For most of my life (since age 2) singing came easily and naturally. Now at 62, I am frustrated with the weakness of my voice. Is there anything I can do to regain it, or does aging so alter the instrument as to make singing a lost art? I feel such a loss. I so took the gift for granted, and never imagined I could lose it.
I met a dancer who was seventy years old and she could raise her leg straight up alongside her head. She had started dancing only in her forties and was utterly devoted to it. I took a class from her, which began with expressing love and tenderness to every part of the body. We were to caress and kiss it if we could reach it, or to do it in our imagination if we could not. Then, using the breath, we slowly warmed up each muscle. First we stretched and released, and then we began to tone and strengthen. It was much like a good yoga class, totally honoring the body in that moment and learning what it wanted to do. No forcing, no holding back, but a loving intimacy with every cell and fiber.
In the same way, singing, as we age, requires that we come to the instrument every day with tenderness, patience, compassion and reverence. Going back to basics every day, we work at breathing exercises to keep the muscles toned and strong for support. We refine the phonation so that the tone stays light and flexible but not lax or breathy. We keep the integrity of the articulators and the complete spectrum of resonance. We work slower, first in the lower voice, and only going higher when it is easy. We have to take longer to warm up and do less in the beginning. However, because of our experience, we are much faster at everything else once the voice is warmed up, so it evens out. As we warm up, the voice eventually opens into its full capacity, but it does so in a very different way than when we are young.
We might have to change the vowels we use – less “OH,” “OOH” and “AH,” and more “Nasty A,” “AYE” and “EE.” Depth and richness of tone might replace brilliance and agility, and we might have to do more staccato and agility exercises to keep the voice as resilient as it can be. We might have to think of making a straight tone to keep the vibrato from getting too wide or slow. And some of us might have to sing repertoire in lower keys. The content of repertoire might also be more expansive and eternal rather than romantic or fanciful. There are things that are glorious to embrace in the aging process. The loss of the voice is not one of them, but the transformation of it is.
We will be able to sing as long as breath vibrates our vocal cords. The question will be if we can sing from our soul and allow it to use us as an instrument for grace, or if we resist the genius of eldership and the transformation it is calling us into. It is rigorous and it can be ecstatic.
So yes — youth is lost. But essence is not. Wholeness looks, sounds and feels different, which is why there is still meaning and heart and beauty in being alive. Without change, our expression is done. With transformation, it is the same bridge to creative source that it has always been.