Vocal Health? Huh?
Yep, that’s what I said the first time someone said that phrase to me. I was on a bus heading to the beach with a pile of campers and a handful of staff.
I was leading a repeat after me song, and essentially yelling at the top of my lungs. When one of my colleagues said, “Patti, I’m so surprised you’re yelling like that… if you want to be a teacher, you have to be cautious of your vocal health.”
(I totally knew I was never going to become a teacher, I already knew I was going to work in camping full time… but the rest of the people in my life weren’t ready for that yet, so I said “teacher” whenever anyone asked what I’d do after graduation. lol)
The colleague in question was taking her BE.d and said that it’s something they focus on a lot because vocal health and vocal hygiene is so important for teachers.
And do you know what? It’s important for camp professionals too!
Why vocal health is important for camp pros
Imagine how difficult your job would be (has been?) if you couldn’t do announcements, give instructions to campers or staff, talk to parents on the phone, do recruiting or fundraising presentations, sing at the campfire… and the list goes on.
We joke about losing our voices during staff training. We wear it as a badge of honour when we have our raspy voice – because that means that we obviously won the dining hall ‘ain’t no flies on us’ competition. In fact my family has even come to recognize this as a normal thing.
My mom has called camp and said “oh, I see you have your camp voice already”. (The one upside to the camp voice is that I do an excellent Janice Joplin version of Me & Bobby MaGee.)
But it’s not something we should joke about, in fact it’s something we should be aware of and teach preventative methods to upcoming camp pros so they have strong voices for years to come. Because there’s actually some serious health consequences associated with poor vocal hygiene.
Potential health consequences
Permanent voice loss
The dad of a friend was a beloved teacher, and most days he can barely speak above a whisper. His vocal chords are damaged from 40 odd years of speaking for a living.
Lesions on the vocal chords
When my mom was a teenager, her whole family sang in a choir. In fact, they WERE the choir, the Leudy choir. (Adorable, right?). Anyway, according to mum, she had a pretty good range but then she developed laryngitis and they told her she’d have to stop singing for a while and let her voice heal.
Well, she didn’t. Cause she’s stubborn… much like many of us who keep on doing yelly songs and announcements even when our voice is wrecked.
So she kept singing, and her voice got worse. Then she found out that she had developed nodules on her larynx, and ended up needing surgery to remove them. And according to her, it changed her singing range, she still has a lovely voice, but can only sing alto.
There are other potential consequences, but these are the only two I have (second hand) experience with, so they’re the only ones I’ll speak to. Because if you’re anything like me, you always think “yeah, but that’s probably rare… that would never happen to ME.”
(Geez, my mom has told the story of the nodules on her larynx (and there is a whole story… she’s a born storyteller) since I was a kid, but I always just assumed that if I didn’t have laryngitis I was golden.)
Preventative steps to protect our voices
1. Drink water.
Lots of it.
Drinking water will obviously keep you hydrated and is just overall good for your body. And according to the Duke Voice Care Centre (which is the best resource I found on this) it will keep your throat mucus thin and slippery which is good for your vocal folds. Sounds delightful, but it’s important.
2. Avoid yelling
This one is sort of a given, but a challenging one at camp. We can be an excitable bunch! Many of us like to cheer, and chant, and sing, and hoot and holler. Not to mention that we need to be heard over large groups of people on a regular basis.
So my advice is to still cheer, and hoot, and holler… just don’t go ALL IN. Don’t yell so loud your throat hurts (I know you’ve done it, so have I… as recently as a few months ago… it was for the song!)
And I would never, ever recommend yelling to get the attention of a group (regardless of vocal health, that’s jut not a good method) because there are tons of other ways to get attention.
AND if you need to speak to a group, and you find yourself needing to raise your voice louder than a regular speaking voice, use a microphone! You can’t ‘project’ your voice all summer, or even all day during the week or two of training and expect it to remain undamaged.
3. Speak from the diaphragm
If you have to project your voice from time to time, make sure you’re taking deep breaths and projecting from your diaphragm. (Almost like you’re flexing your stomach so the sound is coming from there rather than from your throat).
4. Try to avoid really dry air.
All of the articles I read about this topic said to use a humidifier. The resource I share below has some great tips on the type of humidifier you should use.
5. Do vocal warm-ups.
I know that sounds silly. Because we imagine that only professional singers do vocal warm-ups, and full disclosure, it’s certainly not something I’ve ever done before.
Hear me out.
Since we’re learning about vocal hygiene, maybe it’s something we can do with our staff at morning meeting, or campers and staff at morning flagpole. It could be fun and silly, and a chance to teach them something that might help them later on.
Ok, so there ya have it.
Some thoughts on vocal health. Is this something you talk about? Have thought about? Or have any tips, tools, or anecdotes for?
I’d love to hear em’ in the comment section down below.
I’m (clearly) no expert, so please don’t take my word for it. These are just some things I’ve been thinking about. But here’s a great resource I found while researching for this post. A quick Google search will bring up tons of info, so feel free to look into it on your own.
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