practice - especially during the winter months where it can get brutally cold and also somewhat dry. The biggest advice I give to everyone who sings is to always keep the back part of the neck warm when going outside during the cold months. Cold weather seems to affect us all equally. The constrictors in the back of the neck will do their job VERY efficiently and will tighten up in the cold. This leads to a variety of issues. Our posture can suffer because we're hunching to instinctively protect ourselves from the weather, and our constrictors in the neck will put up a fight when it comes to stretching and elongating while singing. Fortunately, there's an easy way to combat this - WEAR A SCARF! Or, at the very least, invest in a big, puffy coat that covers your neck, has a hood, and zips up to cover part of your face a-la- Kenny from South Park. The great tenor, Pavorotti, was very attuned to how his neck muscles responded to any climate change - so much, in fact, that he once famously asked a large Vegas casino to shut off the air conditioning when he was a guest there. Not everyone is this sensitive, but when you're a singer and your work is on the line, it can pay to be very cautious!
No one needs to go to these extremes on a daily basis, but a little mindfulness never hurts. If you should find yourself in a situation where your constrictors have bunched up on you due to cold weather, first, get yourself to a warm place. Second, try to relax, both mentally and physically. Deep breathing exercises can help (my favorite is the 4-7-8 method) and also some light massage should help the neck to relax. You can do this while singing too. While warming up, feel for the large, bulbous muscle at the back of your neck. It's close to the C7 vertebrae. While singing, gently massage the area. You should start to feel the muscle let go and begin to stretch again. The idea is to get things back to the warm, pliable state that your neck was in before you froze!
In addition to neck and muscle issues, the winter season hits us in the lovely form of respiratory illness. The common cold can be anything from a mild nuisance to a panic-inducing event for a singer. Every singer I have known has a different go-to remedy when upper respiratory sickness hits. Some people swear by essential oils, some have an affinity for herbal supplements, and others go for steaming/sweating the sickness out. Obviously, if your cold turns into something more serious like bronchitis, strep throat, sinus infection, etc., it is best to contact your physician. But for the basic common cold/viral infection, you might have to try different things. The main goal when feeling sick and having to sing is to stay properly hydrated. Things like having a bowl of hot soup are a great idea because the soup promotes hydration, and the steam can open up sinus passages. I always recommend a good steam. It's the best, drug-free way to get the swelling in your sinuses and airways to decrease. Please note though, that after steaming, you should wait about 20 -30 minutes before venturing out into the cold weather. Rapid changes in temperature can sometimes make symptoms feel worse. And when you DO go back out into the cold, COVER YOUR NECK!