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Speaking of Voice: "Advice on Rehearsal Strategies for Optimal Voice Use" by Mary Lynn Doherty

       Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to collaborate on several different projects with Miriam Van Mersbergen [1], a Speech Language Pathologist who specializes in the singing voice.  Miriam is not only a clinician, she is also a trained singer.  In this two-part entry (look for part 2 next Monday!), I will share excerpts of a recent email exchange we had regarding her perspectives on rehearsal strategies and repertoire choices. 
What are three rehearsal strategies you would recommend to conductors to support the voices of their singers?
       WARM UP.  Do not assume your singers will warm up their voices prior to rehearsal, no matter if you pay them, grade them, or bribe them.  Many singers will forget to warm up prior to rehearsal and probably never admit it.  Those who do will often warm up in less than desirable ways.  For example, many adult singers who practice once or twice per week will warm up in the car on the way to rehearsal where their attention is - and arguably should be - focused on driving and not warming the voice up.  Some will warm up at home prior to rehearsal and then spend 30 minutes driving to rehearsal, at which point, they will need to warm up again.  Warm ups should include not only individual vocal warm ups but also choral warm ups.  Choral members must first warm the voice up using simple range and resonance building techniques. Then they should focus on blending, vowel matching, entrances, cut-offs, and other technical activities.  Warming up saves time during rehearsal fixing technical issues because a well warmed up voice will set up the system for optimal functioning.
       COOL DOWN.  Especially after long rehearsals, cooling down the voice is imperative to preserve good vocal health.  In a research study conducted at the Denver Center for Performing Arts (Scherer, et al., 1986) actors who cooled their voice after four hours of loud voicing had a marked reduction in vocal symptoms the day after their intensive voice use.  Preserving vocal functioning outside of rehearsal time is imperative for optimal voice functioning in rehearsal time.  Simple lip trills and humming to bring the voice down into it’s speaking range would be a reasonable cool down at the end of a rehearsal.
       MATCH VOWELS.  Spend less time matching pitch and more time matching vowels.  When a singer is told they need to change their pitch, the focus is immediately directed toward the larynx and effort to change pitch is made laryngeally.  This effort can be taxing on the voice.  However, many pitch difficulties are a result of producing the incorrect vowel or poor vowel uniformity.  When a singer is told to focus on vowel matching their attention is directed to resonance (vowel formulation is essentially a resonance phenomenon), which primes the singer to focus on technique.  Pitch problems magically disappear without a word about pitch.