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Oct. 20 2011

“Your voice is not an instrument, it is a…

By Dyana Neal | Posted in Host Blogs | Comments Off on “Your voice is not an instrument, it is a…


So says James Harp, Artistic Director & Chorus Master at Lyric Opera Baltimore. Of course, the human voice is also capricious, delicate, & vulnerable to colds, allergies, & all manner of other irritants. Mine is the main reason I get paychecks, so I try to take good care of it.

Those of us who make a living with our voices tend to get a bit neurotic when our instruments – okay, weapons – aren’t functioning correctly. For singers & actors, not being in good voice can cost you an audition or result in your not performing well at a gig (& possibly not being hired again by that company.) The stakes aren’t quite so high if you’re on the radio – you’re not going to lose your job for coming to work sounding like you have a clothespin on your nose – but it’s hard to do your best show in that condition.

As such, those of us who rely on our vocal cords to pay the rent have any number of stay-well & get-well strategies. Some won’t eat dairy or chocolate before a performance; some won’t go near alcohol in the days leading up to a gig, if at all; others eschew those “vices” entirely. (A fate worse than death in my opinion, but as I have plenty of eccentric dietary habits, I try not to judge.) I’ve known singers who wouldn’t go anywhere without a scarf or a shawl wrapped around their necks, even in the summertime, & have been chastised by more than one colleague because I run outdoors during the winter. Again, I try to be respectful & take all well-intentioned advice into consideration, but really, some people take protecting their voices a bit too far.

Even for those who scorn most “alternative” therapies, neti pots are de rigueur. For the uninitiated, a neti pot is a small vessel, usually plastic or ceramic, into which warm water & a pre-measured amount of salt are poured. The user then pours half of the solution into one nostril & out the other & repeats the process on the other side. Much nose-blowing ensues, after which, at least in theory, one’s sinuses are clear & breathing is made easier. I’m a huge fan of the neti pot & use mine daily, except on trips to South Beach, during which the Atlantic Ocean performs basically the same function.

Despite my occasional issues with seasonal allergies & sinus infections, I’ve avoided reflux, nodes, & the more serious vocal afflictions that some of my colleagues have suffered, but several years ago, during a production of “La Traviata” at the late, great Baltimore Opera Company, I had the misfortune to swallow a salmon bone. It didn’t lodge, but left quite a scratch, & I was in excruciating pain – my throat would spasm on a regular basis. Lots of fun when I was on the air or attempting to sing Verdi. After a few days of this misery – I am a doctor-phobe! – I dragged myself to GBMC, where I was scheduled to see an otolaryngoligst & be “scoped”. Yes, to have a tiny camera at the end of a long, skinny tube stuck up my nose & down my throat so that the doctor could get a good look at my cords & see just what was going on. Was I nervous? No, I was in full-on panic mode, so I persuaded my husband to go with me.

Given that Dr. Kaplan, whom I was going to see, is very well-regarded in his field & has worked on a good number of the singers in Baltimore, my jitters were hardly justified, but hello – he was going to have that thing *thisclose* to my source of income. The, um, pathway down which the scope will be going gets numbed before the procedure, & let’s just say that part of the process isn’t fun & the liquid used tastes awful. After that, the camera work was a snap by comparison, although I’d rather not go through it again any time soon. Dr. Kaplan was very funny & kind; he was sympathetic to my plight & let my husband see what was going on with my cords (an ugly scratch, but otherwise, healthy tissue.) Finally, I was persuaded to have a look at the monitor. There it was, the part of my anatomy that produces my livelihood. Not as gross to behold as I’d expected, but I’d rather have been watching a movie, thanks. Dr. Kaplan advised me to avoid spicy food, tomatoes, caffeine, & alcohol for two weeks, to which my reply was that he had just told me to stop eating. I was sent home with a 7-day course of steroids, which my body does not take kindly to, & spent the rest of the production feeling as if the Baltimore Ravens – all of them! – were standing on my chest.

Needless to say, these days, I am very careful when eating fish, especially salmon. Oh, & is that a draft in here? Where’s my scarf?

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Dyana is WBJC's midday host. Her full bio can be read here.

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