I had a couple of back-to-back gigs over the weekend. The sore throat that’s been coming and going for the past week seems to be settling in for a more prolonged stay, accompanied by fatigue and sinus trouble. And an old friend’s impromptu visit to New York included a few glasses of wine and several hours of animated conversation. In a nutshell, friends: I am a bit hoarse.
Vocal fatigue used to terrify me. At the first sign of hoarseness, however slight, I would alternate between self-flagellation (“My technique is awful! Why else would I be hoarse, for God’s sake? Why did I have that glass of wine? God, I’m an idiot.”) and sheer panic (“I’ve probably done irreversible damage to my vocal folds. I’m sure I have nodes and I sound like Tom Waits with a chest cold. I have no future!”).
The truth is, singing is a very athletic activity. It’s amazing to think that the vibrations of two tiny, delicate folds of skin in the throat can rock Madison Square Garden or fill La Scala. Given the demands we singers place on our voices, occasional vocal fatigue and hoarseness are to be expected. Athletes invariably deal with fatigue and, occasionally, injury throughout their careers. Singers are no different.
Of course, when it comes to vocal health, singers tend to be known for high-maintenance behavior and superstitious rituals: year-round scarves (a warm throat is a happy throat!), room-temperature water (see “year-round scarves”), copious amounts of chamomile tea with honey (chamomile is a natural anti-inflammatory), no air conditioning (except at nighttime during allergy season), and nasal irrigation (gross but effective).
But when my vocal health regimen is trumped by too much singing, lack of sleep, seasonal allergies, or that last cocktail I just had to have at the noisy bar, my favorite, no-fail remedy for vocal fatigue is simple and obvious: Stop. Talking.
Given that loquaciousness is as much a part of my make-up as my eye color, a vow of silence is not easy to undertake. But after just a few hours of silence, I find that, along with my vocal folds, my mind is resting. Monasticism, however temporary, seems to agree with me.
The city’s hustle-and-bustle seems to diminish with every passing quiet moment. Having dispensed with verbal expression, I am better able to distinguish between useful thoughts and the reactive ramblings of my untamed mind. It’s no coincidence that silence is often part of a spiritual practice; we can’t quiet the world, but we can quiet ourselves enough to experience the world as it is.
Self-imposed silence used to feel like a punishment of sorts. Now, I view 24 hours of uninterrupted quiet as a gift for my tired voice and, as it turns out, my tired spirit. Tomorrow, of course, I’ll recommence singing and talking with renewed vigor and gratitude. But for today, silence is golden.