Recently I worked with three singers who experience excessive saliva while they sing. They need to constantly stop to swallow and regroup before resuming phonation. Getting to the bottom of the issue was different for each one! What a puzzle.
In this first of a 2-part “Saliva Series,” I’ll describe one possible reason and my solutions/recommendations solutions for one singer. The next post will be on another reason and possible solution.
“Steven” is a bass with a church job who also sings with an established men’s a cappella ensemble with the name “The Suspicious Cheese Lords.” This organization is paying for each singer to have a private lesson with either Elizabeth Daniels or myself, as we have been their ensemble’s vocal clinicians for the past 7 years. When Steven came in, I asked him to tell me what he wanted to work on and he mentioned the saliva issue, among other things.
We were able to help his excess-saliva-and-need-to-swallow-a-great-deal issue in one session.
Reason #1: Saliva as drainage can be a head/neck alignment issue.
The overlying principles used in our session together were:
Observation, Somatic Empathy, and Using Repeated Slow and Tiny Muscle Movements to Bring Head and Neck into a Freer Dynamic. (Steven cranes his head forward in a rather fixed state, but only while singing. He described his work environment as aerodynamic, with supportive-seating, computer height, standing desk, etc.)
We then adding the task of holding music, singing small intervals of pitch while on only two vowels, back and forth along the chromatic scale.
We balanced coordination among arms, wrists, hands, and core muscles while holding music, which affects that neck-head freedom. He experienced new sensations around the T-12 vertebrae, especially in ease of breath response and engagement upon phonation. He voiced that he thought this would reduce anxiety around performance and ensemble rehearsals.
All this for saliva issues!
What did we “do?”
Somatic Tongue release which takes a full 10 minutes to experience.
Drape over a Pilates ball to experience spinal movement–which changed shoulders from a fixed to a dynamic alignment. (another ten minutes.)
Then “Gorilla Breath” in stages, from draping front first over a large Pilates ball to graduated standing. (based on Alexander Technique and other body-mind work involving limbic response noises.)
Tongue over straw, ai-ai-ai on 1-2-1-2-1, while guiding back to freedom of spine. At the end of all this slow work he reported that he felt freedom and movement in tailbone and pelvic area.
We also worked back and forth between his native language of French and English and the curious minutia around the “a” vowel which was exposed.
All this mind-body work alternated with allowing one or two minutes between activities to process and let the work to “sink in.” I told one or two anecdotal stories to allow him to relax his focus, laugh and regroup.
I suggested that he mark in his scores when to swallow if it became excessive again while he was learning new skills
We finished by Steven singing a page of choral music. No saliva. He realizes that practicing this awareness is important and is not the same as what he normally experiences out of anxiety about the saliva overload. He said, “I feel singing as a connection between my body and my head. And the saliva is greatly reduced.”
It also helped him use the good stuff that his former teacher had taught him!
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While I am known in the Washington, DC area as a voice teacher who works with musical theater and popular singers, I was a classical soprano for 25 years, and do work with a good number of post masters’ degree opera singers, especially soprani. The majority of these singers are talented, hard-working and smart, but need help finding operatic repertoire for auditions that is 1) suited to their age, experience and stage of development and 2) not what everyone else is singing in auditions.
If you are a lyric-coloratura soprano between the ages of 22 and 29 or so, consider the following arias in place of the standards you needed to learn as an undergraduate or graduate student:
1. “The Fairy God Mother’s Aria” from Massanet’s Cendrillon. Esther Heideman has a beautiful recording up on You Tube, and there is also video of a charming master class by Renee Fleming at Harvard which features this aria.
2. “Kommet ein schlanker Bursch gegangen,” one of Annchen’s arias from Weber’s Der Freischutz. Look for the fabulous Edith Mathis on Youtube.
3. “Saltro che lacrime,” the lovely minuette sung by Servilia in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito
4. Mme. Mao’s Aria in Adam’s Nixon in China
5. Cunning Little Vixen’s Aria in Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen (I once had an unusually brilliant high school student cast in this role for The Washington National Opera many years ago!)
Famous voice teachers often don’t agree on what are considered appropriate arias for voices, but I think that if they themselves were pushed into singing repertoire that was not right for them at one time, maybe they’ve wised up. That happened to me right after I first sang Fiordiligi, at age 27, which was a perfect role, but then I began to be hired to sing arias from La Wally and other big gun stuff before I was ready. And it is hard to turn down work, especially with orchestra, especially paid…etc.
The reason this is important is that the voice does not lie. Sure, you can fool people, and most people in your audience don’t know the difference anyway, between what’s “right” for your voice and what isn’t. But the incorrect operatic repertoire takes a toll on your psyche and physical instrument, and it is hard to deliver authentic performances when you are masquerading as something you are not.
Find something you can learn and do it well. Biting off Petitgirad’s Coloratura aria from The Elephant Man when you would be much better in “Fair Robin, I Love,” from Tartuffe is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Do what is right for you, not what you WISH was right.
This series of posts will feature guest artist/teachers. Please feel free to add any ideas or comments, or post links to other repertoire.
The National Association of Teachers of Singing’s May/June issue of the Journal of Singing has come out. My article,”Live vs. Autotune–Comparing Apples to Oranges to Get Fruit Salad,” is published in The Journal’s regular column, The Independent Teacher.
The article is an exploration into how advances in the recording industry over the past 20 years have shaped my work as a teacher of singing of both classical and popular music of over 30 years. If you would like a copy of this article, forward your email and I will send your a pdf file. If you’d like to send your email privately, you can find me on Facebook or contact me through my website.)
The Journal of Singing is a compilation of scholarly, academic and scientific articles on the act and art of singing, mostly from a classical point of view, but the musical theater and pop sectors have begun to infiltrate in the past 15 years.
Unfortunately, there is a ridiculous amount of brouhaha among teachers of different musical styles, in spite of the advances of the teaching community over the years.
It would be really awesome if this article contributes, in some small way, to building more bridges among teachers and singers, performers and scholars.
It allows room for other ways, other than the information I am relaying or my manner of working, to help in Realizing–or manifesting– what is intended. It means that anything and everything that happens will contribute in some way to the realizing of that stated intention.
Here is a recent example: I was hired to teach a course for a professional in-service day for Washington, DC public school vocal music educators. I had about two hours to inspire, inform and encourage teachers while covering elementary through high school basics of developmental vocal technique and performance practice in all styles of music…..
…in other words, I had a taste of the impossible task they perform every day, except without student behavioral issues and the red tape, paper work and crushing load of bureaucratic bullshit they deal with hour by hour, day by day.
I started by asking the teachers what they were responsible for, and, after picking up my jaw off the floor, I set this intention out loud:
It is my intention to give you something in this time together that inspires you, feeds your love of teaching which often feels buried, and to give you information and tools which you can really use to help your students develop personally and in group music-making.
And it worked. Even though the session sometimes veered and careened from the syllabus now and then, much was covered, more or less, and each teacher felt heard and that he/she had some solutions for issues they often faced.
I felt useful and happy. And received a 20 out of possible 20 evaluation points from the teachers themselves. Which surprised me, as I did not know I was being evaluated. (But this is public education, after all–the evaluation shouldn’t have been a surprise.)