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Take a deep breath, and get your voice ready

Members of the Wolverine football team work year-round to keep in top physical shape and avoid injuries.

But what about the fans? Can they avoid injuries when cheering on the Wolverines? They can, say the experts at U-M's Vocal Health Center (VHC), who recommend some healthy vocal habits for football fans.

The first step toward producing a strong voice at the game is to be well hydrated. That means drinking plenty of water before, during and after the game. And it doesn't mean alcoholic beverages or those that contain caffeine.

Just like the athletes and the marching band, fans can begin warming up before they even get to the stadium. While driving to the parking lot or walking to Michigan Stadium, let out some lip or tongue trills. Just let the lips or tongue flutter as though blowing bubbles under water or making a motorboat sound, using a gentle voice. Once you find your section, row and seat number, you can impress those around you by doing some slow glides up and down the scale with the sounds of mmmmm, ooooooo, or aaaaaaaa. To get in the true Wolverine spirit, run the scale with: "Gooooooooooo Blue!"

U-M experts suggest that you "fill the tank" before using your voice. Take in a good breath, they say, and use plenty of airflow. Let a slight sensation of breath escape with the voice when you cheer.

Be aware of your own voice and the effect of the noisy surroundings on it. It's easy to lose track of how loudly you are talking when there is a lot of background noise. Don't try to make yourself heard above the noise in the Big House. Depend on how your voice feels in a noisy environment, not how it sounds, experts say. Don't force your voice; allow it to be comfortably loud but not strained.

If the action on the field is fast and furious, give your voice a break now and then. Try whistling or clapping instead of yelling.

Once you've led the team to victory, don't forget a cool-down for your voice. Treat it gently by doing some soft humming on the way home. "The Victors" will work well for this, but keep the volume on medium. Once home, rest your voice for the next 24 hours. Don't yell at the kids, the dog, your spouse or a rival team on television.

If you lost control of this vocal health program at the game and are experiencing some vocal distress, experts recommend soothing lozenges. But avoid those with eucalyptus, menthol or peppermint. Butter rum Lifesavers and Werther's are ideal, they say.

One Wolverine fan who suffered professionally by abusing his voice while cheering on the team is the Rev. Tom Firestone, pastor at St. Mary's Student Parish in Ann Arbor. "I yell plenty," he says. "I used to lose myself at games."

Yelling at Saturday football games led to trouble when he tried to preach homilies at Sunday Mass. The strain on his voice led him to Leslie Guinn at the VHC.

Now Firestone does vocal exercises to strengthen his voice even while driving. "It works," he says. "It keeps you more in touch with yourself."

So the former high school and Xavier University defensive back didn't have to relinquish cheering the Wolverines at home and away games to keep his job. He is successful at both because he uses the plan for maintaining a healthy voice.

VHC is headed by Dr. Norman D. Hogikyan, surgeon and associate professor of otolaryngology. Working with Hogikyan is Marc Haxer, a senior speech and language pathologist, and Guinn, professor emeritus of music, a professional bass baritone and prize-winning recording artist who has collaborated with otolaryngologists in the rehabilitation of injured voices for the past 25 years.

The center offers comprehensive care for the voice and voice disorders. Clients include internationally renowned performers, athletic coaches, teachers, clergy, corporate executives, salespeople, attorneys, politicians, radio and television professionals, actors, telephone operators and public speakers.

For more information about vocal health and the center, call (734) 432-7666 or visit http://www.med.umich.edu/oto/vocalhealthcenter.


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