Women should not only expect to lose their sex drive, sleep poorly, feel anxious and forget things, it now seems that our voices are ringing out during menopause as well.
People might have been confused about Julia Sawalha, 52, who no longer voiced Ginger in Chicken Run 2 because her voice was considered too old, but according to the British Voice Association, menopause can have a significant effect on our singing.
At the age of 55 and still working on TV and radio, this is important to me. That’s how I ended up on a course from voice coach Anne-Marie Speed. I tell her I’m not quite up to the big M yet and haven’t noticed much change. But Anne-Marie, 56, a smooth New Zealander whose day job is to teach actors to speak clearly and correctly, takes no notice.
Here Rosie Millard (left) is coached by voice coach Anne-Marie Speed (right)
Have a glass of water. How much water do you drink? Dehydration affects aging voices. I probably don’t drink enough, so did dehydration occur during perimenopause? I’m starting to worry about sounding like a croaking witch.
As we get older, the larynx, which contains, or folds, the vocal cords sags slightly, deepening everyone’s voice. In addition, estrogen levels decrease in women, causing the folds to dry out.
While going through menopause, Anne-Marie decided to help her clients address this change, with exercises and lifestyle adjustments.
She came up with a monthly one-day course at her London-based firm The Voice Explained (thevoiceexplained.com) that specifically addresses aging voices in men and women.
As estrogen levels drop during menopause, the larynx becomes less hydrated, which means it can become more fragile
She regrets the fact that while every woman will experience it in her life, menopause is still relatively unknown – especially its effect on the voice.
“It’s a shame that it isn’t talked about enough, and women don’t know how and where to get support,” she says. I signed up to see what I could learn.
How to get your youthful voice back:
1. Hydrate your voice. Avoid tea, coffee, diet drinks and stick to water. Two liters a day is good.
2. Reconnect with your spoken voice. Read a poem every day. Walk around the house singing. Anything to exercise that muscle.
3. Do some barrel rolls and other exercises. Rolling your Rs, closing ‘M’ sounds with your lips shut, imitating a fire siren – it all helps.
4. Remember posture and breathing. Relaxing your diaphragm helps your lungs.
5. Use your reading voice as your everyday voice.
I’ve been a broadcaster, including art correspondent for the BBC, for years, and now I have quite a bit of public speaking in my role as the chairman of BBC Children In Need, and my vote is quite a crucial asset. I confess to Anne-Marie that she is getting a little tired these days.
“Estrogen, which drops during menopause, keeps everything hydrated,” she says. So as we get older everything gets very dry, including the vocal folds. If you are in your late 40s or early 50s, you may find that your voice becomes more vulnerable; there is a loss of range and stamina. Shall we open the folds? ‘
She quickly makes me drink water, and then she says, “Uh, uh, uh”. “That sound comes from your vocal folds,” she tells me. The folds are in the larynx at the top of the airways and their job is to regulate the air. When we speak normally, the cords make contact about 200 times per second. So the larynx is a valve, ”she says.
She points to a rather awful plastic throat model, complete with tongue and teeth, that she has on her desk.
‘Efficient use of the voice depends on how well the vocal cords can close. As you get older, you have less strength, especially if you don’t practice your voice a lot. It’s a muscle and it needs a workout. ‘
The next exercise, she says, is called the siren. ‘Let’s make a voice like a fire truck. This introduces movement to the voice. Keep your lips closed. ‘
I’m doing the best I can.
“Now go ‘Mmmm’, as if you were looking at a delicious cake.” I obey, make the sound enthusiastic and feel the vibration on my larynx. Roll your Rs. Blow raspberries through your lips. ‘
I will say, my voice sounds a lot clearer afterwards. I think much of what Anne-Marie has to say to her clients is about trust. The kind of confidence you may have had in your 20s thinking you had all the answers.
Many of us become a little more insecure about life as we get older, which can result in a weaker voice. Anne Marie wants us to revisit our youthful certainty, so we use our voice appropriately: ‘You are committed to what you say, which some people find challenging, especially girls and women.
Anne Marie teaches women in daily life to use their reading voice to train the muscle
After doing Anne Marie Rosie’s exercises, discovered that her voice sounded as if it had been ‘digitally enhanced’
Even actors, who today have no formal education, are out of touch with their voice. There is so much to gain when you speak in public. How often do you read poetry? ‘
I read to my four children every night, but as they got older, that routine fell away.
“That’s right,” says Anne-Marie. She reaches over to her bookshelf, which has a sign that says “Be a Voice, Not Echo,” and retrieves me a book entitled Poems That Make Grown Women Cry. We read the Charles Causley classic Timothy Winters. It doesn’t make me cry. But apparently I’m still not using my vocal cords enough.
“Try it out with your tongue,” says Anne-Marie. This forces you to spit the words out while trying to make a noise. It looks and sounds hilarious. Fortunately, the photographer has yet to come.
What could her clients do during the full day course? Hydrate the voice. Remember, if you drink a glass of water, it takes more than four hours to properly hydrate your body, ‘she says. “Then we do these exercises to create an awareness of what a connected voice feels like.”
Then we count some – as if every number on a plate with a treat comes in. “One mmmm, two mmmm, three mmmm,” and so on.
It’s like my voice has suddenly been digitally amplified. Why? “Well, because you make small adjustments to the sound you create, and find the resonance frequency of your own voice.” It really felt like my voice had warmed up and been oiled up.
We are talking about famous people with great voice control. Maggie Smith, of course. Judi Dench. Actors who have learned how to use their voices unamplified. Ms. Thatcher was also very committed in her practice and understood that her voice was part of the presentation package.
Rosie said Anne Marie’s voice was ‘like a crystal bell, clear and flawless’
‘People associate voice training with eloquence – it isn’t at all. When the voting is done right, we just get more from you. I want to encourage people to use their voice properly, with their own accent. ‘
So, aside from signing up for a class, how can we all avoid sounding like frogs?
Think about amplifying your voice, not relaxing in lazy speech, says Anne-Marie. ‘Sit up straight.’ I immediately quit lanky. When you read that poem, you automatically sat up. You should always be like that. ‘
We must also pay attention to the tongue. ‘It shapes our words and reconnects directly to the larynx. The back of the tongue can get really tight, ‘she says.
She shows me how to practice with a barrel roll. Start with your tongue against the side of your cheek and roll it around your mouth. One and two … keep breathing. Tell me when it starts to hurt. ‘
We roll our tongues clockwise eight times and then counterclockwise eight times. Then four more rolls in each direction. ‘It hurts!’ I manage to say.
Anne-Marie does not pay attention. Then twice around the mouth. And then one, ”she says. Help out! “Go now,” Mmm. “
I can barely feel my tongue when we’re done, but the clarity in my voice is astonishing. “It’s a great exercise to do before speaking in public,” she says.
And we all need to get off our screens, she adds, so we’re not just texting or emailing all day long. ‘With aging voices you have to use it or lose it. And with social isolation, especially lately, people find that if they don’t talk to anyone, they lose their voice. ‘
When I get home, I replay my recording of the interview. I mutter. However, Anne-Marie’s voice is like a crystal bell, clear and impeccable. I could try a few more of those barrel rolls.
- Anne-Marie Speed’s next course (£ 110) is in November.