There was a conversation recently on the New Forum for Classical Singers, an online community and bulletin board, about vegetarian singers. More to the point, the opera director at a school told a student that if the student wanted a career, he was going to have to start eating meat. He stated that “no professional singer of any stature ever made it as a vegetarian,” a statement I find hilarious for the syntax, if nothing else. What, singers don’t have the discipline to be vegetarians? heehee
What I think he meant, erroneously, was that no vegetarian has made it to any level of “stature” as a singer. And, well, that’s ridiculous. I know many vegetarian singers, many of whom have fine careers and are on paths to have even finer careers. But it got me thinking about health, or, rather, added to my on-going thoughts of health. I’m a vegetarian, but not eating meat isn’t my problem. In fact, I recently started tracking my diet with an online diet tool, not to lose weight, but to see how much protein, fiber, etc., I was eating on average. Turns out it is really easy to get the recommended 50g of protein a day. Whole grains, legumes, some cheese, and done! Add 25g of fiber (blueberries, Kashi cereal, some kale, an apple, done!), aim for 2000 calories, and that’s a darn good diet.
My problem is remembering or taking the time to eat at all. I was having a blue day earlier this week, and as soon as I ate some lunch (ok, technically it was breakfast, too), I felt better! Practically blissful. Hmm, maybe there’s something to that... I told my roommate that the next time I was talking about being sad or bored or lonely, that he should ask if I’ve eaten anything. (Oh, my mom’s going to love this post!) Coffee doesn’t count…
So, yes, you can be a vegetarian singer. Just make sure you eat.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about breath and breathing. I think that I mentioned that in September I conducted a one-day workshop for the choir at my parents’ church. One of the topics we covered, naturally, was breathing. Most people only breath with a portion of their lungs, mostly the top third. When you sing, it’s good to know how to take in a full breath and support it on the way out, but it’s just as important to breath well everyday.
Now that my dear Granddaddy has had to start using oxygen**, I’ve come to believe that the maxim “use it or lose it” applies to our lungs as well. I don’t have any scientific evidence for this, just anecdotal, but it makes sense. Ever notice how singers (and brass and wind players, too) have large ribcages? That’s not fat, that’s capacity built by use. I know that I have gained about two inches on that measurement over the years as I have developed my lung capacity. (I gain almost three inches when I inhale, as well.) So, when I visited with Mamma & Granddaddy in September, I taught him several of the exercises I taught the choir, and I think we were both surprised when he couldn’t do them.
So here they are, and I encourage everyone to start breathing with all of your lungs, even if only for five minutes a day. Next time you’re stuck in traffic, give these a go. (Just don’t hyperventilate!)
First, (and, well, this part is not a traffic exercise), the next time you lie down, spend some time actively breathing with your diaphragm. Lightly rest one hand on your belly, with your thumb on your solar plexus. As you draw air into your lungs, notice how the diaphragm rises into your hand. (It’s easier to do this lying down because it helps you avoid the tendency to try and take in a deep breath by lifting your shoulders.) Then try this exercise standing up. You might find that your body rebels, that your muscles have gotten used to breathing in a more shallow way and they will fight against this “new” activity. They’ll come around; they just need to be reminded of what they knew how to do perfectly when you were a child.
Once you feel that you can breath smoothly from your abdomen, try a three-part breath. In this exercise, you breath into the three sections of the lungs from bottom to top: expand the abdomen, the ribs, and then the top section of the lungs, under the collarbone. (Phyllis Curtin can breath so well in that top section that I swear her sternum is made of cartilage! It really seems to flex.) Exhale in the same order, bottom to top: abdomen, ribcage, clavicle.
Cool, huh? Now, singer or other, use it or lose it.
**Granddaddy is doing very well, thank you, and is as active as ever; he just has a 40-ft “tail” for the tank at home, and a smaller tank for the road.)