I want to start this post with an apology to the continuo cellist seated behind me in this morning’s Messiah rehearsal: sorry, for farting in your face during ‘Rejoice Greatly’. It was a glorious combination of propulsion through the runs, chicken & garlic soup… and nerves. I would like to say that this has never happened before, but I would be lying.
In case any of you are lucky enough to have not experienced this, yes, nervous poo is a thing.
If you think about it, it’s not a particularly remarkable phenomenon; stress and the digestive system have never been the happiest bedfellows. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, a bit of poo is nothing in comparison to stomach ulcers, acid reflux and other stress-related conditions. So why write about it?
Well, for several years I thought that there must be something wrong with me. Our culture encourages us to keep our bowel movements private (perhaps with good reason!) and it was not until I became sufficiently friendly with a few other singers that I discovered how common this problem is. If you’ve ever wondered why the toilets smell so awful at auditions, remember you are not the only person whose nerves take revenge on their nether regions.
It can be a particular issue for singers and wind players, as our breath support system requires a certain level of tension in that area. Put bluntly, tricky passages of singing can feel like you are having a shit, which is not great if you actually need one. Nothing in a concert is quite as terrifying as wondering whether it will just be a fart…
There is not room in one post for my collection of poo stories. Needless to say it ranges from the hilarious to the disgusting: highlights including the friend who farts constantly on stage, to the five-shit-day Wigmore Hall debut. What I have found is that no matter what you eat, your digestive system will play up - just embrace it and laugh. And maybe don’t eat a Phaal the day before an important concert.
Audience members: next time you’re at the opera spare a thought for the soprano who desperately needs to fart whilst singing a top C. And spare another for the tenor standing next to her.