Drink Up!

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February 13th, 2009

You might think that, as singers, we'd be much more in tune, so to speak, with the need for regular replenishment of our "precious bodily fluids." But this is not necessarily so.

For the last several years my day gig has been running marketing for a civil engineering firm here in Los Angeles. I've always had a technical bent, but I'm no engineer, so in the early going I struggled with what civil engineering actually was. Fortunately, one of the partners took me aside one day and said, "Everything you need to know about civil engineering can be summed up in three words: water flows downhill."

By the time you're thirsty, you're already dehydrating.

It was a sublimely clarifying moment, because the civil engineering world really is principally the world of water—where it comes from (and in what quantities), how it flows, and what can be done to maximize the benefits of that flow and minimize the problems.

We tend to take water (and civil engineering for that matter) for granted. You open the tap, and out it flows. Travel to the eastern, western, southeastern and, in some places, northern extremes of this country and there it is, as far as the eye can see. But we're beginning to learn about the perils of this kind of thinking—nothing, even water, is forever.

The same is true of our personal hydrology. Sure, we know that we're about 70% water, and that 70% needs replenishment from time to time, but then that's what the concept of thirst is all about, isn't it?

Yes and no. Experts agree that although thirst will signal you that it's time to drink something, by the time you're thirsty, you're already dehydrating. And this is especially true of older folks.

You might think that, as singers, we'd be much more in tune, so to speak, with the need for regular replenishment of our "precious bodily fluids" (as deified by the psychotic General Jack Ripper in the movie, "Doctor Strangelove"). Not necessarily. As Per Bristow, a noted vocal and performance coach here in L.A. documents on his website, "Just about everyone who seeks my help for voice problems drinks frighteningly small amounts of water." And even when we're armed with the facts, many of us elevate procrastination to the level of an art form, permitting even vital needs to go unfilled.

In my case, it took a few smacks to the head to drive the message home. The first smack was the death of the spouse of a co-worker, who collapsed just after flying from LAX to Ireland—a very long and dehydrating flight—and died a few hours later. His health was compromised before the incident, but the doctors said he'd probably have survived if he wasn't so dehydrated. The second smack was my experiencing chronic dry skin and nasal passages, fatigue, and a decreasing libido. Advancing age, I thought, but then I did a little online research and discovered the symptoms were more likely caused by dehydration.

Just as everything one needs to know about civil engineering can be captured in three words, maybe everything one needs to know about personal hydrology can be captured in just two: Drink up.

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