The November/December 2022 issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “The Aging Voice: Challenges and Exercises” by Jennifer Trost. Following is a portion from the introduction.
All her life, my great-aunt Eleanor loved to sing, especially in church choirs. However, I remember a story told about her last choral experience, which did not have a happy ending. She had moved to a new community and therefore to a new church and immediately joined the choir, as was her habit. Apparently after about a month or so, it was suggested to her that she not sing with the choir anymore. She was devastated, of course. I don’t think she ever sang again after that. What a loss, both to her and to the church community. Rather than pass judgement about the handling of that situation, I prefer to reflect on how it might have been avoided and turned into a teaching moment. What were the issues at stake?
As an aging singer myself, I am quite aware of the forces at work that present challenges to singers “of a certain age.” In this article, I would like to discuss those issues, their causes, and talk about solutions and vocal exercises meant to help those singers maintain or improve their aging voices. Through understanding the most prevalent conditions of the aging voice, conductors will be able to craft rehearsals that will both accommodate the special needs of this age group and promote vocal health and improved ability. The techniques and warm-up exercises provided here are meant to be of assistance.
The Causes and Effects of Aging on the Voice
There are many changes that occur normally in the aging voice. These are mainly physical, but there is also an effect on the emotional well-being of the singer, particularly if music has been a significant portion of that person’s life or if self-identity is closely allied with the voice. Only recently has there been a dedicated effort to understand the changes associated with the aging voice.
Some of the more typical manifestations of normal aging include “loss of notes in the upper range, decreased agility, changes in tone color, loss of power, stiffness, slowed vibrato, difficulty with tuning, difficulties with both high and low range transitions, cracking, dry throat, and raspiness.”1 Robert Sataloff observed similar changes in the aging voice affecting both singing and speaking: “Typically, we are not surprised to hear breathiness, loss of range, change in the characteristics of vibrato, development of tremolo, loss of breath control, vocal fatigue, pitch inaccuracies, and other undesirable features in older singers.”2 It is important to note that these symptoms do not necessarily all happen within one individual but are among the most common difficulties faced by aging singers.
1 Nancy Bos, Joanne Bozeman, and Cate Frazier-Neely, Singing Through Change: Women’s Voices in Midlife, Menopause, and Beyond (Suquamish, WA: StudioBos Media, 2020), 45.
2 Robert T. Sataloff and Karen M. Kost, “Presbylarynx: Anatomy/physiology, nonsurgical treatment, and surgery.” Operative Techniques in Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery 31, no. 3 (2020): 211-222.
Read the full article in the November/December 2022 issue of Choral Journal. acda.org/choraljournal
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