After 16 months, I will finally get back on stage and be singing with a LIVE orchestra. To say I am emotional about it is quite an understatement.
I have been invited to sing Violetta in La Traviata with Opera Naples. We are performing outdoors in a park with mics and a smaller orchestra. We've been tested regularly for Covid and have maintained a strict social distancing protocol and quarantine with our pods for the past two weeks. We open this week, and tickets are SOLD OUT!
Like many singers, I found it challenging to sing opera or practice much during the lockdown. Once we emerged and started to go about life with masks and social distancing, I still was left with very little desire to plow through opera scores. If I sang at all, it was usually something I was helping a student learn, or some Dolly Parton or Margo Price tune.
Then in September, I was asked to sing Violetta.
I knew better than to think I would just jump back into shape after many months of a singing hiatus. Not only was my voice going to need some special care, but so was my body. My regular exercise and eating habits had gone to the wayside. I had succumbed to emotional eating and drinking and realized I had always used a singing gig to get me back on track. I’m always my healthiest when I am in training for a role. Without it, I’m pretty much a goner.
Having some years under me, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do it all at once. Nothing veers me off course more than trying to bite off more than I can chew. I need to be successful and achieve something each day, or else I am not going to do it. So, I set smaller goals that set me on course to achieve the larger outcome. Now, I didn’t always know how to do this; I’ll guide you on that another time. 🤓
Here are some strategic steps to get you back into vocal and mental shape after some time off from singing. All you need is three months and a plan of action!
Get your score out and put it on your piano or in your designated practice space. Yep, simple baby steps to start.
Drop the needle. This means practice without concern or planning. Just practice. Crack open the score at random places and see what comes up for you. Take notes for later. Pay close attention to spots that make you nervous, or you may need to tend to for technical assistance.
Let go of any expectations. You are not the same as you were before the pandemic. You are not the same as you were when you last sang this role. If it’s a new role, you are not the same as you were the last time you took on a new project. Try to allow yourself to be in this new place, with these new sensations, and resist trying to recreate what your voice was doing before. You’ve moved on. The world has moved on. So, move on.
Practicing small intervals of 15-20 minutes daily is non-negotiable for this month.
Start a physical practice. Move your body. Walk, run, do yoga, bike, or dance, but do it every day without fail, even if it’s for just ten minutes. I placed my yoga mat on the floor, where I had to see it every day, and I put a calendar on my wall and used fun stickers to mark my progress.
Make your practice more deliberate. Take one week and do one act, focusing just on the character’s notes and energy for that one act.
Keep your practice sessions short and your movement sessions long.
Moving your body every day for at least 15 minutes is non-negotiable for this month.
Change your diet. Chances are, the pandemic got you into some bad habits. I know it did for me! Daily wine? Um, yes. Carb overload? Pretty much. I did Whole 30 to reset my system, and it works wonders for my voice.
Schedule at least 4-6 voice lessons. Try online lessons with your teacher or someone new. You’ll be surprised at the improvements that have been made in hosting online lessons in the last year. (Depending on your level, you may want to start lessons in Month 2. Give yourself Month 1 to build stamina and reconnect with your instrument.)
Start practicing larger portions of the opera or musical theater role during one consecutive practice session. For instance, I would practice Act One and Act Two in one day and then Act Two and Act Three the following day. I also allowed myself to skip some days after singing for longer periods to give the proper rest my voice needed while getting back into shape.
Keep moving your body at least three times a week while paying attention to how your voice feels when you don’t move or when you move too much.
Changing your diet is non-negotiable for this month.
By following these steps, in three months, you will have layered back in your Pre-Covid era regimen and be closer to feeling like the vocal athlete you were. You can try to do all of these things at once, but my experience has shown me that when I am calm and patient with myself, the more I am likely to succeed.
We have all been through tremendous changes and on an emotional roller coaster this past year. I expect we will get back to the stage more regularly soon. My hope is you will do it with care and respect for where you’ve been. Good Luck and let me know how it goes!