When Cirque Du Soleil casting called me to announce that I was the chosen singer for the new 2014 Cirque production Kurios, there was one thing I was really worried about; whether I would be able to cope with singing up to 10 shows per week. I would be the only singer in the show and singing for the majority of the two-hour show, and like I said, up to 10 times per week!
Since I was a child, I have experienced constant vocal challenges. I had a cyst on one of my vocal folds that later formed a sulcus, and a mucosal bridge, which were probably of genetic origin. On top of that, I have chronic asthmatic bronchitis and allergies. Of course you can imagine the limitations in range, volume, stamina, and the disappointments that came along with all of that. Despite the challenges, I was always passionate about singing and I was determined to make it my profession. So I went to college for vocal performance and was committed to learning as much as possible about the anatomy of my voice, and exploring its potential. After all, this is my instrument and I have to work with what I was given.
In 2014, I spent a three-month show creation period in Montreal at the Cirque Du Soleil headquarters, where I was training with a vocal coach for two hours each day on top of rehearsing for the show. Then I toured North America, completing 1,074 shows in three years.
I want to share with you how I maintained my vocal health, so that these tips may help you:
- Warm up and Warm down – Before the show I warmed up my voice for 20–30 minutes. After the show, while I was removing my make-up or on the way home, I did a gentle warm down.
- Sleep – Absolutely necessary for vocal recovery! I aimed to sleep eight and a half hours every night.
- Diet – A healthy and nutritious diet is essential for a singer, and everyone needs to find what works for them. One thing I personally eliminated from my diet was dairy products. Dairy may coat your throat and produce excess mucus in your system and it makes it harder to sing with a clear tone and maintain pitch. I also limited sugar as it “rips off” the energy needed for singing. I was also taking a multivitamin daily. Another important aspect was allowing enough time between eating and singing, as well as never eating too close to bedtime, to avoid acid reflux.
I tried to distribute my energy amongst the 10 weekly shows, and this took a few months to figure out. I learned to pull back a little. —Eirini Tornesaki of @Cirque #VocalTips Click To Tweet
- Water – I consumed about three liters (101.4 fl oz) of water daily. The way I measured it was by filling and consuming my 1 liter (33.8 fl oz) water bottle three times throughout the day.
- Alcohol, Smoking, Coffee – I did not drink much alcohol or smoke at all. On rare occasions I enjoyed one drink after the last show of the week. Coffee was a lot more difficult. Coffee is my guilty pleasure! I always have one in the morning, but never more than one cup per day, because it can dehydrate you. It’s also acidic, so it is usually not recommended for singers.
- Talking – I avoided talking too much during the day and talking loudly. I also avoided going to bars, clubs, or other loud places. Sometimes I would be on complete vocal rest on my day off (Monday).
- Physical Exercise – I did body weight exercise and stretching. A singer’s body needs to be strong but also flexible, so it is important to keep that balance. I practiced yoga daily as it increases circulation and improves your posture.
- Nasal Rinsing & Steaming – I used a Neti Pot daily for “nasal showers” to help with congestion and reduce allergies and I steamed my vocal cords with boiled water around two to three times a week, (especially after the weekend when I performed two shows per day)
- Pace Yourself – Our artistic director always reminded us to distribute our energy. I tried to distribute it amongst the 10 weekly shows, and this took me a few months to figure out. Initially I felt drained by halfway through the week, so I learned to pull back a little.
- Mental Health – Working long days, repetition, tiredness, and being away from loved ones can affect your mental health. That’s why it’s important to check in with yourself and your feelings, take care of your mental health and do other things you enjoy, besides work. In every city we performed in I found a yoga studio or a dance class where I could relax. I also studied songwriting with Berklee Online while I was on tour! I completed a Specialist Certificate in Songwriting and really enjoyed engaging my brain and creativity with this different activity when I was not performing.
I know all this may sound like a lot, but these were all gradual adjustments and lifestyle changes that I developed in three years. It was an incredible learning process that I will keep with me for the rest of my professional life. All the “sacrifices” were really worth the effort, because the feeling of achievement after 10 shows in a week is indescribable! Also, I just want you to know that these strategies are what worked for me personally; they are tools, not rules. Everyone’s voice and body are different and I just happened to have extra sensitivity with my vocal cords so I needed to make these choices.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to share your own experience with me, or if you have any questions about these techniques. I wish you all good health and happy singing!
About Eirini Tornesaki
Eirini Tornesaki (a.k.a Erini), from Crete, Greece is a vocalist of jazz, Greek traditional music, and contemporary styles. She is an alumni of the Master’s Program of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, she toured with Cirque Du Soleil for three years and participated in their Emmy Award winning VR short film “Kurios inside the Box.” She has collaborated with Luciana Souza, Christos Zotos, Mario Frangoulis, and also performed with Barry Manilow and James Bay as a session singer. She has appeared at Carnegie Hall, NY, amongst other prestigious venues around the world. She is also a vocal coach and teaches at her private studio in Boston, MA and online.