Weathering the weather: How temperature affects vocal cords
Wednesday, September 06, 2017
Those who sing the national anthem at sporting and state events and contestants for American Idol share something other than their musical talents. The voices and health of singers who entertain an audience outdoors may suffer from weather.
Dry, cold air can impact the vocal cords, and this can impact performance. What may come to mind is a nationally televised performance on a football field during a brutally cold winter storm. But many may remember the turmoil that resulted from Beyonce lip-syncing the national anthem for President Barack Obama's inauguration to protect her voice from the cold.
A voice is much like a musical instrument, and the quality of the music can suffer in cold weather. In the previous inauguration, a performance by violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Gabriela Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill had also been prerecorded. The freezing temperatures had prevented the creation of the music.
As it turns out, our voices are a lot more sensitive to environmental conditions than we might have otherwise realized.
The sun bearing down and heat of summer can also be a hazard to the sound and health of vocal cords. This was a hazard for the first of many tryouts for the new season of American Idol. The show will be broadcast on ABC, and the first rounds of tryouts took place Aug. 17 in Portland, Oregon, and Orlando, Florida.
The Florida venue had heat and humidity. The Portland venue had primarily heat. Dry air combined with heat can take on toll on the voice.
The Portland venue had another factor, as those auditioning stood in line in the stage area of an outdoor concrete amphitheater with no shelter or shade. Those hoping to make an audition had been advised they could have only one person accompany them and to prepare for any sort of weather. Among the items suggested to bring were sunscreen, umbrellas, blankets and bottled water.
American Idol contestants line up in Portland, Oregon.
There were numerous umbrellas dotting the scene among the hundreds of singers who waited up to nine hours during the audition process for a chance to perform for the judges. For some, the wait had begun the night before — thus, some experienced the chill of night and the heat of day.
During the intense mid-day heat, one young hopeful sporting pink cotton candy hair, had her mother holding a large sport-sized umbrella over her. The mother did comment that they lived in Texas, so the heat was less likely to impact her daughter's voice.
Others were not so fortunate. Another parent later reported the toll the audition had taken on his daughter, who missed the cut: "My daughter did not make it, and is doing well but crashed her system and is the hospital in Spokane with pancreatitis."
Mother Nature does not choose sides. Both established singers and those trying to get their big break are at risk for the weather diminishing the quality of their performance.
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