Vocal Health

Bogart-Bacall Syndrome: A Performer’s Reward For Speaking Too Low

What happens when you speak lower than your vocal comfort zone for continuous periods of time?

You might adopt that Hollywood sound Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were famous for, but you may get more than just the sound… you might get the syndrome!

Guest blogger James Herron shares his experience from Inside Studio A with Bogart-Bacall Syndrome here on VOX Daily.

Vocal Fatigue: Bogart-Bacall Syndrome

I had been finding that some days by 11 a.m. my voice was beginning to fatigue. If you rely on your voice as your livelihood as I do, this can be particularly troublesome.
I first noticed this issue about a year ago. What was going on? What the heck was causing this to occur? Was it something serious? Was it environmental?
My thoughts ran wild with everything from voice polyps; cancer, food and drink issues. I imagined everything and anything.

Scheduling voice over sessions was also challenging and at times an issue since my voice was at its best in the early morning hours EST. Clients on the “left coast” would often receive a request to record as early as possible. Fortunately, I’ve had such wonderfully flexible and understanding clientele.
A few weeks ago I began tests through the hospital to determine the cause of my voice fatigue.

Ever had a tiny scope with a camera stuck down your throat through your nose? Yikes! Actually, with a little Novocain I did not feel a thing. It was weird however. A TV monitor was mounted so the Doctor could view the results of the probing camera and as I could. I never thought I would be viewing my throat, and larynx…..now that’s a very profound statement! In a strange way it was rather interesting.

The results were conclusive. I was diagnosed with Muscle Tension Dysphonia a voice fatigue disorder caused by muscle tension.
Listen Sweetheart…. I’m in famous company as this is amazingly also called Bogart-Bacall Syndrome.
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall both suffered from a mild vocal disorder that has been named for them, Bogart-Bacall Syndrome. BBS is now the medical term for an ongoing hoarseness that often afflicts actors, singers or TV/radio voice workers who routinely speak in a very low pitch.

Bacall naturally had a high, nasal voice; she trained it to be lower to get her debut part in To Have and Have Not. You can also view the video below to see just how low her voice was for this role:

Apparently, over the years I’ve been unconsciously “training” my Larynx muscles to find a non-normal flexed and tense position as I used my voice. When I relaxed (got a good night sleep) the muscles returned to normal. The tense flexed position would return to my voice as the day progressed.Fortunately, this is a very common issue and thankfully one that can be remedied through therapy and rather quickly.

I am working with the “Voice & Swallowing Center” and receiving prescriptive vocal exercises. These include a series of “Hum” exercises I follow daily from a CD. The drill is to make the vocal muscle recall that “normal” zone all the time. If you would like to view a variety of voice issues and symptoms including Muscle Tension Dysphonia check out The Voice and Swallowing Institute of The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary at http://www.nyee.edu/cfv-larynx-disorders.html

Another important fact I discovered is how essential hydration is to sustain a healthy voice. A minimum of TWO QUARTS of water are recommended per day. So drink baby, drink.
Of course yelling and screaming is not a good thing at all.
I’ve taken to using a “rapid hand clap” (picture an prim and proper 18th century French Officer) when I cheer for my beloved Boston Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots or President Obama! I also now use simple hand gestures against those challenging the above mentioned.
Okay I look like a dork… but my voice is happy.

My hope is you find this information helpful. I know many of you reading this are professional actors and actresses, singers, teachers, politicians and other blabber mouths.
Inside Studio A………..I’m James Herron
For more information about James Herron or to read his other articles, visit his blog Inside Studio A.

Any Comments?

I’d love to hear from you!
Best wishes,

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  • Avatar for Joe J Thomas
    Joe J Thomas
    July 5, 2009, 10:33 am

    Good article. Thanks James and Stephanie.
    It’s a very common problem. I not only hear it all the time, but have had to overcome it myself.
    For years I sang in the bass/baritone range. Spoke there as well.
    Although my voice has a natural resonance, I came to find later that I was not a true bass/baritone, but had been speaking and singing in an artificially low register. With a bit of help from a singing coach, I was able to increase the top end of my range quite a bit (just in time for a stage role too – whew!).
    I am now happily a Lyric Baritone, but can still hit the lower notes when it is called for. My voice is much healthier for the change.
    Joe J Thomas

  • Avatar for Herb Merriweather
    Herb Merriweather
    July 5, 2009, 1:28 pm

    Great advice from one of the best! Thanks for sharing, James…and I promise to increase my water intake. I’m gonna have to work on not yelling at baseball games, though…

  • Avatar for Michael
    July 6, 2009, 1:06 am

    I am a singer as well as an actor and teacher. I was trained by a student of Kristin Linklater and would highly recommend getting her book or working with someone qualified to teach her technique. I teach acting and have to talk a great deal in a day and I rely upon the Linklater techniques I learned 20 years ago with great success.
    Happy talking.

  • Avatar for Phil McCloud
    Phil McCloud
    July 6, 2009, 8:48 am

    A well written article on a very easily over-looked ailment. Thanks for sharing Stephanie, and you too Mr. James Herron.

  • Avatar for Jill Lesly Jones
    Jill Lesly Jones
    July 6, 2009, 9:34 am

    Dear Stephanie,
    Thank you for all this daily good information. I share it with my voice over students at the colleges in San Diego.
    Strangely enough, I was asked recently by an East Coast Client to read a narrative for a 40’s film with a “Bacall” voice. Although I’ve done voice overs for nearly 30 years and my voice is fairly low, when I lowered it to try to sound that way, it sounded forced. I should know, as I worked for 3 years on a Masters Degree in Speech Language Pathology.
    Thanks again for all your good work.
    Jill Lesly Jones

  • Avatar for ellen dubin
    ellen dubin
    July 9, 2009, 11:52 am

    Thanks for this wonderful article.
    As a gal with a rich voice, I am often asked to push myself into the lower regions of my voice.
    Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful experience of yours