A lesson or lecture consists of a series of thoughts, each thought must be clothed in appropriate language, voice, and gesture; the series should be arranged in good order. The teacher must feel the sentiment himself, and must use the proper methods to impart it; the scholars responding by their interest and attention give back to the teacher fresh inspiration. A sentiment inappropriately clothed is suggestive of insincerity and fails in its object. (H.H.Hulbert, 1910)
While I’m still safely ensconced in a largely zoom-dominated bubble, September has come for many of my international colleagues with the half-forgotten dangers of fresher’s flu and the difficulties of using vocal organs that have not had any real exercise in over a year – oh, and a still circulating virus, that too. Although I can do little about the first and last of those problems, the middle one is somewhat within my purview. Others may have dr. Google to shore up their half-baked opinions about their own and others’ health, I ‘do my own research’ by other means. That is, by diving into my trusty 19th century manuals. True to form, they have not only already diagnosed the vocal problems so many lecturers returning to the classroom are now struggling to define…they have some excellent solutions too! So strap in for some blinding insights from educators, scientists, and even the great Caruso himself (or at least his ghostwriter)
If you are in a profession that relies on public speaking (such as lecturing, or preaching) and are struggling to do so especially after a period of silence, you may be suffering from dysphonia clericorum. You are not alone in this, it is a very common illness. As James Mackness reliably informs us
Most physicians have, at one time or other, had under their care some of those numerous affections of the throat to which public speakers and singers are liable, and which interfere materially with the exercise of their respective professions, depriving at one time the public of a favorite vocalist, at another, the bar and the senate of an able orator, and more frequently yet Religion of a faithful minister.
While commonly known as dysphonia clericorum or clergyman’s sore throat, it really applies to anyone who is in a profession where they are likely to overextend their voice, and should therefore perhaps be termed “Voice-user’s Throat” (H.H. Hulbert, 1910)
a voice that “sounds muffled, as if speaking through a flannel” (a propos of which, don’t forget to mask up when lecturing)
The cause of dysphonia clericorum is deceptively simple: you talk too much
The reason why such a large percentage of teachers lose their voices is that, as they have so much voice work to do, any improper use of their vocal organ sooner or later damages its more delicate parts.
However, as H.H. Hulbert points out, more precise causes can be identified, and we can only conclude that if your lecturing is giving you a sore throat, it must be because you’re the kind of dull lecturer who keeps droning on without much style or consideration for aesthetics. The most common ways to catch this illness is by
Ponderous speech. The drawl, so noticeable in clergymen, is due to a somewhat ponderous sustaining of the voice upon vowel-sounds, which are not too well moulded, and to a slurring of the consonants. Teachers are often guilty of the opposite fault, for in their endeavour to be distinct they so laboriously articulate their consonants, that the unvoiced sounds predominate and give an unmusical quality to their speech.
Monotonous speech. Another very objectionable fault in speaking is to let a regular cadence fall upon the end of each phrase, and to emphasize this by a restless swaying of the body in perfect time with the monotonous inflection of the voice.
How to treat your dysphonia yourself:
Prevention, all experts agree, is the best cure. However, since it is presumably already too late for that, here are some easy home-remedies to alleviate the worst symptoms
There must, as all experts agree, be daily exercise. Ideally in the open air, either on foot or on horseback (Mackness, 1848). If you lead a particularly busy life, you can take a cue from E. Caruso and consider any acting you do on stage as exercise, or take an occasional automobile ride.
Here, too, the great Caruso has some excellent hints on avoiding excessive embonpoint for good vocal health.
In Italy we habitually drink the light wines of the country with our meals, and surely are never the worse for it.
If you find that light wines don’t quite hit the spot, you might consider the method of the great Maria Calibran, and down a large glass of porter before every performance.
Or rather, avoid becoming too popular. Having friends will only force you to talk to people outside of working hours, which is terrible for your vocal cords, and they might ruin your diet.
The continual effort of loud talking in a throng would be extremely bad for the sensitive musical instrument that the vocalist carries in his throat, and the various beverages offered at one of your afternoon teas it would be too difficult to refuse (Caruso, 1910)
4. Under-the-counter treatments
There’s nothing wrong, at least where Morrell Mackenzie is concerned, with a bit of light self-medication for a tickle in the throat
Cocaine in the form of lozenges is sometimes a useful aid to singers and speakers, especially where vocal effort gives rise to a pricking or stabbing sensation in the throat.