Singer behavior: Water containers on stage
Many thanks to all of you who responded to my post of 11/22/04 re: the
etiquette of water consumption during performances. As you can see this is
quite a lengthy post as there were statements on both sides of the issue.
As more comments come in, I will share them with you.
The comments are as follows:
If the room is dry, or I am a bit dried out, I always carry water when I
sing solo. Of course, I use a nice container. I would much rather be able
to refresh my throat than worry about how it looks to carry water.
Hope that helped, but that is from the singer's perspective.
This is always an issue here in Alberta where it is very dry in the winter.
I agree with you that it doesn't look very professional to be slugging
water out of large bottles. Usually, soloists for works like Messiah are
provided with glasses of water beside their chairs. The choir has to make
it through because drinking water in view of the audience just doesn't look
good. The only exceptions have been holiday concerts my choir has done
with the symphony. For some orchestral pieces or works for soloist and
orchestra, the choir loft is darkened and then the choir members can sneak
a drink from a water bottle while they're in the dark. But the one-liter
7-Up bottle definitely has to go!
> I find this practice in questionable taste.
I think that's something you could get over, Laddie. :-)
Modern science has confirmed the benefits of keeping your vocal instrument
properly hydrated. There are additional benefits, such as for people who
have a "tickle" in their throat...it's FAR better to let them take a sip of
water than to have them trying to suppress a cough, which almost inevitably
leads to worse coughing.
> Have any of you had experiences such as these with the bottles
> of water? What alternative suggestions do you have that could be given
> the singers?
Rather than an outright ban, try compromising a bit. For example, you could
allow water as long as it was in discreet, unlabled containers. I have
taken the labels off of bottled water in the past and taken the bottle on
stage. You could clarify that the water should be used only with
discretion...soloists could take a sip during a chorus and vice versa, but
only if the singer feels that they're getting dehydrated or a throat
tickle. Also, assuming that your performance includes an intermission,
encourage them to drink during that break instead. Also, you might
encourage them to use small cough drops as a first recourse instead of
going straight for the watter bottle. I've taken Halls (due to the wax
paper...no noise) cough drops on stage that I've already reduced in size
(earlier). I find that a small piece of cough drop is just as effective as
a sip of water for warding off throat-tickle coughs and it generates enough
saliva to keep the vocal tract moist.
I think this kind of behavior is unprofessional, rude, and just plain bad
I would, if in your position, establish some ground rules about this and
just put a stop to it. You could say that no drinks of any kind or food are
aloud in the sanctuary or chancel. Perhaps get your pastor to back
you up before making a statement. If he or she isn't willing to do this,
just say it is a "(new) policy" without saying who has established it. You
could encourage your singers to take a drink of water before
heading into church and before a performance and leave the bottle
elsewhere. Did they ask you if this transporting and drinking of bottled
water under the circumstances you describe was permissible? Before bottled
water became the rage, singers did very well. To my mind, this is just
another example of the dumbing down of American society and culture.
I have conducted both church and secular choirs for over 25 years and have
never had this problem to contend with.
Personally, as a semi-professional singer, I do not think the bottle water
is making a musician
non-professional. Maybe in the Alter when the water is not allowed, you
can tell the singers about that
rule. I think if the church does not mind, the conductor should allow the
singer to have a sip of the
water when needed. Especially for some churches do burn incense and it can
be irritating and water does
help. Camera should be the least of a conductor's concern. What you might
want to do is provide the
bottled water with less 'visible' color. I guess bright green 7-Up bottle
can be too much.
Except opera performance, I have seen many world class professional singers
This is also a fetish among barbershoppers, including many in the Sweet
Adelines chorus I directed for 2 years, but that's all it is. However, I
also learned from them that the important thing is to get the water into
the body on a regular basis so hydration will last through a concert (or
service). It is not necessary to "top it
off" every time you have a rest! It goes into the stomach, not into the
"vocal tract," where, in fact, it would cause severe coughing and symptoms
of drowning if it were present!
Now I'm not medical in any way, and you might want to get advice from
someone who is. However, you are certainly entitled to maintain
professional appearance and activity during your performances, in the
absence of a doctor's "prescription" requiring sips of water every 60
While a seven-up bottle is in poor taste, having water on stage or even in
the chancel is certainly not. Ministers almost always have water on the
pulpit, as do many professional speakers. It's a necessary thing,
especially if the room is dry, as they often are. I drink water every time
I sing, although I use a
small, discreet, clear and unlabled container.
Just last week, the great Shakespearean actor Samuel West was here in
Dallas to perform,and he had a glass of water by his chair, as did the
famed soprano Christine Brewer when she sang the Verdi Requiem here.
My understanding on this is that it's completely diva behavior. It has no
basis in reality. It's just a way to say "I'm a star" in a non-verbal
mode. Hydration occurs best in the body when larger amounts of water are
ingested at wider intervals. This is research that began in the field of
athletics, but it still applies to the human body in general, assuming the
singer is.. uh.. human. In other words, human bodies were shown to be more
completely hydrated when the subject drank, say 32 ounces of water in the
morning and then 16 ounces at two-
to three- hour intervals after that. As opposed to drinking an 8 ounce
glass of water every hour or sipping water constantly. If you've ever
tried to just stand and drink 32 ounces of water, it's a lot. But the
point is that it's supposed to be a lot, not a wimpy little sipping stream.
In other words, if the body is forced to mobilize and process a large
amount of water, it does so quite efficiently in order to get the matter
solved, and the tissues benefit the most. Sipping has virtually no effect
on the hydration level in the body, since small amounts of water don't
trigger a response, and can simply pass right through into the bladder
without having an effect. I hope this is corroborated by other writers, I
do remember reading the studies at one time, but have lost track of them at
I'm sure you'll hear the following from many of our colleagues: the singer
may keep a glass of water under or beside the chair and take a sip from it
whenever it's needed. No bottles or straws or other paraphernalia!
You idea that sipping water by those in performance is crudely out of date.
With everyone concerned about their health, we entered a new age of
"availability" many years ago, when bottled water became a marketable
commodity. If you are so concerned about sipping of water, perhaps you
should be more concerned about the humidity,
temperature and especially ventilation of the venue, including the
performance area. Many are overheated this time of year, and have very
poor ventilation-actually little or no air movement at all with radiant
heating. I venture to say, we all come to hear the music, not to judge
the manners of the performers, especially in regard to "sipping water". In
my opinion your thoughts are way out of date, your concern should be for
the comfort of your singers so that they may perform at their optimum.
It's not tactful to bring water bottles on stage. It is unprofessional.
All of my college teachers agree with this, although one said that if it is
necessary, then have a chalice or beautiful glass behind a vase of
flowers to sip from only when needed. The professional singer shouldn't
have to resort to this, though.
Your question really startled me. I guess I am so used to seeing singers
with water bottles that it didn't really occur to me that it might be in
poor taste. But now that I have thought about it as a result of your post,
I can see where it can be potentially distracting to an audience for a
singer to lean down and pick up a water bottle and take a swig.
But the alternative is to have a parched and unhappy singer with a
non-lubricated larynx. If I had to choose, then I would let the bottles be
and expect the audience to get used to them just as I have.
For my performances, soloists have glasses of water under their chairs.
Solves the problem without looking as bad as bottles.
when in performance situations, i always have a glass of water with ice for
each soloist, and a pitcher of water nearby in case there is a need for
more. this looks like it's planned and acceptable. bottled water looks a
little "sports event" in my opinion. just a plain, clear glass with some
water, and maybe a few ice cubes next to the chair gives an appearance that
it is a courtesy given the performer by the presenter.
there's my two cents.
I heard a veteran soprano of the Met give an "etiquette talk" to the
contestants of a vocal competition about a year ago... her paraphrased
"I never heard of a singer dying of dehydration from one performance. Leave
the water backstage."
It's my rule of thumb with me and my students.
I see no difference between this and the lecturer who continually sips from
a glass of water during a speech. Even the presidential candidates did
this during the debates. On the other hand, tradition does produce
some interesting behaviors, and they are not necessarily healthy.
I've long since gotten over being scandalized by water in the sanctuary. In
fact, I prefer to control it rather than ignore it or pray that it would go
away. For years, preachers have had glasses and pitchers of water
accessible to them in the sanctuary, so why not singers?
It was when I began experiencing medication-related hydration problems that
I became convinced to ease up. Granted, I agree that the liter bottle was a
little overboard, but you can believe that any of your soloists who sing
opera or recitals have a bottle of water waiting for them in the wings!
When I produce a concert with guest vocal artists, I provide water for
Perhaps you might look into providing small spray bottles of "Entertainers'
Secret" by KLI Corporation in Carmel, Indiana. Entertainers Secret will go
a long way toward maintaining a good moisture level in the mouth and
pharynx, places where singers tend to experience hydration problems. And
finally, it doesn't hurt to remind your singers as a group that good
hydration begins at home from the moment they awake. Waiting until warmup
and performance time alone will do nothing to improve or maintain
In every choir I have sung in; every situation and every context, I have
always been allowed water on stage to sip during rehearsals and in some
cases (subtly) during performances. Either I've brought it with me or it
has been provided.
Some situations are different than others. At St. Olaf, water was not
allowed during the concert - but we almost always had an intermission
during which to take a few gulps. The Kansas City Chorale actually had
bottles of water next to our stands during performances, including one of
the Messiah. Not televised, but during a ticket paying venue. Carmina
Burana with the Honolulu Symphony Chorus had water on-stage. When I was
singing with Eph Ehly, I think I was drinking scotch and soda... But then
again, I was a grad student. :)
I personally have never found the practice of sipping water during a
long performance to be in questionable taste, but I do find the "Giant 7-UP
bottle" more than a little disconcerting. My suggestion would be to head
them off at the pass and provide a pint bottle of water discretely hidden
beneath a pew or something in as tiny and non-descript a container as
possible. I don't know that you can (or should) prevent a whistle-wetting
during something like the Messiah (especially if you're gonna do all 3
parts... ) but you should be able to really downplay the way sipping
appears from the audience.
Just my 2 cents...
I don't know whether it is due to altitude or a changing perception of the
importance of hydration, but my attitude on this topic has changed
considerably over the past 15 years. I used to think that it was a gauche
and inappropriate distraction for singers to have water on stage or in the
Chancel, but now I take a water bottle with me into church almost every
Sunday and encourage my singing colleagues to do the same. Rather than ban
the practice I encourage singers to take a modest (7 liters does sound
excessive) and unobtrusive water container with them if they think they
need it. For extremely long performances, I suggest that they need it.
That said, we also talk about the etiquette of how to manage same.
Dehydration is a problem in the Rocky Mountains and it is not unusual for
visiting flatlander choirs to have a singer or two drop off during a long
concert, with dehydration being a contributing factor. The advancement of
vocal pedagogy has taught us a lot in recent years about the importance of
hydration. I would suggest that you might set a normative standard that
supports your singer's health and comfort. If it is a really high class
environment, perhaps you could require Perrier! That, or give them short
breaks to go off stage more frequently.
POOR TASTE! I can understand a glass, but sucking from a bottle is cheesy.
What did we all do prior to the current water-drinking fadwas everything
awful 'way back when'?
At a high altitude, thin air and little humidity water bottles are a
necessity during rehearsals and even performances. I tell the chorus to be
discreet and only drink after a selection is sung and not during a solo.
Usually this is when people are looking at their programs to see what's
next. Sometimes the orchestra needs to tune (not that often) but it is
somewhat in the same vein. I have bought some bottled water - the 8oz.
variety so that they all look the same and no one is taking a jug with them
on stage. Finally, I suggest they tip the bottle and not their heads when
drinking. Most of these suggestions work - I try to convince them not to
attract attention when drinking, scratching, or picking....they appreciate
the humor and take the hint.
I'll bet you're not a singer, are you?
Both research and common practice have made it eminently advisable to keep
the voice well hydrated before and during extended singing. Almost all of
my music majors bring water bottles to rehearsals, and I
encourage it. Soloists find a way to discretely take sips at concerts.
At solo recitals I have seen professionals take sips between numbers from
an attractive water container (glass), sometimes placed on a small but
Messiah is a very long work, and period sips, if done discretely should be
A 7-up bottle is decidedly unsuitable, however. Tell your soloists to have
something attractive from which to sip, and 2 liters is hardly the size
needed. I worry about your tenor needing a bathroom break in the midst of
an aria after consuming such a quantity of liquid!
So, yes, talk to your soloists about this at the first rehearsal - it has
become a matter of concert etiquette and they should be professional enough
to understand your concerns. But you should understand that water helps to
improve the concert.
Regarding choral singers, the key is to be discrete when sipping and to use
a container which does not draw attention to itself either by size or
design. To make a big deal of this is to detract from worship
(and/or performance), which is, of course, not the ideal plan.
Provide small bottles for them. (6 oz or 8 oz.) Remind them that they
can't rehydrate tissue very quickly; to "keep the vocal tract moistened" is
all they can do. Choral singers can pop a tiny lozenge to stimulate saliva
in between choruses, IF they are comfortable with that. Urge them to be
I have a singer who brings water. She is in the chorus of Lyric Opera of
Chicago. When she is singing a lot, she is unwilling to risk her vocal help
by dehydrating. My other singers take license, and copy her, even though
she is the only one who sings for hours each day, days in a row, for a
living. Some folks passionately believe what we've been told recently: our
body is a sieve that will shrivel and die without 14-18 imperial gallons of
unadulterated water each day. (I sang with a cantor, former Met Opera guy.
He smoked between services. He drank, but not water, If You Know What I
Mean, and hated the taste of plain water. Beautiful voice at age 50+. We
sang 6 or 7 services in a row on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Bottled
water was not in vogue yet. No one died or choked or coughed that I
recall.) I think the whole thing is silly, except for a very few people
(with all the medicines today some of our singers are undoubtedly truly
suffering from dry-mouth as a side effect.) This generation is the most
over hydrated in history. I won't however, risk offending anyone in choir
by saying this. Thanks for letting me vent.
I didn't post this. I can't be this opinionated on line!
By all means, let them drink-it's healthy! Just ask them to
be discreet about the drinking and the container. Our community choir
always makes it a point to buy several flats of water to have on hand
on concert night as heated buildings always dry out the air and hence the
Laddie P. Bell, Jr., Ph.D.
Minister of Music
Northeastern Presbyterian Church
Below are a few comments that arrived after I posted the first compilation.
Although drinking water while you are performing does not actually moisten
the vocal tract, it does help many people swallow enough to avoid clearing
their throats when they're nervous. If you clear your throat, the stuff
will just keep sliding back down and get in the way. Not to mention the
fact that the actual action of clearing your throat is damaging.
For many it's a security blanket. I would not mess with that.
Actually, I would not do ANYTHING to change the routine of a ANY singer.
They are taking care of their instrument to the best of their ability. If
it works for them, it should be allowed. You wouldn't ask a french hornist
to "hold the spit valve" because the lady in the front row thinks it's
gross. The best you can hope for is to insist that they carry attractive
water bottles - black or clear, not garish with logos on them.
Drinking water during performance is a well accepted crutch for vocalists
and speakers alike. I wouldn't change a thing.
This reminds me of a concert given in Ann Abor, Michigan, by Accentus, a
very impressive French choir. Many of the singers had water bottles
sitting at their feet, and they drank from them. Usually, this was
discrete, but not always. I thought it detracted from an otherwise very
well delivered concert. I was surprised; usually one thinks the
domestic musicians are going to be the ones without class, not the
I'm a singer and a voice teacher. I think it is a bad and unnecessary
that of drinking water constantly when one has to perform...I've seen
singers sipping in between measures, almost using every rest to take a sip
Contrary to what some of your responses say the reseach indicates that,
please folks, read some books on vocal pedagogy before you make such
statements) as someone stated very eloquently, for the human body to
you need to drink large ammounts of fluids over a long period of time, for
example one week or more leading to a performance. The sipping during a
performance has very little effect on hydration.
Dehydration is not the matter here, what singers experience is dry mouth!
This is NOT dehydration. The dry mounth syndrome is an indicator of poor
vocal technique. The mouth and the rest of the vocal tract have its own
built in lurbricant: saliva!!! Good vocal technique favors overproduction
of saliva, so if singing is done properly there should be no need for any
"on the spot" drinking.
I recently performed a 70 minute song recital, without intermission and
because of the fact that I did not want an intermission due to the
particular program (a song cycle) I had a nice stand with a glass of water
(no 1 liter bottles of any kind) and took one or two sips of water half way
the program...I'm talking about after 40 minutes of constant singing, not
5-minute Messiah arias!
As an advice to your singers if they experience constant dryness in their
1) Go back for more quality vocal instruction
2) During rests and times they don't sing (most of it for soloists during
major choral works) rub tongue against palate and bottom of mouth to make
sure saliva continues being produced.
I agree with the one response, keep the bottles back stage!!!
This is how our professional symphony handles the matter. For soloists
performing with our symphony, we provide a glass of water on stage (clear
glass, not plastic). For works like Messiah where the soloists are seated
on stage between their numbers the glass is placed on the floor near their
chair, but for a soloist who does not have a chair on stage but is doing an
extended work we place the glass on a stool to the side of and slightly
Many thanks again,
Laddie P. Bell, Jr., Ph.D.