Last weekend, I sang the alto solo in a performance of Mozart’s Requiem in Reading, PA. I had a great time, and the choir (made up of the Reading Choral Society and the MasterSingers of the Berks Classical Children’s Chorus) was terrific.
We sang in the sanctuary of a high-ceilinged Frank Lloyd Wright-esque church with acoustics very favorable to the voice, but the “stage” (read: altar) did not lend itself favorably to the size of the group (chorus + orchestra + conductor + soloists). As a result, we soloists sat in one of the front pews, facing the choir and orchestra, until we had to sing. Then we would turn around and face the audience. It was a little awkward, but we made it work.
However, this unconventional seating arrangement offered an opportunity that I haven’t had in a long time: I was able to watch the chorus during a performance.
It was fascinating. I loved watching the immense joy and ecstasy on many of the singers’ faces, but I found my eyes kept wandering to one boy in the front row who looked exceedingly sick. He kept wiping his brow and looking around dazedly. He stopped singing at one point, and I thought for sure he was going to faint.
Immediately, I was hit with a wave of memories. While I was in the San Francisco Girls Chorus, I suffered from concert nausea/fainting quite often. The girls shunned me, the conductor mocked me, and nobody ever really tried to help fix my problem. Year after year, we were taught to stand still, smile, and watch the conductor; yet no adult bothered to ask me what was going on in my mind or in my body that I was suffering from this sickness so consistently.
It was up to me to figure out what worked and what didn’t; sadly, I never learned how to stay healthy during my entire tenure at SFGC. It wasn’t until I went to Tufts and took a few biology courses that I started to figure out what was going on with my own body. After that, I just picked up various tips and tricks along the way, and I thought, for the sake of that boy I saw (and everyone else who has had this problem), I’d share them with you.
Supermaren’s Tips & Tricks for a Healthy Choral Experience:
1. If you feel like you are going to faint or throw up, sit down and put your head between your legs. Standing in a large group of people for an extended period of time can get claustrophobic. If you’re already not feeling too well, those close quarters might be exactly the worst possible thing for your state of health. When you sit down, you are able to 1) get the blood running back to your brain, and 2) get the audience’s eyes and attention off of you.
2. Keep hydrated. One of the main reasons people feel faint is that they are mildly dehydrated, and that usually happens because most people just forget to drink water. You probably won’t be able to bring water onto the stage, but you can certainly bring a large bottle of water with you wherever you go. Take a swig right before you go on stage.
3. Keep your blood sugar up. I’m almost positive the main reason I kept getting sick when I was young was because I wasn’t eating properly. Either I ate too much and felt sick or I didn’t eat anything and I felt faint. I know a lot of singers don’t like to eat before they sing, much like an athlete won’t eat right before they perform; however, in my opinion, a little protein bar or a piece of fruit can mean the difference between being present and being spaced out for half the concert. Eat something, for goodness’ sake.
4. Shift your weight and bend your knees. A lot of times in choral situations, you have to stay standing for a long time. It’s very easy to let your knees lock, and when that happens, it cuts off your blood circulation and leads to vasovagal syncope. I’m not making this up, people. I’ve seen it happen.
All in all, don’t try to tough it out; it’s a concert, not a military excursion. If you faint or get sick on stage you’ll be mortified, and if you just stand there turning green, you’re going to upstage the music.
Do you have other tips on how to stay healthy and upright during performance? Please feel free to add them to the comments below.