Performing When Sick

If you simultaneously have a cold and a commitment to sing or speak in public, the dilemma can be more difficult than your fogged-in brain wants to deal with. Canceling or postponing may seem to put at risk your reputation. Trying to sound your best with inflamed or painful vocal cords may risk doing further damage to them.

For all voice users, these dilemmas spotlight the importance of a relationship with a doctor and therapy or training team whom you know and trust, a relationship established before the crisis hits. Talk with these folks honestly about whether you are risking further vocal damage if you push yourself to perform and about balancing the health and professional risks.

There are prescription medications that some physicians offer that can knock back the effects of an acute laryngeal inflammation in time for an important performance. But don’t push your luck y constantly talking, singing, preaching, or shouting when ill.

If you decide to go on, rehearse in shorter sessions and be extra attentive to your vocal technique. Respect any temporary limits on your pitch range, tone quality, or breathing. Maintain the emotional connection to your material, and communicate that meaning even if your sound is less than you hope for.

Performers often admit that when illness strikes, they tend to repeatedly “test” their voice on the hardest bits of material. This stresses the voice, reinforces habits of tension and anxiety, and disrupts their familiar preparation routine. It is far better to rest as much as you can, then do a normal but extra mindful preparation process in warm-up and rehearsal, even if the result is not perfect. Pushing yourself to sound normal before you are completely healthy increases the risk of doing permanent vocal damage. More commonly, there is a risk of falling into bad habits of tension and other compensations that will be hard to unlearn.