Rest, Relaxation, Hot Tea, and Laughter

September 16, 2018 — 63 Comments

Last week, I invited my blog friends to ask me a question about my involvement in the world of opera that I could expand into an article for my weekly blog. I have set myself the challenge to try and answer these questions in the comments or allow them to inspire me to create a full article. So here it goes!

John W. Howell asked me: “How do I keep my voice in shape for a demanding performance schedule?”

My initial answer to John’s question was: “Years and years of the best vocal training by classically trained teachers, vocal warm-ups and cooldowns, lots of water to drink, honey and lemon and specialist teas. I don’t often drink alcohol, I’ve never smoked and I rest my voice when I need to.”

I would love to take the time today to expand on my answer and provide a more detailed response, so here goes!

As an opera singer, I can’t sing all day long. I seem to have been saying this on repeat recently to potential landlords and letting agents when they ask me about my job. I promise I am not noisy 24/7 and that I am conscious of my neighbours!  I have to plan my practice and use of my voice in the rehearsal room, the amount that I can sing in a day does fluctuate but most days I actively sing for 2- 3 hours.

In order to sing operatic music, like an athlete, I need to warm up the muscles that become engaged when I am singing. I usually begin most days with a 20-30 minute warm up. This includes some gentle humming exercises, scales, and arpeggios progressing to coloratura exercises to maintain flexibility in my vocal range. This allows my voice to work at its best. However, sometimes my schedule doesn’t allow for a generous warm-up time, because of available space at the rehearsal venue or the time of the rehearsal/lesson. So, if I know in advance that I will have limited time to warm up my voice before I leave home I will try to do a simple yoga routine or gentle stretches so that my body is better prepared. I personally love using “Yoga with Adrienne” on youtube. She has had a channel for many years now and has built up a great selection of videos for beginners and regulars. In the rehearsal room, there may be occasions when you have to mark your vocal line, this can mean singing quieter, down the octave [the melody but an octave lower – closer to speaking pitch] or even speaking. The important thing is that you don’t lower your energy level or enunciation of the text as this can cause issues for your colleagues.

So what is my experience of a demanding performance schedule?

This summer I experienced a busy period working with professional companies. I performed in three Operas spreading over July, August, and September. Each brought with it its own individual challenges.

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Candide involved a regular rehearsal period over four weeks. The positive outcome for this style of schedule allowed me to create the role of Cunegonde in great detail. I had time to learn and grow with the character, experiment with different reactions to the same series of unfortunate events, and her relationships towards the other characters in the Opera. [slipping in the title of one my favourite childhood book series there written by Lemony Snicket ]. However, my commute to the rehearsal venue was long and often I would return home very late in the evening.  In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle and my vocal stamina, I would try to unwind on my commute home, listening to music or downloading a TV program on my phone for the journey, this enabled me to relax so that when I got home I could still manage to get straight off to sleep. I would always try to bring a packed lunch and a prepared dinner if I was away from home all day. I would try to eat this at a similar time each day so that my body kept up a digestive routine. I found that this resulted in me feeling less fatigue and my voice was still supple for evening rehearsals, I didn’t feel restless because I knew that I would have access to a balanced diet. I could use my rest time on my dinner break to actually relax, rather than use the limited time desperately trying to find a place to eat, which was close to the rehearsal venue, that wasn’t too expensive, and which offered healthy food.

Mansfield Park - Jonathan Dove - Waterperry Opera Festival - 17th August 2018 Director/Designer - Rebecca Meltzer Musical Director - Ashley Beauchamp Maria Bertram - Charlotte Hoather Julia Bertram - Sarah Anne Champion Aunt Norris - Andrea Tweedale Mar

After the performances of Candide were over I went straight onto working on Mansfield Park production. Thankfully before we traveled to the Minack Theatre in Cornwall, I had a week of rest, [with no rehearsals scheduled by Surrey Opera]. Knowing that once we finished the performances I would have only one week before the rehearsals begin for Mansfield Park. I decided to get a head start on learning quite a difficult score by using my week off before the Candide performances to start my preparations for Mansfield Park. I recorded the libretto with two friends, both fantastic Mezzo Sopranos, Brigette and Hannah on an app.  The app was recommended to me by my wonderful friend Frances Thorburn, who I worked with on The Little White Town Of Never Weary and who now plays Kim Monroe on River City, a very popular Scottish Soap Opera.

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Frances has to learn a huge amount of lines each day for filming, she encouraged me to try this method because you can practise the whole script by yourself. It provides you with options to listen to scenes on repeat, isolate your lines or provide timed gaps so that you can speak your lines in. This style of memorising is very useful to me as an artist as I can learn the text, without having to sing too much. This allows me to use my singing time on specific musical goals and technically tricky areas. What I didn’t expect to learn from this, was that because I broke up the learning and began it earlier, most of what I learned had settled and made the week revising it musically before rehearsals so much more relaxed. It was still stressful, and I needed to work hard to learn the whole score off copy, but I felt positive and that I could achieve it because of the groundwork I put in. This kind of positive mental attitude and a relaxed mindset allows me to stay in top physical condition. If I become too stressed I know that my body is more susceptible to picking up a virus or other illness. I now always try to plan in break times and aim to finish my work for the day no later than 9:00pm, unless a rehearsal schedule goes over this.

Mansfield Park - Jonathan Dove - Waterperry Opera Festival - 17th August 2018 Director/Designer - Rebecca Meltzer Musical Director - Ashley Beauchamp Maria Bertram - Charlotte Hoather Julia Bertram - Sarah Anne Champion Aunt Norris - Andrea Tweedale Mar

Once the performances for Mansfield Park came to a close, I was then able to move onto preparation for BambinO. The benefit of having this opera at the end of a busy run was that I knew the music and the staging inside out, although the new team had changes that I had to adjust to quickly. I had a recording from a previous performance that I would use to run through the staging and I practised my part musically at the piano. During the week I managed to squeeze in a coaching session with Christopher Middleton where we worked on my current aria package, he is so insightful and I appreciate all his help and advice. This meant that I had a little extra breathing space to begin planning my next projects as I also needed to move out of my room at Student Halls and find somewhere new to live in London. I was so grateful that I knew this opera because I found moving lodgings quite stressful.   I like to plan ahead of time, but the rental market in London moves very fast and I didn’t sign a contract for a new place until the morning before my flight to Aberdeen! Knowing that I knew the music allowed me to feel calm and in control. I hope that in the future I will be able to bear this in mind when planning work and projects.

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I have had a great summer and feel energised for the upcoming months. I have learned how to multi-task projects better and I am thankful that I have been able to maintain my vocal health and stamina. What I didn’t expect to learn from this, was that because I kept up my vocal practise, i.e. singing for 6 days a week that my recovery time after taking a long weekend off was much quicker which allowed me to perform challenging coloratura arias with the fast runs sounding smoother, in fewer practise days, allowing me to work on my personal targets sooner. Whilst touring Scotland I took the advantage of meeting up with Judith Howarth, my singing teacher from my time at the RCS.  She helped me with my bel canto phrasing and floating and after my time with her, I left feeling re-energised and motivated for the months ahead.

63 responses to Rest, Relaxation, Hot Tea, and Laughter

  1. 

    So you have time for rest and relaxation, so what do you do? Answer questions so comprehensively it is better than a textbook!
    I can imagine prospective landladies looking askance when they hear what you do! Visions of arias at midnight.

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather September 17, 2018 at 8:07 pm

      I had a two-hour train journey it helps to pass the time he he. I had fabulous student halls with dedicated music rooms with pianos and for two years had practice time whenever I needed, plus the bedrooms were soundproofed, back to my trusty keyboard and hopefully my fellow residents are out at work all day 😊.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  2. 

    The care and feeding of a voice is something many of us take for granted, and obviously, you cannot. The results of all your dedication are apparent and appreciated!

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather September 17, 2018 at 8:09 pm

      Thank you, Annette the worst thing about being a singer is the dread of someone with a throat infection hugging and kissing you on the cheek, you start to count down the days before your potential gravel throat starts 😊.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  3. 

    Wow, superbe ! merci pour ce beau partage Charlotte ! C’est très enrichissant de lire ton expérience. You explain very well that the work of artists, even with Talent, requires a lot of work.
    Wish you the best my friend !!

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather September 17, 2018 at 8:09 pm

      Thank you, Pascal this is just a tiny part of it ‘keeping my voice in shape’ but I love this and earning a living from it is my goal.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  4. 

    Charlotte, this is brilliant! It is the best explanation I have seen of how professional singers prepare, work and rest. I will recommend this to anyone who asks about the life of an opera singer. I have so much respect for how hard you work to do what you do—I remember being at rehearsals for a very difficult quarter-tone modern opera years ago, and seeing one of the cast members sitting the the hall between his scenes, with a (in those days tape) recorder, learning the title role of Simon Boccanegra! That’s when it dawned on me just how hard it is to go from role to role. I’m surprised you all don’t get whiplash some days.

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather September 17, 2018 at 8:10 pm

      Thank you, Peter glad, you enjoyed it. Staying focused and productive with practice when you’re not on a tight schedule is harder I feel. I really do prefer to be busy.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  5. 

    Speaking of bel canto, I heard a mind-blowing performance of The Capulets and The Montagues the other night with Jessica Pratt and Caitlin Hulcup here in Melbourne. I knew of Jessica Pratt of course but Caitlin Hulcup, the mezzo soprano playing Romeo, was a revelation. Magnificent.

  6. 

    This is really fascinating. Care of an instrument is so much more complex when it’s part of that complex construction, the human body! So many potential influences to take into account. Thanks for giving us a look behind the scenes – or should that be behind behind-the-scenes?

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather September 17, 2018 at 8:11 pm

      It’s definitely something not to take for granted I have several friends who had to take time out of training because of vocal problems but happily they’re back on track now.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  7. 

    Your voice is your livelihood and keeping it in good shape and resting it is important. Do you sing other styles of music other than opera, sometimes variety is good.

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather September 17, 2018 at 8:12 pm

      Yes I sing folk songs, lieder and other song repertoire in a variety of languages, I used to sing a lot of musical theatre which is a very different style but I still keep up with some Bernstein and Sondheim and if I sing at weddings for example I’m asked for some modern songs which I try to accommodate as long as everyone realises I do it Charlotte Hoather style rather than mimic the original singer 😊.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  8. 

    Thank you so much for sharing:)

  9. 

    Before I started reading your blog, I never realized just how much practice went into singing. I’ve gained an appreciation for your profession and opera in general. Thank you for sharing such an in-depth view of how you spend your days preparing.

  10. 

    You are a very sweet and talented creature.

  11. 

    Wonderful post Charlotte, as always. I’m sure I have never learned so much from a single blog post; it will surely make me appreciate future live performances all the more.

  12. 

    When singers get up on stage and sing, you think oh how lovely, what a talent, with no real idea of the amount of hard work, training and dedication to getting everything right that has gone on prior to stepping out on the stage. So, respect my friend you absolutely nail everything you do with your hard work and fantastic talent. Well done😘

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather September 17, 2018 at 8:15 pm

      Thanks Gill, well you know more than most you used to run me from lesson to lesson hehe 😊.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  13. 

    My respect and admiration for you only deepens as you take us on your journey with you. The dedication and diligence to stay focused on your craft and nurture your body as well as your voice is remarkable. This was a fascinating insight and so glad you could bring it to us.

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather September 17, 2018 at 8:15 pm

      Thank you, yes eating well and healthy and lots of exercise is the key for me to stay on top of all the running around I do. Glad you enjoyed the post.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  14. 

    Dear Charlotte,
    When will you sing at the Jones Hall in Houston, Texas? That is my question for you so I can buy the tickets to hear you sing. May the Lord bless you real good my Beloved.

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather September 17, 2018 at 8:16 pm

      Any time they invite me would be the answer to that Rev Tim, put in a good word for me, I’d love to visit Texas.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  15. 

    Hello Charlotte. You have been a busy girl. I have sung, on and off for most of my life; I am now 77. I am having issues with my voice: losing power, mainly and wondered if it is too late to start to use vocal exercises at my time of life.
    Along with the lack pf power comes the lack of confidence. I think they are hand in hand, though. I’, not a professional, “Opera” singer, but have sung/sing with local bands.

    • 

      Hello John, I’m so glad to hear that you have sung for most of your life. I read that singing is like any exercise – if you haven’t done it recently you have to build back up slowly, your range will change with age and stamina can become weaker which maybe why you’re feeling less power so doing the exercises will help build strength back. Patience will be key and could give you the confidence you need again.

      I sing with a fabulous male voice choir and the choir director there would probably give you better advice than I can at the moment, when I next see him or one of my singing teachers I will ask if they have anything to add to my response. Perhaps begin with gentle humming each day and check out You Tube videos there are some superb ones, I must try to do one with my exercises but there is a Ted one by Shaylin A Schundler that was very interesting. I would also really recommend a male voice choir there are many modern choirs as well as traditional choirs and the Musical Directors are very experienced with male voices and the cost of regular lessons are then spread between the whole group.

      All my best wishes, keep singing,
      Charlotte x

  16. 

    It is neat hearing the work and preparation that goes into being a vocal athlete. I’m writing a book currently and one of my characters can hear magic, rather than see it like the rest of the magical community. That creates some very unique challenges for her.

    Right now she just hums to do simple spells and charms, but in the future she is going to become a singer and really handle a lot of power with a lot of finesse. Reading your blog post gave me ideas of how to handle her day and the challenges she will face when she really accepts and grows in her magic.

    I wish you all the best as always!!!

    Michael

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather September 17, 2018 at 8:18 pm

      Michael! Absolutely lovely to hear from you, I’ll be excited to read you book, good luck with it all and my best wishes to you x

      Charlotte

  17. 

    Charlotte, you are an Olympic athlete! Hope your Scotland tour is/was fun!

  18. 

    “Thanks for this post. I really enjoy your point of view on. This reminds me when this one time I went to this new restaurant and I was amazed that so many people are willing to pay extra for what they could get at half the price somewhere else.”

  19. 

    Great questions and very detailed answers. I learn so much from you and your posts. Have you ever had a bad audience or one you had to work hard to win over?

    • 

      Thanks Alex, good question. I can only think of one where I had to walk in and perform in the lobby of the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester in the public space before a show, they weren’t there to see me, they weren’t into classical music but by the third song they’d warmed up and stopped talking to listen and by the end I got a good round of applause. A great experience though.
      All my best wishes
      Charlotte

  20. 

    You are amazing! You are wise to pace yourself the way you do. You are also the epitome of making your dream come true! As “Voice of the Future”, you do need to remain an athlete of opera!

    • 

      Thank you Resa. I picked up a cold this last week, that’s probably the hardest thing to try to fit into practice routines 🤐, so i’ll probably spend time on translations, storyboarding and vocalise routines as I’ve my brothers wedding to sing at next weekend.
      All my best wishes
      Charlotte

      • 

        Well that sounds good, I mean taking it a bit easy. What’s more crazy for a singer than getting a cold? (are you doing lemon & honey?) I started Alice’s original dress, after falling down the rabbit hole.
        However, I had cataract surgery in late August, then early September. Apparently, I have thin corneas, and my left eye has been unhappy. I was blind (everything was solid white) for a week, then shapes and colour came in. Then they did my right eye, so far so good. Now my left eye has regressed. It’s been a bit difficult to draw and sew with one eye. LOL! Anyway this should all be behind me soon! Sending hugs!!! Resa

      • 
        Charlotte Hoather October 1, 2018 at 10:10 pm

        Oh boy, I know a bit about this Resa because my Dad had his lens replaced through cataracts he has taken to wearing glasses again for reading although his long vision is almost perfect. Fingers crossed 🤞🏻 that you soon get your full vision back.
        All my best wishes
        Charlotte 💕

      • 

        Aww, thanks Charlotte!
        Hope the wedding goes well! Or did I miss it.
        Anyway, having you sing at his wedding is really a beautiful thing. Okay, I’m going over to your blog to see! 💖

  21. 

    This is a wonderful post, giving a great insight into the day to day challenges of life as a young opera singer. It is things like having food with you to eat at the right times, that end up making a real difference to your health (and saving money). Staying ahead of your schedule by getting on top of a new libretto is brilliant. I hope soon the number of operas that are already under your belt (e.g. BambinO) will help to give you time to breathe a little. Hope the new flat works well.

  22. 

    You are amazing, Charlotte! Thank you so much for this post which gives me such a clear idea of the care you take each day to make sure you are as healthy and as rested as possible. The amount of singing you do doesn’t surprise me and the difficulty you have had convincing potential landlords/ladies that you will be a trouble-free tenant doesn’t surprise me either! 😀

    Please may I re-blog this post?

  23. 

    Fabulous blog as always Charlotte.
    You are amazing how hard you work, answering so many questions really well. Very well done, giving everyone a insight into just how much you love singing.xx

  24. 

    Interesting post. You always need a break in whatever you are doing to rest and recharge. Good luck with your future projects x

  25. 

    Hi Charlotte. I have extremely random thoughts: I wouldn’t think you’d be a noisy neighbor. 🙂 I never thought your eating habits would effect your singing, but it makes perfect sense. Wow…stress does have an effect on us. I usually have a Slurpee Day on Friday. But last week, I had way too much soda after the Slurpee and caught a Cold. Yes, I hate moving. I had to take off work to meet with landlords or potential roommates. It got to the point where I could no longer take time away from work and settled for what I could get. I am so ready to move again, but will be more picky this time in where I choose to go. I’m relieved that you found a place.

    Finally, Charlotte, I only speak English because I was too lazy in school to learn other Languages. Therefore, when you say things like “bel canto phrasing” or “arpeggios progressing to coloratura exercises” I’m at a lost. However, as I continue to read your Blog, I’m learning how to speak “Opera.” You just can’t let me be lazy, can you? 🙂

    • 

      I always try to be very considerate and don’t sing too early or too late at home, the Mum in the flat above me in Glasgow told me her daughter thought I was a Disney Princess living downstairs because she could faintly hear my arias 😄. The rooms in my student digs were soundproofed that was brilliant but it got very warm in the summer.

      I’ve decided I don’t like moving I prefer to be settled but you’re very wise to take your time over your next move.

      Haha google search is our friend 😂. Nope no laziness allowed.
      All my best wishes
      Charlotte

      • 

        Congrats, Charlotte! Came to you via Clare. I never thought about landlords asking that question until now. Fun question: how loud do you get in performance?
        And having asked that question, I don’t even know the measure of loudness.

  26. 

    Hi Charlotte, I’ve read your most interesting post because I follow Clare Pooley, so thanks to both of you. You are very disciplined in managing all the different parts of your life, and I can really understand how vital it is for you to take good care of your voice. I am a retired teacher and I definitely strained my voice over time. Best wishes for all your performances.

  27. 

    Hi Charlotte. It’s lovely to come across your blog via Clare at A Suffolk Lane! Your post is wonderfully written, full of fascinating detail and gives us a real insiders view into the life of an opera singer! Wow, your work load is immense and I’m glad you’ve got the rest and relaxation all sorted out … As for moving, they are always stressful! Hope you’re all settled in now and enjoying your new home! Great to ‘meet’ you here on WP. Warmest wishes, Annika 😀🌺

  28. 

    Hi, Charlotte – I dropped by on Clare Pooley’s recommendation. I am so glad that I did. Very inspiring post!

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather October 14, 2018 at 6:34 pm

      Thank you for visiting, Clare is a long term blog friend of mine so I’m very happy to hear from you too.
      All my best wishes
      Charlotte

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