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Speaking of Voice: “Freeing the Natural Voice & Avoiding the 'I’m Sick' Syndrome” by Mary Lynn Doherty

       “Fear of losing the voice is one of the main causes of losing the voice” (Linklater, 1976, p. 196).
       Writing to you from the Chicago area, I am starting to hear birds chirping and it is no longer dark when I pick my children up after school.  Hope springs eternal!  After an exhausting season of brutally cold weather, I am reflecting on my vocal health.  After several months of extra care and attention to my health in general, I realize (and am grateful) I did not succumb to the cold and flu season and I want that trend to continue as I manage the spring allergy season.  This got me thinking about Kristin Linklater’s impactful book, Freeing the Natural Voice (1976).  In my studies of vocal pedagogy, I would not put this book in the “scholarly resource” category.  However, there are many things that singers, teachers, and other professional voice users can use and I highly recommend it for your library.  As was quoted above, Linklater suggests that our psychological view of the voice is often at odds with the physiological strength of the vocal apparatus.  When we get a cold, there may be no physical reason for losing the voice…but psychologically, we may think our voice is impaired.  Here is an example from her writing that gives me pause: she describes that when we think we have laryngitis, we can begin to fixate on the throat and this may cause us to begin to speak from the throat!  What?!  No!  In this cycle, if we generally don’t feel good, we may then be low on energy and use diminished support at the very time we need to double down on our breathing to take pressure off the throat. 
       To counteract this, she says, “Insist that the mind detach itself from the throat and center in the diaphragm area to become an auxiliary engine for the weakened natural processes” (p. 197).  Focusing extra effort on vocal warm up using “twice as many humming exercises twice as gently” and “three times as many breathing exercises as usual” are examples of the conscious actions we need to overcome the perceptions of weakness that can overtake our psyche.  Finally, she ends this particular section with the following: “It is panic, conscious or hidden, that fills doctor’s waiting rooms, for nothing cuts off the voice’s lifeline of breath more effectively than fear spreading through the fibre of the diaphragm and squeezing the muscles tight” (p. 197).  For me, I look at this advice as a reminder of the power and resilience of the voice.  Whether perceived or real problems affect our natural use of the voice, targeted breathing activities coupled with appropriate exercises to strengthen the voice before and after athletic voice use will surely result in improved function.  If they don’t, we should of course consult a specialist.   But Linklater encourages us to avoid the tendency to assume the voice is unhealthy when we have a cold or just don’t feel good; extra attention to our posture, breathing and warm up routines is critical for us to overcome the “I’m sick syndrome”.  I wish you the best of luck as you enter the spring season and prepare for busy performance schedules in the coming months!
on March 24, 2014 11:22am
I have a couple logical and pragmatic (although most would probably think somewhat unscholarly) replies to your article, with which I happen to agree wholeheartedly.  First, I tell my students that the term "sore throat" is ambiguous to me.  Here is an opportunity to educate them on the distiction between the function of the trachea and of the esophagus.  If they are having pain or difficulty swallowing but I hear no evidence of coughing or throat-clearing, then their "sore throat" is esophageal, not tracheal, and at least in theory their sore throat should have no impact on their vocal production ability.  Second, regarding the strength of the vocal ligaments or cords (whatever the current popular term is), one of their fundamental purposes is actually to help us lift heavy objects.  They are powerful enough to withstand the tremendous air pressure that is exerted when we contract the pectoral and other muscles necessary to lift something heavy.  In a purely theoretical situation, without the cords holding the air in the lungs to give leverage to those muscles and stablize the ribs, someone COULD be strong enough to contract those muscles and crush their own ribs.  Highly unlikely, but theoreticall possible.  I'm curious to get reaction to my thoughts.