Working with aging voices successfully can mean the difference between a healthy, stable (or even growing!) choir, and frustrated, tired choir members.
All of our voices are always aging, so developing good singing habits early can prolong and even improve our vocal health.
If you’ve not developed these habits already, it’s never too late to start!
Here are 5 successful strategies for working with aging voices.
1. Warm up AND Cool down
It’s no secret that, as choir directors, we have a finite amount of useful time to work with our choirs, and some of us skip or reduce our vocal warmup time in the interest of preserving available content rehearsal time and vocal strength.
Think of the voice as a muscle. It needs to warm up, AND cool down to be most effective and to preserve strength and elasticity.
Plan for a minimum of 15 minutes (25 is even better!) to fully warm up our singing voices.
No, talking all day before an evening rehearsal has not helped us warm up our voices! If anything, talking is more straining than just about anything else we do with our voice, so it is imperative that we gently warm up our voices for good singing.
Find, or write, some exercises that focus on slow range extension both up AND down, vocal agility and ear training.
When we engage our brains and our listening, we focus our technique, and this pays great dividends for the remainder of our precious rehearsal time together.
At the end of rehearsal, spend 5 minutes on breathing and diaphragmatic strength exercise in a comfortable vocal range – this keeps the vocal apparatus from rebounding too quickly to our daily talking routines.
2. Singing on the Breath
All good singing comes from good breathing.
Incorporate breathing exercises into our warmup routines and make sure all of our choir members are singing ON the breath, engaging our diaphragm rather than our throats for power and projection.
There is a reason that so many of us who are aging engage in Tai Chi for health and well being, and breathing is a central component of this art.
Spending too much breath results in a “breathy” and unsupported tone, and quickly dries out our vocal tools. Not utilizing enough breath weakens our tone and makes us muscularly tired quickly.
A good place to start with the breath/body connection if you’re not familiar with how to adequately sing on the breath is learning about and experiencing The Alexander Technique – it will change your life!
3. Range Awareness
Aging voices often have difficulty with both high notes (that many of us used to sing with ease) and low notes (often due to loss of elasticity of our vocal apparatus).
Trying to force aging voices that are not adequately conditioned to sing notes beyond our healthy ranges can cause or accelerate vocal damage, so be aware of the useful and comfortable ranges of each of your choir members.
If time permits, schedule 5-minute sessions with each choir member individually where you can evaluate their useful range, where they may be straining, and where they may be utilizing poor technique.
EVEN IF it means giving up an entire evening of rehearsal one week to do this, you will find this information invaluable, not only in repertoire selection, but if you plan to do this annually or semi-annually, you can trend the vocal health of your choir and potentially identify areas for improvement that are common among choir members, and plan your vocal warmups each week according to the needs of your specific choir.
This personalized attention is a great way to know your choir and to know their voices well.
4. Focus on Diction
Good diction helps us project the message of our music much better than volume alone.
Clear and crisp consonants with unified vowels bring out the message of the music at a much lower volume and give us the ability to have greater dynamic contrast.
As we age, we often lose focus on our diction in our general speech as well as our singing, and a renewed focus on clear diction engages our brain and our singing – both of which are great therapy for our aging bodies!
The older we get, the less our bodies recover from use.
Remember thinking about our voice as a muscle? A dried out muscle loses elasticity as well as strength and begins to produce acid, which further weakens the muscle’s ability to function at that moment.
Our voices are much the same – encourage your choir members to drink small amounts of water regularly throughout rehearsal – not big gulps when they start feeling dry.
Staying ahead of dehydration keeps us healthy and allows our voices to function stronger and longer.
In all, find what works best for your particular choir when it comes to your leading ability. And make sure to be vigilant about vocal health.
And as always, practice what you preach – your actions in how you approach your own voice speaks louder volumes than you can ever achieve with words!
About The Author: Adam Tavolaro is an energetic and experienced leader who is passionate about collaborating with others in a 21st-century vision for how we live, grow and serve together in community. As a musician, artist and leadership structure enthusiast, he is passionately connected to authenticity and connecting people to Christ and to one another.
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