Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Menstruation and Music Don’t Mix

January 29th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Cartoon illustration of opera singerThat’s the report from this arts blogger at the New York Times. Yesterday, doctors from the Methodist Center for Performing Arts Medicine of the Methodist Hospital in Houston held a daylong symposium on the management of medical problems among musicians specifically and performing artists more generally. Performing-arts medicine is a relatively new specialty, and frankly, I’m not surprised by the need for it. (I know a drummer who has ongoing neck and back problems caused – or at least aggravated – by his art.)

But I was surprised to see a blanket recommendation that female vocalists use oral contraceptives to suppress menstruation. According to Keith O. Reeves, the deputy chief of Gynecology at the Methodist Hospital and a professor at Weill Cornell, premenstrual syndrome “brings vocal fatigue, decreased range, loss of power and loss of some harmonics.” Continuous use of synthetic hormones is quite an extreme remedy for an illness without a clear definition or etiology.

But apparently menopause is much harder on the vocal folds – our intrepid blogger can’t even tell us:

As for menopause, you don’t want to know. As Dr. Reeves quotes the great mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig, “It was a hell of some years.”

4 responses to “Menstruation and Music Don’t Mix”

  1. Laura Wershler says:

    Isn’t that funny. At a screening and discussion of Giovanna Chesler’s documentary Period: End of Menstruation in Edmonton a couple of years ago, a young woman who was a singer told us that coming off the pill improved her voice. I suggest that taking the pill might smooth out a singer’s voice in the ways noted but also remove the nuance and charm that makes that voice unique. Just think of the intense response you may have felt listening to a singer’s voice crack in an emotional way at just the right point in a song. Is that what we want to get rid of? Do female singers? Well, maybe if you’re an opera singer. For a long time I’ve wanted to puruse the idea of how female artists of every realm view menstruation in relation to their art. I know some who shun the effects of hormonal contraception as being detrimental to their creativity and performance. While I’m sure others feel exactly the opposite. Wouldn’t it be interesting to study this?

  2. Heather D says:

    What I want to know is what is in the pill that might change the voice? And what else does it change that we don’t know that much about yet? Scary.

  3. Laura Wershler says:

    I think the idea is that continuous use birth control pills would supply a constant dose of synthetic hormones everyday thereby eliminating the fluctuation of (synthetic) hormone levels that are considered to be responsible for things like “vocal fatigue, decreased range, loss of power and loss of some harmonics.”

  4. Elizabeth Kissling says:

    Fascinating idea for a study, Laura! Maybe someday, after all my current menstrual cycle research projects are completed and out of the way, you and I can talk about how to do that . . . .

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