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Student who smokes

I have a college student who is smoking cigerettes and doing some pot. He openly admits it, and his voice is getting lower and he feels like there is lots of flem in his throat. He went to a doctor, he gave him some mucinex which dries out your throat. I'm wondering what to do with him. We're singing half-voice, and I've told him to drink water, rest his voice and ideally stop smoking. Does anyone have any experience with this? Any advice would be appreciated.

on August 5, 2012 4:05am
Is he a voice major, or is it an extra curricular choral society you have? Is he a tenor or bass?
I'm a singer, and occasional smoker, both filtered, and, uh, unfiltered. I sing for work, and definitely feel the effect of the cigarettes singing the night after, and up to five nights after smoking. If it's for an important gig, I'll cut out the smokes for a week or so beforehand, but if it's not, I may still go out and have a few cigarettes the night before work.

What's his opinion of it? Does he care about his voice, or does he feel there's an acceptable level or quality he can still attain after smoking? As a colleger, he might just drop the weed after graduating, maybe same with the tobacco, unless he's an addict.
You can't really force him to do anything, he'll have to decide to quit on his own, or at least to learn how to manage it so it doesn't affect his singing.
on August 5, 2012 4:51am
Who has said that Mucinex "dries out your throat"? Mucinex liquifies mucus so that it can be expelled by coughing. Is this student thinking that taking a pill will alleviate the damage that he is doing by smoking?
I don't know what technique you are using when you say "singing half-voice" but generally attempting to produce sound in ways other than using good breath support techniques and standard vocal hygeine cause more strain than relief to an already damaged vocal mechanism. Using "half-voice" doesn't "rest his voice", and more likely irritates it more. 
If he wants to sing, he has to stop smoking. If he wants to smoke and whatever else, he is jeopardizing his ability to sing. I think it is incumbent upon you as his interested teacher to provide every possiblty for him to kick his habit. There are free clinics in most big cities and  there should also be services available through college medical services, and there are also many types of help available for smokers. 
Tragically, there are various levels of addiction, and some people who become smokers encounter serious roadblocks to quitting, and some die because they could not quit.
Applauded by an audience of 4
on August 5, 2012 3:51pm
I would echo everything Ann said.  If he is a voice major, I would give him an ultimatim: quit smoking or quit the program.  I'm not saying "abandon him," but let him know there's a time limit.  If he's having this much trouble as a college student, he will never have a career as a singer.  If he's not a voice major, he's still doing horrible damage to his health and probably won't even be an avocational singer for long.  
In either case you should urge him to see an otolaryngologist as soon as possible because he may already have damage that may yet be reversed.
on August 5, 2012 4:49pm
My spouse is an ENT physicain.  Most of his CANCER patients are smokers. Former and current smokers. 'Nuff said about that.
Regardless, your student CANNOT be a professional singer--soloist or choral--if he continues to smoke.  Period. The End. Anyone who smokes cannot be reliable as far as singing is concerned.  I wouldn't hire a smoker, myself, because I know I may not be able to count on them. 
As far as technique is concerned, breath control goes out the window if you smoke--so forget about anything with runs.  Half-voice or whole-voice, I'm not sure it matters.  Drinking water will dilute the phlegm but what's the point?
I know I sound pessimistic but, knowing what I know and what I've seen, I think your student has to make a decision--either smoke or have a singing career.  If it's already affecting his range, it doesn't seem too hopeful to me.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on August 5, 2012 6:05pm
Experience? I should say!  Me for instance! I smoked for 35+ years.  Quit cold turkey (as they used to call it!) about 8 years ago.  I won't bother you with the clinical reasons...but most folks who read this can probably figure them out.  So, am I qualified to put in my two cents?  
Smoking has affected my singing thus:  Many days I own some great tones when I sing...know what I mean?...other days I have practically nothing...and I mean nothing!  My voice is lower and weaker, generally,  than ever before.
Half - voice is almost always with me...(even in my speaking).  And breathing is an issue, too, as you might well imagine.  There is, simply, less air for me. But singing is still my best friend...that, and playing a wind instrument in a local band...They are great therapy for me. I'm convinced they really aid my breathing!
Now, I want you to know that when I quit smoking I promised myself I'd never preach to smokers about quitting.  And I haven't.  How hypocritical  would that be? I have, however, pleaded my own mea culpas to family and friends about all my 35 years of smoking. 
That said...I have to ask...
Does the student in question smoke before rehearsals or lessons? Can you tell?  Does the cigarette odor follow him? (I can tell several minutes after a smoker has left the area, can you?) Do other singers notice it?  Does it bother them?...Do they have to walk through his smoke outside when they enter the building?  Any or all of the above? Some second-hand smoke here, people!   Are the rest of the singers his friends?  If so, maybe someone could speak to him, friend to friend.   Who will step up?  Maybe teacher can get the ball rolling! eh?
...and the pot?  well, it is what it is...and, sorry to say, you can't watch this fellow 24/7. 
And, not to be flippant...but someone should buy him a pack of Nicorette ... don't preach...merely make a suggestion, as a friend,  that he try it. 
Finally...I really don't know why I smoked...but it all started in college...a lot of us smoked then.  Following the crowd, don't you know.  Today it's almost the exception in places...too many, but not so many smokers around like before...but for a music student, particularly a's a no-brainer!  Right?
All best to you and your student...
on August 6, 2012 9:24am
I agree that singing and smoking are very poor bedfellows !
If he saw the blackened-lung photos of some smokers' lungs, how would he feel?  (Physicians, please confirm this, but I believe the inside of our lungs - regardless of race/ethnicity - should be a healthy rose-pink.)
Also, as Thomas mentioned, he is likely interfering with the breathing rights of others around him. 
Personally, in the 7th grade, I chose to walk a mile home rather than breathe the smoke from the teen smokers on my bus.  This was after being hospitalized with pneumonia and a collapsed lung - twice!  My first voice teacher had  had childhood emphysema.  We both agreed that our early sicknesses affected the elasticity of our lungs - hence our phrase-length.
If you, or someone else, wishes to have a conversation with him about addiction, there are lots of things available for examples/research.  Here is the link for the paper by  Dr. John Slade, the late husband of recently-retired Princeton Pro Musica Director, Frances Fowler Slade.  John was a Harvard-educated physician, and a compassiontate man who devoted his life to this study, and getting legislation passed that helped the world to be healthier.
But..."Yes, Virginia!"...there is certainly hope!   I learned to sing the long runs in "Rejoice Greatly" from Messiah in one breath!  I got a review after singing Mozart's "Laudate Dominum" from Solemn Vespers ...".she handled the fiendishly difficult phrases with aplomb". [Yes, you can celebrate that victory with me; here is your glass of cyber-champagne - non-habit-forming and does not affect the voice! ]  But it took lots of work on breathing!!  I still swim, or do lung stretches, every day; it's necessary for success.  If I had smoked anything, I do not think I would have even been able to start a singing career.
He may feel that he needs to smoke these things - and there are countless studies on the negative affects of both - but I doubt he really does.  Maybe he needs a set of more-supportive friends who do not expect this.  [We think (those of us in "advanced nations" ) that we are beyond slave-bondage...but, are we? ...if a little stick of rolled paper with substances has strong influence over us? ] 
He is a singer - that's "cool" enough!  And if the pot is to "enhance creativity", assure him that if he simply takes time to let his imagination go to wonderful places it will - with no 'enhancements"! :)  Maybe his first fun/pop song could be: 
I hope to see his name on a program/poster as simply _____   ________ [ fill in his name ] not as _______   ________ , affected by cigs/drugs!  ;)
Best Wishes to you both,
on August 6, 2012 3:51pm
I do have smokers in some of my choirs (community, amateur) and don't think that many of the above points apply (it's not their profession, they are not students, etc)
BUT I do have coplaints from singers who sit beside those smokers! (following up on Thomas questions)
Keeping the section in a good and 'healthy' mood is for me more important than the health choices those individual singers make.
In all my choirs, there are concert protocolls 'don't wear heavy scents'  - 'put on a discreet deo' - etc and I think 'don't smoke right before the concert/rehearsal' should be added there!
I actually talk to individual singers discreetly and say 'could you please make sure you shower before the concert' - 'could you please make sure that your shirt is washed before the concert'
I have not yet come across a soloist who smokes, and I would only hire the person once, as I don't want to have a smok-ey person beside me on stage.
(I smoked from about 22 to 28 (the 'good' handrolled stuff, no filter)  and sang professionally in choirs, several of my colleagues smoked too)
on August 7, 2012 5:13am
Historically, many great singers have smoked for long periods of their lives: Caruso, Caballe, Fischer-Dieskau, Hotter, Windgassen, and on.  That doesn't matter.  We have known for many years that smoking causes many health problems.  Many health problems interfere with good singing, whether it is something simple like extra mucus or something really serious like diminished aerobic capacity.  Smoking is plain stupid. Why it is still legal is a mystery to me.  I did it for sixteen years and quit on the same day my dad did; the day a mass was found in one of his lungs, which lead to a diagnosis of interstitial fibrosis. Because of great sickness care, it took four years for him to suffocate to death.
If this student wants to study with you, tell him that you don't each smokers, period.  If he values your expertise, he will quit.  Otherwise, he is not serious about studying singing.
on August 7, 2012 5:46pm
Wow! You guys have given me so much, thank you SO much! He is not a music major. He used to be a jazz comp major, he switched but loves to sing. He's 22-23, and will graduate in December so I have a limited time with him, but he has the potential to be a great singer. He is/was a tenor but his high range has gotten smaller. I am not a smoker so I don't have the experience of quitting, which is why I've not "attacked" his smoking habits, but rather explained that it is not healthy for your lungs. Again, I am grateful for all your responses. Thank you!
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