VK Krishna Menon’s eight-hour discourse on Kashmir at a United Nations Security Council meet in 1957 is, of course, common knowledge.
Few, however, know that he downed over 40 cups of coffee during the speakathon to ensure that his voice, or, indeed, the point, wasn’t lost to the audience.
Youngsters attempting to surpass Akanksha Jachak’s record would do well to take a leaf out of the late Defence Minister’s book, say medical experts. Or risk losing their voice altogether.
Jachak recently set what is claimed as a world record by singing continuously for 61 hours. Her feat of endurance has spawned a flood of “me-too” attempts by young, mostly untrained, performers voicing their ambition to improve on the record.
This sudden penchant for records by amateurs is worrying doctors who warn that prolonged singing sessions by untrained crooners without medical supervision may leave the aspirant unable to even talk, let alone sing.
“Singing non-stop places a severe strain on the vocal chords and can cause permanent damage to the voice.”, points out Dr RK Mundhra, Professor Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) department, MGM College.
The longer the session the harder the chords have to work to compensate for decreased airflow from the lungs. The excessive strain results in vocal nodule-formation of a pinhead-sized callous on the inner edges of the vocal chords-characterised by temporary hoarseness and change in timbre.
“If not treated in time it may permanently damage vocal chords requiring micro-laryngal surgery”, Dr Mundhra. The affliction is common enough among professional crooners, although kindergarten/primary teachers, hawkers and others who shout constantly are also susceptible.
“Qawwals and pop singers, in particular, fall prey to vocal nodule. When even trained singers who exercise great dietary diligence and take care not to strain their voice fall prey you can imagine the damage inflicted on vocal chords by an untrained youngster who belts out songs for 40-50 hours”, queries Dr Yashwant Maru, Professor and Head of ENT department, MY Hospital.
“As a physician I would strongly advise parents against letting musically untrained children attempt singing records. Records are fine but one has to consider the long-term implications. Voice, after all, is God’s greatest gift and nothing should be done to jeopardize it”, stressed Dr Maru.
The ENT specialist says if an endurance singing performance must be attempted adequate safeguards should be in place. “The youngster should be medically examined before and after the performance. Plus, parents must insist on periodic breaks to rest the vocal muscles and ply the child with liquids like coffee to sooth the throat.
Intermittent steam inhalation would also help reduce vocal chord strain. Dr Maru also has a word of advice for Akanksha’s parents. She has a good voice and should be put under the tutelage of a classical vocalist to ensure that it stays undamaged, he suggests. The reason? “Classical singers are immune to vocal nodule as they spend long hours practicing control over vocal chords; what you and I call riyaz”, Dr Maroo concludes.