It always makes me sad when people choose to leave the choir, but the reason that makes my heart hurt the most is when people say, “I’m too old. My voice is going.”
I always try to talk them out of it, but usually they don’t tell me until they have thoroughly made up their mind to leave. I’ve always felt that singing together is tremendously good for us and that we should keep it in our lives as long as possible.
It is a universal challenge: we are all getting older, and the modish hair colour in most choirs is grey or vibrantly dyed. So I have been looking into this and I have great news – science is on my side.
The British Voice Association lists all the physiological changes that can affect our voice, and some of them are surprising.
- muscles weaken, including those in the face, the neck, and between the ribs
- joints stiffen and the spine loses some of its flexibility
- hearing deteriorates
- tooth loss affects articulation
- lung capacity diminishes
- digestive system is less efficient – acid reflux often causes hoarseness
- neurological input becomes less effective, affecting balance and coordination
- forgetfulness means remembering words (and learning new lyrics) is harder
I know, it’s a daunting list. Not everyone will experience all of these things, but it’s interesting how the voice is intrinsically linked to our whole body. Voice problems can be a symptom of something systemic, and a weakness in an area we think of as unrelated can affect our voice, both in speech and singing.
Now for the good news. One of the best things to do to keep your voice strong is to join a choir.
The best way to maintain – or improve – the quality of your voice is to keep using it. Talk, do vocal warmups and exercises, and sing!
Singing keeps the voice working well, improving breathing and wellbeing. Singing requires you to breathe a little deeper, stand a little taller, and project your voice more. It can actively improve your speech in terms of volume, articulation and confidence. Doing breathing exercises will help you control your breath, use more of your lungs and tone up the intercostal muscles and the diaphragm.
If you feel your voice is becoming weaker, you could try improving your general health:
- Regular exercise helps your muscles, your breathing, and your balance.
- Keep hydrated (pee pale – your pee should never be darker than straw-coloured)
- Have a healthy varied diet
- Don’t smoke
- Reduce alcohol consumption – for the acid reflux and neurological impact
- Keep mentally active (choir is good for this one too)
- Have your hearing checked and consider a hearing aid sooner rather than later.
Yes, our voices change as we age, and you may mourn the fact that your singing voice is not the same as it used to be. Try to observe and accept this. Sing more often – not just on choir day. When it comes to choir, maybe try singing a different part. Swap to soprano so that you can hear the tune better, or move to tenor if you feel uncomfortable singing the high notes. As always, let your director know if you need to hear something again. As a choir we value our members’ unique voices and we want people to keep feeling that they belong.