How to handle coughs and colds in your choir

Many of you in warmer climates will be enjoying summer weather at the moment (you lucky things), but here, it's mid-winter. 'Tis the season of coughs, colds and snuffles! If your choir members are suffering from seasonal afflictions, here are a few tips to remind them about how to look after their voices.

Keep it to yourself

While you might admire a singer's loyalty and dedication for showing up when they're feeling under the weather, it's much better if they stay away. Cold viruses are transmitted by touch and through the air by sneezing and coughing. When we sing together, we're usually in close proximity - the perfect place for viruses to spread around.

It's worth reminding your singers that if they have a cold, particularly when it's in its early stages, you'd rather they stayed away from rehearsal. If you have rehearsal tools available for your choir, such as practice tracks, they'll be able to catch up what they've missed. It's also a good idea to send a message to the whole choir after a rehearsal to re-cap what was covered for those who weren't able to attend.

Don't take chances

Most of us have heard horror stories of people who persistently sang through colds and ended up with the dreaded nodules. These aren't folk tales. Singing when you have a cold can lead to chronic inflammation in your larynx, which can have nasty long-term consequences. A singer's voice is their instrument and it needs to be cared for.

When we've made a commitment to do a particular performance, it's horrible to feel that we're letting people down, but it simply isn't worth taking the chance. Advise your singers that if they have a cough or inflammation in their larynx (which is usually audible - the voice sounds scratchy and hoarse), they shouldn't sing at all. As they recover from a cold, they should begin to sing very gently and, preferably, do some short practice sessions at home before they sing with the choir.

Drink plenty

You'll often see choir members sipping water in rehearsal. That's fine as far as it goes, but drinking while we're singing only helps a dry mouth - the water doesn't bathe our vocal apparatus (if it did, we'd be drowning!).

Remind your singers that it's the water they drink before rehearsal that's really important. They need to drink plenty at least half an hour before they sing to allow the fluid to be absorbed and to lubricate their soft tissues.

Take it easy

When singers return to choir after an illness, encourage them to sing gently to begin with. That might mean singing more quietly, or even skipping some high notes altogether. Let them know that whatever you're asking of the choir as a whole, they are in charge of their own voice and can modify what they're doing at any time.

As the choir leader, you can help to facilitate good vocal health by reminding the choir regularly about singing with good posture and technique.

There's no magic bullet

Singers use all sorts of different remedies when it comes to coughs and colds. Some pop cough sweets all the time, others swear by a hip flask of port. Whatever makes you feel better is great, but it doesn't mean that you can sing through it. The sad fact is that when you have a cold, you have to stop singing, rest, take in plenty of fluids and wait it out.
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