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Singing in the morning

Hello all,
 
I just got done having a conversation with my supervisor, who is an instrumental musician.  He would like me to move my college chamber singers rehearsal from 3:00pm to 10:00am, because currently my class overlaps with Jazz Combo, and they've always had it at that time, so they get the rehearsal room.  He wants my chamber singers to have the rehearsal room for our practices too, which I appreciate.  And, a lesser concern is that students who want to participate in both groups, have to choose one or the other.
 
This is not a scheduling question at all, so please no suggestions on scheduling, alternating rehearsal spaces, etc.....
 
Here's the problem:  My supervisor does not understand the age-old problem of singing in the morning.  He is not a trained singer by any means, but he sings in his church choir, and says that, to him, it all feels the same and it doesn't matter what time of day he sings.
 
Being a non-vocalist who sings in a church choir is MUCH different than being a student in a select, auditioned ensemble that does challenging choral repertoire.  I've talked to dozens of vocalists who avoid singing in the morning like the plague.  I am one of them.  If I have to, I will wake up at least three hours before my engagement (ideally, four or five hours prior), start drinking hot fluids, talking, sighing, lip buzzing, taking breaks to allow the voice to rest, then doing it all over again, singing simple songs with narrow pitch ranges in low-medium range, and gradually working up.  It's a SLOW process.  On the flip side, if I wake up an hour before a morning rehearsal, no amount of warming up and hot water will make my voice ready for a "rigorous" rehearsal.  If I want to get any legit sound out in the morning without ample time to wake up and warm up, I need to force my voice to do things it doesn't want to do, controlling it with throat muscles, which I am quite unwilling to do in most cases.  I'm sure we've all seen students struggle through morning rehearsals, rubbing their throats, straining their necks.  I hate that.
 
Granted I know some directors - especially in public schools - don't have a choice of when they rehearse their groups, but I do.  My problem is, my supervisor wants me to move the class to the morning and does not understand why I won't do it.  When I explain why (above), he just rolls his eyes and discredits my argument.  Don't get me wrong - he's a good guy and I respect him - but he clearly doesn't understand this from a vocalist's perspective.
 
What I'm looking for from you:
A) Affirmation that I'm not crazy.
B) Thoughts, ideas, links, or materials that might help support my argument.
 
Thanks for your help!
 
Andrew
 
on January 24, 2014 8:39am
College students do NOT like getting up in the morning, and this simple fact might decrease your enrollment.  This argument may go over better than the one you are putting forward, because your supervisor knows it full well!
 
But on the other hand, many people's voices do get going a bit more easily than what you describe.  Of course we all take longer to warm up in the morning, but when I read about your long warm-up time in the mornings, an alarm bell goes off for me.  It sounds like you are doing EVERYTHING RIGHT, but it is taking a long time nonetheless.  Prolonged warm-up time in the morning can sometimes be a symptom of reflux.  This might be worth investigating, because reflux can sometimes have absolutely no symptoms OTHER than a really bad case of "morning voice." So it might be worth getting scoped just to make sure.
 
In any case, if you DO get stuck with the 10am slot, you might make it work by starting with musicianship training (including something physical and fun), and doing Dalcroze-ish things like clapping the beat while speaking the text, clapping the rhythm of the melody while stepping the beat, etc.
 
Best wishes,
Jay
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on January 24, 2014 10:01am
I symphasiize with you, and as a professional singer (voice teacher and choir director) I'm well-aware of the routine.  
No, you're not crazy !  But I do think some perspective could be added:
10:00 am is not 7am.  Many folks in the world have to get up at 5 get ready for a 6 am commute. This is not about me, but I am the nearest example I can give. :)   (For several years I taught H.S, M. S. - full-assistant, poverty area , 40-minute from my home, and was Soprano soloist/section leader at a prominent church which did or more concerts - 2 masterworks and one broadway- a year.  I was also healing from several whiplash accidents, so I had to get up and ice my neck and do specific exercises in order to keep tension away from singing. Boiling water for a neti pot, warming up in  up in the shower, were also part of the routine. ) This is not to speak competively at all; we all make our choices and have our challenges.  I sincerely respect yours.
I wish to help support your discussion, but a voice from the "real world" keeps coming back.  Also, your health/vocal routine, while admirable, may benefit from some adjustment....  ?
I am interested in why you so regularly have hot water in your routine?  If it is to loosen congestion, then perhaps some of that can be curtailed by using a humidifier, having your allergies re-checked/remedied , and doing lean-
over exercises.  There are other possible remedies.
 It is possible that, in the repeated routines you describe, the warm/hot water is actually increasing the swelling. You might consider alternating it with cool water.  (When an athlete gets swollen, it is usually recommended that they apply ice, not heat.)
Is it possible that certain aspects of your technique have held together beautifully, while others aspects have not, and some refresher lessons could help streamline your morning?
Part of learning to live as a singer is learning to weave your routine into your life.  A great thing would be for you and your students to research this together.
I don't know about your group, but I would see the 10 time as an advantage - fewer conflicts later in the day, the students are fresher, etc.  This means they will learn to warm and be prepared, if you require it if them, and I recommend that you do.  Also, it will not mean re-scheduling when they work together.
In summary, I'd suggest that you re- check your routine, technique , as well as your students, and see if strengthening and shortening the routine is possible.  If it still drives you crazy to sing/rehearsing in the morning, then simply say you are one of those who cannot.  But I would caution you about placing that on your students.  They are individuals.  Personally, while I do need a serious warm-up routine, I feel my voice is just as fresh, if not more so, earlier in the day.
Best Wishes!  Let us know how it turns out!
-Lucy (and please forgive typos- my iPad format is not too compatible...;/  )
 
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on January 24, 2014 10:38am
I agree with Lucy, generally.   Perhaps, if you can manage simple transpositions at sight, start out everything down a step or so, then as the session continues get back to normal pitch.   I actually kind of like early singing, 'cause I can get a low C sometimes as a bass, if the weather is right.   Can never do it at 3 pm or 8 pm.
 
William
on January 25, 2014 8:41am
Just a few thoughts on the ensemble needs vs. administration needs we all have to deal with from time to time:
 
1. Be thankful, as it appears you are, that you have an administrator who wants to get you in a good rehearsal space. That alone shows he is on your side as far as his own vocal knowledge will allow him.
2. As a college level voice teacher myself, I refuse, as much as possible, to schedule any voice lesson before 10:00 am. By that time, any student who is dedicated to becoming a professional musician, as should those interested in being in a chamber ensemble, will have been up long enough to clear the vocal cobwebs we all get from sleep and to vocalize beforehand. I don't buy the argument that students want to sleep in and will refuse to take a 10:00 ensemble class. They may have to learn to be responsible, but not scheduling a rehearsal for fear they will prefer to sleep in is not helping them develop the habits they are going to need in the real world. I would be more concerned about the students who have both 8:00 and 9:00 classes and legitimately won't have time to get in a good warm-up. That is a situational concern, and only you know how many of your students fall into that category.
3. What is the practice of the voice teachers at your school? When are their earliest lessons? If they consistently hold lessons at 10:00, or even earlier, you're not going to have much department culture support for not holding rehearsal at that time. If they all hold their lessons in the afternoon, you might have the support. I would not, however, poll the voice teachers. Doing so will set up a me-versus-them mindsight in your administrator. You will lose that fight everytime - in the short-term and/or long-term.
4. You might talk with your administrator about the possibility of looking at the 10:00 time as an experiment for a year. If it works well you have a good rehearsal space, if it does not you have experiential support for your argument to hold rehearsals in the afternoon. Either way, you will have shown your administrator that you are willing to work with him for the betterment of the department.
 
Good luck, and let us know how things work out for you. We would all, I'm sure, appreciate learning from your experience in this.
 
Ray
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on January 25, 2014 12:20pm
Sorry, Andrew, but I agree with the other responders here.  A rehearsal at 10:00 is not unreasonably early in the morning.  If any of your students aspire to working as professional singers, they're going to have to learn how to be ready to go at that hour.
 
 As an opera pianist, I know that most opera rehearsals start at 10am, unless the singer is called to work with the chorus in the evening (the union-mandated maximum daily call is 6 hours).  By the time the singers arrived at the rehearsal hall, most of them had been up for a couple of hours, eaten, worked out, and done whatever warmups they usually do to wake up the voice. The first day of the rehearsal period is usually a sing-through of the entire opera, starting mid-morning and going for several hours while the conductor tweaks details and discusses options with the cast, so the singers need to arrive feeling ready to go.
 
 When I did opera outreach tours, we were often on the road at 7 or 8 for a school show at 10 in the morning. Again, my colleagues all did their usual morning routine, and for some of them, they were in such good shape vocally that it didn't take long to feel ready for the morning's performance.  Still, they all made sure that they were vocally ready to do their best performance for the kids.
 
 A good friend of mine works as a professional singer/chorister in L.A., and is called for many movie soundtrack recording gigs.  He is often on the road at 7am for the commute to the studio for a 10am downbeat, which is the usual start time. He does his humming and other gentle warmups in the car during morning rush hour. 
 
 At my current position, the voice professors start lessons at 10am, and will even schedule their own practice time before their teaching schedule starts in the morning. 
 
 Although it seems like a hassle now, the scheduling change may be a blessing in disguise.  It gives you a chance to teach your students how to wake up the voice and body properly, warm up gently, and sing with healthy habits regardless of the time of day.  When they go out on their first young artist outreach tour, or their first year in their own choral classroom, they will thank you!
 
Nancy
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on January 25, 2014 12:45pm
Hi Andrew,
 
I feel for you HOWEVER, as an undergrad, our University's Chorus (the general chorus, with the underclassmen voice and choral majors as well as instrumental majors who were required to take chorus)met at 8:30 AM. Yep.....you read that right, AM!  The more advanced groups---the select chamber choir and the graduate ensemble--met later in the day.
 
I remember grumbling but we were warmed up by 8:45 AM--much longer warm ups than the advanced groups---and ready to go.  In a way, especially with beginning singers, it was genius to meet that early, since much of that warm up time was spent on basic vocal technique.
 
Most of my own career has been spent in church work, with services beginning 8:45 AM and the latest, 11 AM.  I conduct a chamber choir (with rehearsals in the evenings)now but do some freelance ringer/singer work of my own .  I have sung at 9:30 AM for funerals etc. I have sung for 8:30 AM services and 11 AM services and everytime in between....and since I am getting paid cash-money to sing at these times, I am ready to go when then tell me I need to be ready to sing.  Those darn early rehearsal as an 18/19 year old prepared me to be a professional, no matter the time.  Even now, I'm probably in the best voice about 9:30/10 AM....my body was trained that way.
 
Make it work, my friend.  Yeah, it's not ideal but in real life, it's not ideal!
 
Marie
on January 26, 2014 1:02pm
My High School Chamber Singers group rehearses at 7:30am, daily, and I often hold before school sectionals which begin at 6:45am.  Am I conscious of the fact that it's early, and that the students have not been up speaking for several hours?  Yes.  I don't do anything in extreme registrers, and I know in the first 15 minutes of rehearsal that there are more intonation issues around the passagios, etc.  But for me, amidst the many variables that contribute to a rehearsal, it's not my greatest concern.  Our school has a 'frozen' first block, where band, orchestra, choir all meet at the same time.  The biggest advantage is that other departments do not run Advanced Placement courses during this time, so there are fewer conflicts for the best students.
on January 28, 2014 8:05pm
Hi Andrew,
 
I thought I could give you a different point of view. I am a current undergraduate student, so I am experiencing this very thing you are concerned about.
 
Being properly warmed up is of upmost importance in a choral ensemble. I understand you being hesitant to move your rehearsal time to earlier in the day as this could cut into the students’ preparation time. I have to say though, that in my program many of my classes start as early as 7:45am and there is no option for a later time. Many of your students will be in similar situations so your worry about them not being awake and warmed up is not as dire as it may seem. Most if not all of your students will be taking their courses and future profession very seriously and will be certain to spend the proper time getting ready for your ensemble.
 
My basic morning routine consists of hot tea, diction exercises to prepare my voice for speaking and singing throughout the day, low range warm-ups to wake up the vocal chords and then working all the way up to simple octave leaps (since I am a soprano opening those octaves is very important). All of these things happen while on the way to class; this typically takes about a half hour until I feel I am properly prepared to sing. Many of your students will likely be doing very similar things as they have very mobile and on the move lifestyles. I have frequently had my private voice lessons take place earlier than this due to my lengthy schedule and I am always sure to be ready for the individual time with my professor. To me, 10am is not as early as it seems and to most students partaking in a vigorous major such as ours, I have to believe they would agree.
 
What I am trying to say is, if this time change occurs don’t worry too much. The students know what is expected of them and what they need to do to be properly prepared to use their instrument. If it becomes clear they are not doing what is needed, let them know, your ensemble is just as important to them as it is to you.
 
Best of luck,
Kynslie
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