As a musical theatre major, it’s essential that you understand and protect your voice for the long term. Professional singers are vocal athletes and it takes serious commitment and training to work in the field.
by Nadine Gomes and Rebecca Schorsch
If you are considering turning your passion for musical theatre into a career, here are some important things to consider.
1. Imitation and over-singing
When the Musical Theater bug bites, the fever it causes can result in belting out show tunes in your bedroom, kitchen and car for hours on end. Imitation and over-singing are two significant dangers for the young MT singer. Listening to Idina Menzel or your favorite Broadway star can be fun, but the young high school and college level voice is still developing. The seductive nature of imitation can prevent a young singer from discovering and mastering their own individual and genuine sound. Manipulating your own voice to sound like someone else’s can result in serious and limiting stress and strain. Learning to sing without tension is an essential principle, not only of vocal study but of a long-lasting professional career in Musical Theater.
2. Warning signs
Eight to ten shows a week is a reality for the professional Musical Theater singer. This requires serious training and deep understanding of your voice and body, its strengths and limitations.
Vocal fatigue is unfortunately common among young singers, and it is important to recognize the symptoms. Listen to your body and learn to recognize the important messages it is sending you when singing. Hoarseness, physical discomfort and pain are signs of vocal exhaustion.
Good singing should not hurt . A singer should never lose their voice unless seriously ill. Singing to the point of vocal weakness or strain must be avoided. Know when to stop! If you are experiencing drastic vocal weakness or changes that last longer than a week, it may be time to consult an otolaryngologist, or the voice specialist ENT in your area.
3. Finding the right mentor
First and foremost, someone else needs to be your ears. If you are considering a career as a singer in any style, you need to work with a vocal technique teacher who is an experienced singer. This person should be well-versed in Musical Theater style and performance practice, and understand the principles of good vocal health, including how the body works. They should also be able to help you sing healthily and assist you in choosing appropriate repertoire for study and auditions.
Good singing feels good, sounds good, and is consistently repeatable. It takes time, regular practice and commitment to understand your own voice, and you need a knowledgeable partner on this journey. You should feel comfortable with the teacher and feel that they are helping you take ownership of your own instrument and how it works.
4. Warming up
Vocal warm-ups in your voice lessons are meant to be duplicated on your own as a ritual before all singing. Find time to warm up your voice and body before every practice session, rehearsal and performance. Skipping this essential step is physically dangerous. Think of it this way: Would you run 5 miles without first warming up?
5. Staying healthy
Staying in top physical shape is mandatory for a lasting career in Musical Theater. Drinking plenty of water, eating well, staying physically active and getting sleep aren’t just good for you as a human, they are necessary for career survival as a singer. Learning to go home and sleep instead of staying out partying with friends is a hard but important lesson to learn. The voice is a delicate instrument and it is easier to harm it than you might think.
6. Continuing education
A professional singer’s education never ends. It takes dedication, patience, years of work and healthy life habits to be a successful performer. If this is where your passion lies, the joy needs to be in the journey itself. Staying in top vocal and physical condition makes that journey so much more enjoyable!