Photo Credit: Arielle Doneson
Joelle Harvey is an American classical soprano with an international career. When we first spoke, she was in her second trimester. She and her husband (who is also her manager) had taken her career into account when they decided to start a family. Joelle had an open window of a few months without a gig and was hoping to give birth then. Although she got pregnant about a month later than she had hoped, she was still able to spend the final months of her pregnancy at home. Before that, however, she maintained her active schedule, performing in Europe and throughout the U.S. while pregnant.
Joelle's biggest challenge during pregnancy was her almost constant nausea. Like many women, (%76 of survey respondents) she experienced morning sickness during her first trimester. However, for Joelle, the nausea and vomiting continued to varying degrees throughout her entire pregnancy. She spoke to me about a particularly difficult rehearsal while in San Fransisco for a production of Beethoven's opera Fidelio in her first trimester:
"We were nearing the end of the dress rehearsal...I knew we weren't going to get to my part, so I started to make my way back-stage...I knew I was going to have to go throw up. Of course, the [director] stops and says, “Ok, we're going to skip to...the finale” which [meant] I would have to sing. I just went on and ran to my dressing room and threw up afterward."
Joelle was able to continue rehearsing and curb her nausea until she had a break. As she says, "I was ok singing because I think...that part takes over and you don’t think about it."
In a performance of Orff's Carmina Burana, Joelle was challenged again by nausea:
"Because you don't sing forever (as the soprano) there's a long time where you don't do anything. I was sitting there thinking, 'I’m going to have to walk off stage and throw up,' but I just tried to breathe and be calm and it gradually passed and it was ok."
Joelle spoke often of her need to be flexible during her pregnancy. Though she didn't end up having to leave the stage in the Carmina performance, she allowed herself think of the possibility of exiting as a solution. (Typically, in this type of performance, the soprano would remain on the stage throughout. Leaving would have broken convention. However, vomiting on-stage would have as well!)
Flexibility in singing technique also came up with Joelle. As her baby grew, she needed to adjust the way in which she supported the tone, as well as where and how she inhaled. Joelle explains:
"I do feel now (being in the third trimester) that the air feels different, and [that] the way that I intake air [has changed]... I'm more likely to do back breathing than I think I did somewhat previously, but now I know I'm going to have to access that. I don't feel like I run out of air necessarily...I’ve got Messiahs coming up and I was worried about a couple of the melismas in “Rejoice Greatly” that I usually do in one breath, and I [thought], “Oh god, can I still do it?” [Now,] I approach it slightly differently.. I don't know if I've figured out one hundred percent what I'm doing yet....I definitely feel like I can't breathe as low as I would to prepare for those phrases, so I guess that's [where] the back breathing thing [comes in]."
Joelle was very open about her singing process in our interviews, and she shared with me in more depth the changes she made to her breathing and her attitude about those changes as she prepared to sing Handel's Messiah.
"I’m always getting bigger now, so...it was different from what I had been practicing [in] the couple of weeks prior. I think that I just...thought about support less, which was weird, and I thought about my breathing more. [I needed] for my mind to make that switch... because in my mind my breathing comes fairly easily...but just on the runs especially, for “Rejoice,” I had to conserve slightly more air than I am used to, and for “I Know that my Redeemer Liveth,” I had to breathe in a couple more places, that are normal places to breathe, but that I didn’t normally have to breathe. The first time that it happened I was like, “Oh damn!” (She laughs) But it’s just the way it is this year and it’s acceptable. It’s not like I’m breathing in the middle of a word, so, fine."
This attitude of easy flexibility and rolling with what came to her helped Joelle navigate her singing pregnancy. When we spoke her determination to make it work was evident. “If you can’t do it the way that you used to do it, you find an alternate way... and you have to do it. That’s the bottom line.”
More of Joelle's story is coming soon. Hear Joelle talk about career decisions, concert attire and audience reactions during her pregnancy.
Thank you to Joelle for sharing her singing pregnancy story with us! To share your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org