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What to do when a Singer faints

Hello, Listers,

Better late than never, right? A recent posting reminded me that I
never compiled replies to the following query over a year ago, to
which you all responded with your usual helpful nature. FYI the
singer came back to choir this fall, and she seems to be doing OK. I
had forwarded the replies I received to her. They must have helped!

Original posting:
I realize it looks like a headline for the National Enquirer, but I'm
hoping someone may have experienced this phenomenon with a singer. I
had a university administrator singing in my choir who fainted during a
concert. Since then she has had a couple more spells while singing, and
now she is afraid to sing, though she enjoys it immensely.

Any suggestions? She is going to see a doctor this week, but hopefully
a few of you will have some diagnoses/cures from your work experience.
BTW she knows not to lock her knees.

Helpful Replies:

fainting can be caused by a number of factors, including ear
infections, which is what this sounds like. It's good that she's
having a doctor check her out. Sometimes such infections don't
manifest themselves until a person starts having dizzy spells, and
inner ear infections can be hard to get rid of.

***

My money is on her locking her knees during the excitement/tension of
the concert. Locking the knees back will cut off blood flow and one
will go over like a proverbial tree.

***

Would you please let us know what happens? In the past couple of
years two singers in my chorus experienced TIAs; one at the end of a
concert and one during warmup before. The first woman (I think age 70
+) needed to be taken out by ambulance as she was really out of it;
the second (she was 68 at the time) "snapped to" in a few seconds,
not quite falling (we saw what was happening as she began to crumple,
and grabbed her), and she was clearly disoriented and bewildered as
she recovered.
I mention this because (1) I'm wondering if your singer is
experiencing a similar thing, and it's a matter of putting a label on
it, and (2) I am not a medical person and can't speak with any
authority on this, but again, I wonder -- if the large amount of lung
power used in singing has made her hyperventilate to the point of
fainting. I once had a Richter Scale 9 panic attack and the doctor
was trying to convince me that underlying anxiety had caused me to
hyperventilate, triggering the attack. I was not convinced, because
if anything I had been in a rather good, easy-going mood at the time,
relaxed (I thought), and certainly not hyperventilating. Anyway, the
point is that hyperventilation seems to cause a lot of problems. It's
a good thing she's going to a doctor. Hopefully whatever is plaguing
her can be treated easily. Good luck.

***

My best advice to you - drawn on my experience as a chorister and
director - is to help your chorister to realize that fainting and
singing may not
necessarily be connected. It may simply be another physical condition
that just coincidentally has happened while singing. Only a doctor
can tell!
My first hunch was to blame it on the vagus nerve...

***

I have witnessed this in younger singers, but I suppose it could
happen to any less experienced performer. In the cases I've
witnessed, it's a
combination of nerves and poor breath support.

***

I have a student in the University of Alberta Mixed Chorus who has a
blood pressure problem. When her blood pressure plummets, she
faints. Our simple solution has been to have her sit to sing. When
we're on risers, I have her sit on a bass stool and she ends up being
about the same height as the other women standing in the front row of
the choir. She is happy because it's much less embarrassing (and
less dangerous) to be sitting to sing than to fall and hurt yourself
during a concert. When we go on tour, she has a stool that she
brings along. All works out well. She's a great asset to the
soprano section and there's no fainting!

***

I know a professional singer that had the same difficulty. She used
to sing in a 16-voice professional group, and sat on a stool.
Perhaps your singer could do the same on the front row of the choir.

***

I have had this happen with my girls choir as well! A couple of
things to think about:
1) she should remember to shift her weight off of her heels and on to
the balls of her feet periodically (alternate where her weight is
placed).
2) she should make sure she is not singing on an empty stomach and is
well hydrated
3) keep her out of the hot glare of the lights and position her on
the end of a row if possible (less stifling, more room)
4) flat shoes, no tight clothing (especially stockings!) and hair up
5) reminder her to take deep cleansing breaths - if she gets nervous
she may be doing shallow, rapid breathing

***

I have seen singers faint from dehydration, heat stroke and
hyperventilation. She may also have an inner ear disorder. It could
be any of these. Try having her rehearse sitting on a stool and see
if it helps. She should also try to drink water continuously, dress
lightly and check her singing-breathing habits and see if any of this
helps.. The worst one I saw was an 80-year-old choir veteran who
fell ontothe stage from the third riser....not seriously hurt, thank
goodness, but that turned out to have been heat-related.

***

More often than not, locked knees are the first culprit. Make sure
that the singer is standing with her knees loose or slightly bent.
When locked, the
blood flow is restricted, and when coupled with hot lights, close
quarters, nerves, etc, singers often faint.

***

I had a high school junior tenor just like this. He'd done it pretty
consistently during his Freshman and Sophomore years, but was in a
larger group and he simply disappeared from sight. But now he was in
a select a cappella choir setting, 24 singers. It never happened in
rehearsal, not even when we were up onstage with lights ablazing in
the dress rehearsal. But get to a concert setting, he'd keel over
like dead weight right in the middle of something, every time.
However, he never did the same thing in 1) plays (in which he was
very good) and 2) musicals (ditto.) He saw doctors, nothing was
wrong with him. We eventually decided that it was a mental thing, if
he felt trapped and motionless, he'd black out. So, we 1) changed
the singers positions on stage frequently between numbers (you'd do
this anyway with a top group, we just were SURE he moved.) 2) put
him as close to the outside as possible so he had room to escape (or,
felt like he could) and 3) encouraged him to move more (in a natural
way, according to the emotion of the music) when he sang. As opposed
to standing stock still, we encouraged a little more facial
expression (again, appropriate to what was going on, he was smart
enough to do this.) This is because we noticed he had a slightly
glazed look before he went down. We thought if he could just stop
the cycle in any way, he'd be OK. We were right. And the cure
wasn't a long process at all. Actually, once he got through one
choral concert OK, the rest was easy. The cycle was broken, he no
longer thought it was inevitable that he'd faint. So he didn't!

***

When my son was in high school, he fainted while the choir was
rehearsing on the risers on the stage. One possible cause is
becoming overheated (with lights and other body heat around them).
Another possibility is when the singer locks his/her knees it can
cause a problem.

***

Had it happen to me numerous times with the same girl... and then
once in a recording session with another woman...
a doctor was there in the room during the recording... and said it
was water related... to drink plenty of water before and during
singing...

***

Yes...it happened to me more than once in my choir, but - with
children or also with young girls ( 16 ) .
Singers in my choir has to drink at least 1 glass of water before
going on stage, they know it by now, and - I also remind them to move
their toes in their shoes in the breaks between songs. They are used
to check to un-lock their knees while singing ( it is not enough just
to know about it ! - ..) and I try to let them change places on the
different pieces ( some - we sing according to voices, others -
mixed, etc. ) so the little walking helps the blood circulation too.

***

Because she fainted the one time, she may have developed an anxiety
around it which might have caused her to hyperventilate whilst
singing on
subsequent occasions. But she is wise to see a doctor about it, in
case there's a medical condition involved.

***

This sounds like a blood pressure problem. I had a similar
experience several years ago with a singer.

***

Eating Disorder? Anemia? There was a girl in one of my choirs that
had the same problem, we simply brought out a bar stool and allowed
her to sit tall.

***

The only occurrences of fainting I've ever heard of while singing
were due to spaces being too hot and singers locking their knees
while standing.
I've also seen a couple of people faint from standing too quickly
after they've been seated for a while.

It sounds as if she may be a shallow breather and/or has some kind of
tension or poor breath support technique and isn't getting enough
oxygen, or perhaps that she is oversinging or pushing and that
somehow has an adverse affect on her blood pressure.

I recommend that you speak with her privately for a few minutes and
discover how she supports the tone and how deeply/shallowly she
breathes. You may need to work with her a little to help her stay
more relaxed, and to breathe more deeply.

***

Actually, this is very common with young singers--young--meaning a
developing singer. When a singer begins to use more air to sing, it
will generally make the singer light-headed or even faint. When
working with breathing exercises, I have experienced this with
private students as well as choirs many times. This will also occur
when the singer is trying to develop head voice as breath pressure
changes when we change registers. As a point of reference, I give
warnings to singers when working with breathe, so they will not be
alarmed if they fill light headed, or faint.

***

Have someone who has one bring a blood pressure cuff to rehearsal and
hook her up. At the point of dizziness tell her to sit down and
monitor it. I am a director and this happens to me sometimes -
dizziness without the fainting - and is almost always due to sharp
fluctuations in BP.

You might also check and see if she's ever exhibited hyperventilation
which essentially places MORE oxygen in the bloodstream than needed
and can bring on dizziness. Keep a paper bag on hand. (Do a google
on hyperventilation if you don't understand.)

If she is medicated for any reason, some drugs can also produce this
in combination with intensely focused activity.

Until checked out by a physician, insist she remain seated during all
rehearsals and performances.

***

End of replies, although I had several more duplicating much of what
is relayed above. Now that I think about it, I had a singer next to
me in church choir faint one morning in the middle of an anthem. I
had to simultaneously ease her onto the choir pew and keep singing.
Decorum, you know! It turned out that she hadn't had anything to eat
that morning, and her blood sugar plummeted -- at least that's what
we decided.

Happy Holidays to choral directors around the world! If you still
have concerts, best wishes!! Hopefully none of your singers will faint!

And keep your funds streaming in for CHORALIST and MUSICA! I'm
certain that every little bit helps and adds up.

Kathryn Bowers
St. Louis Missouri USA
ksbd(a)iglide.net


on September 27, 2008 10:00pm
The dizziness is chronic. Even when I don't sing. So it has nothing to do with anaerobia.
on September 27, 2008 10:00pm
I get dizziness, since 5 years, no blood pressure problem. I sing in choirs, do solos. The doctor said I have a very flexible eardrum. He doesn't know if it's related to my dizziness, I may have always had thin flexible eardrums. Yesterday my ears started hurting, first time I ever noticed that. Maybe it has something to do with singing loud in my small apartment. I will keep searching. I just found an article on Dizziness and a performer from the Wiggles. Search for "dizziness" & "singers".