Dear Dr. Jahn: If you could could have three wishes granted for singers to have a long and healthy career, what would they be?
The answer to this question comes down to three fundamental guidelines rather than specific instructions.
1) A Healthy Body. First, a healthy voice can only come from a healthy body. Take care, over the course of your career, and in fact your entire life time, to maintain good physical and mental health. This involves many things, including diet, exercise, rest and a spiritual balance which comes from positive interpersonal relationships and happiness with yourself.
Completely own your craft so that you perform dependably
2) A Performance Persona That’s Kept In Your Performance. Consider that your performance is just that, a performance. It is a play, and you are an actor. You want to project a certain image, present a musical experience, engage and entertain your audience. To do this optimally you must completely own your craft, so that you perform repeatedly and dependably, with minimal wear and tear to your body.
But when the show is over, you need to get back to your baseline both vocally and emotionally. You should not carry your hard drinking, smoking etc. performing persona over into your daily life, because it will wear you out. Don’t emulate others at the expense of your own self, and don’t aspire to anything more than to completely actualizing your own full potential. Your audience may romanticize these aspects of your act, but don’t get personally caught up in it. It is just an act.
3) A Mindful Life. Finally, pay attention to your instrument, and to everything else that you do. To sing well, you need to sing and live mindfully. There is an almost meditative quality to observing your life, taking note of everything, but not becoming emotionally trapped in the ups and downs of your days, either as a singer or as a human being.
If you can maintain physical and spiritual health, master your instrument, practice your craft to the highest degree of technical perfection, and observe your life with equanimity, you should have a long and successful career.
Dr. Jahn is an internationally renowned otolaryngologist based in Manhattan with a sub-specialty interest in the professional voice. His practice includes classical and popular singers. He holds academic appointments at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Westminster Choir College in Princeton. He is Medical Director at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and former Director of Medical Services at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Dr. Jahn has published several books for vocalists, including “Vocal Heath for Singers” (Singdaptive) and “The Singer’s Guide to Complete Health” (Oxford University Press).