Singing While Sick

So we're all sick this year, right? I mean, I've been coughing since October, and I know I'm not the only one because I see you all on Facebook posting about the same damn thing. Plus at rehearsal and gigs we're all up to our ears in Kleenex. Which brings me to this important post on singing while sick! RELEVANCY, I HAS IT.

OK: the conventional wisdom says never ever sing while sick. But HAHAHAHAHA, amirite, because those hard-to-get auditions come only once per year and cancelling a gig not only means no money but also dumps your colleagues in the soup.

It's a fine line, really. And when you're starting out in the business, it can be hard to walk that line...if you can even figure out where the line is in the first place. So if you're looking for some thoughts on how to proceed, here are my two cents for your consideration. But first let me say that this is purely from the perspective of making a professional choice, not a health one. I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV: if you're so sick that you're worried about damage to the instrument, then that's a different discussion you should be having with someone in a white lab coat. If your concern, however, is what people will think of the sound and/or your contagiousness, then you've come to the right place. Read on.


If you see a respiratory disaster on the horizon, contact the audition organizers a few days before to let them know you are ill and might not be able to sing. Ask them if they would like to tee up someone from the waitlist in case you definitely have to cancel. Then try to make the final call by the day before at the latest, unless the company says you can let them know on the day itself (sometimes companies who really want to hear you will hold a time no matter what). But cancelling the day of an audition with no advance warning should be reserved only for extreme sudden illnesses, because that almost inevitably leaves an open time slot which someone else could have used. Companies hate that. And so do your colleagues on the waitlist.

How to check the sound: Sing your piece all the way through in tempo. If the cords won't come together most of the time or you're cracking or rasping or choking on phlegm, that's a definite cancel no matter what. But! If you can you hit the pitches cleanly, if you're only slightly hoarse and most of the voice is there with the exception of the extreme ends of your range, and if you can sing the majority of your piece(s) with only a cut/shortened high note or two, then you're probably ok to go forward with a diminished capacity auditionSo when should you go for it? The key question here is DO THEY ALREADY KNOW ME?

  • If you know the company and they know you, err on the side of singing for them. Why? They've experienced you at your best or close to it, and they'll know what they're hearing is you at 60%. As long as you're not walking in with a serious repertoire change, they'll still be able to make a casting decision based on their total knowledge of you. But they should definitely have some warning that you're sick.
  • If you are walking in with a serious repertoire change or you don't know anyone on the panel, err on the side of cancelling. Why? This audition will become their sole experience of you, and while you'll know you're only at 60%, they'll consider it your 100%. Let it go until the next year. You'll be much more likely to get that second audition if they didn't have that 60% experience. I know, I know, I hate cancelling auditions too. But I've learned this lesson the hard way. It's really for the best.


If you see a respiratory disaster coming and no one else in your cast/troupe/choir are sick, contact your director/conductor/producer asap to let them know you are ill and ask whether they would still like you to attend rehearsal. The key words here are ASK and WARN. This way your organizers can protect the herd by telling you to stay home, or, if you have to be there, colleagues can start pounding Cold-Eeze and staying upwind. But whatever you do, don't go into a staging rehearsal with a head cold but neglect to tell your costar until after you've sneezed in her face. Seriously. Don't do that. If you get sick after someone else, then just show up and warn the healthy ones that you too have succumbed.


If you see a respiratory disaster coming, contact your director/conductor/producer asap to let them know you are ill and might not be able to sing. Tee up your cover or double-cast, if you have one. You don't have to actually release a performance to a cover/double until the last minute, but giving at least some advance warning to a cover/double that they might have to take the show is an act of professional courtesy. If there's no cover, then the call about what steps to take is up to your director/conductor/producer. Depending on the depth and breadth of your vocal crisis, the directors can make an announcement to the audience begging their kindness to the sick singer...or choose to make cuts to hide the impaired voice...or ask someone else to sing for you from the pit while you walk your blocking...or bring in a last-minute replacement...I've seen all of these done successfully when singers were really sick. In every case, however, the directors had the opportunity to handle the situation ahead of time, so the key words here for deciding how to handle an impaired performance are IN ADVANCE. This is because I've also seen what happens when a singer shows up on opening night without telling a soul they were on the verge of laryngitis (not even the cover/double). Choosing that road throws everyone into a disastrous panic.  So while a singer can always get through a performance ill, it should definitely never come as a surprise to your colleagues. And as I've said before, audiences will often prefer an impaired performance to no performance.


Everyone gets sick and everyone has to cancel sometimes. It's just the nature of our business. So don't kick yourself when you're down, be gracious, and protect your colleagues in every way you can. Keep on swimming!

Image removed.Angela Jajko, mezzo-soprano, has been praised in such publications as the Boston Globe and the Herald for her “peaches and cream” voice and dramatic delivery.  Upcoming performances include engagements with Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra and Greater Worcester Opera, and recent performances have included Prinz Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus with the North End Music and Performing Arts Center Opera Project in Faneuil Hall, Miss Hannigan in Annie with Crescendo Theatre Company, The Lady of the Lake in Spamalot at Theatre at the Mount, selections fromCarmen in The Greater Worcester Opera Gala in Mechanics Hall, Tessa in The Gondoliers with The Sudbury Savoyards, Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus with New England Light Opera, Carmen with Greater Worcester Opera, Offenbach’s Island of Tulipatan with New England Light Opera, the roles of Ruth, Buttercup, Phoebe, Katisha, and The Fairy Queen in concert with the New England Gilbert & Sullivan Society, and as a featured soloist in concerts with Opera on Tap, Masstheatrica, FIRSTMusic, Ocean Park Festival Chorus, Parish Center for the Arts and New Hampshire Opera Theatre. Her performances have also included the roles of Carmen, Theodorine, Augusta, Marcellina, Hermia, Savitri, Pirate Jenny, and La Zia Principessa. She has also performed with Odyssey Opera, PORTopera, Granite State Opera, Longwood Opera, BASOTI, Harvard University, and the International Lyric Academy in Viterbo, Italy.  She has been honored by the American Prize competition and holds degrees in Vocal Performance from The New England Conservatory of Music and the University of California at Los Angeles.  She is currently the Associate Executive Director of NELO, an artist coordinator for Opera on Tap Boston, a Board Member of the New England Gilbert & Sullivan Society and a Board Member of L’Académie, a critically acclaimed orchestra specializing in performances of French Baroque music in health institutions. She has served as Costumer for a number of productions with companies including Guerilla Opera, Company One, NELO, BASOTI and Longwood Opera. She has also served as a Director for NELO’s Rising Stars program and in other productions as Assistant Director, Stage Manager, and Props Master. She has extensive experience in administration, office management, and event management in a variety of industries. Visit her at