overcoming the singing squelch
“We are meant to shine as children do.” – Mariann Williamson
When do singers lose our joy of singing? When we do we become fearful of being heard? When do we become terrified of making mistakes?
Last year I had the eye-opening experience of sitting on a panel with other musicians at Towson University, home to an enormous department of voice majors. I was there to speak about careers in ensemble music, and it was a truly wonderful, enriching event.
I noticed something, sitting on the stage, looking into the student’s faces. As I began to speak about my own singing journey, about having a hard time with my singing, but also how I gained a clarity of purpose and moved past my blocks, hands began to shoot up to ask me questions. I detected a real hunger for answers: answers that helped them make sense of why this singing gig is freaking hard, and how can they overcome it. After the event wrapped up, students began to line up en masse to chat with me, in the hopes of having their questions answered. They were having a hard time.
I was heartened to help. I was also heartbroken.
The other day I was tagged on a Facebook post: a colleague was asking other music teachers about how to get students to practice more effectively. Oy, a veritable Pandora’s Box for me, having worked with a million young students (and being one myself), and the invariable battle with urging students to practice.
Why do students resist practice? They are afraid. When you are afraid of constantly making mistakes and facing your worst insecurities–on a daily schedule–this can be torture. It can also begin the undoing of joyful music-making. Of loving music. Of loving singing. Of being heard.
I came across another post of a client of mine, we worked together only once. She recorded herself singing a sweet folk tune, it was beautiful to read her post and witness her step up courageously to her community, embracing her fears and being honest about her singing gremlins.
When we met, she was very quiet. She told me bits of her story, thoughtfully took in everything in as I spoke and offered my guidance, and then when she started singing I almost fell off my seat. This person had a formidable talent, skills, all the “goods.” Why was she so fearful?
I scanned the comments of her brave post. I read the reactions of other singer friends, presumably also with formidable talents, who were struggling to find their own voice again after they finished their undergrad. One even confessed that she had stopped singing altogether.
My heart broke again.
I have met many people who have struggled with finding their voice after school. Me, too.
Traditional voice training is a system that means to develop a singer’s basic functionality in order to maximize the resonant potential of their sound. This means buffing out imperfections and bloops that stand in the way.
For some people, that is no big deal (or at least, it would seem so).
For others, it is a life-threatening process. I am not exaggerating. Especially if you are highly-sensitive, which is probably a LOT of singers.
Why would someone stop singing after learning how to sing? After stepping into an educational experience that is meant to hold them up and develop their skills and expose them to the inherent beauty of fine musical literature. Why do we run for the hills? What causes us to become so squelched?
I believe that the means by which we have been taught to improve our singing are the very same used to sabotage our singing.
I witnessed this in my studio over many years, as every trap we fell into, every disgusted moment we have with ourselves is all connected back to one thing: thinking our singing.
Let’s get out of this loop.
For some singers, this method is volatile and inefficient, and I will be frank: it instills fear and shame.
Here is the thing: your voice is not broken. It is sacred. You will not be told this in traditional music training, I’m sorry to say.
I have been told over and over in every lesson about how to fix my vocal problems, since I was in the ninth grade. A gal begins to think that her voice is broken, you know? She can even become ashamed of her voice, and herself. That is a lot to manage emotionally, especially for young people who are not equipped with the emotional tools to manage those big emotions. Especially for a real squishy emotional absorbent softie, like myself. Shame is a big deal, and the fear is real. No wonder we run away from our fears and shut down our voice.
My friend, you are not in need of fixing. You are, however, in need of healing.
The first thing to do, right now, is acknowledge the sacred nature of your voice. Unfortunately, the voice of the mind is much, much louder. So you need to be a little bit quiet in order to begin this process.
Start by inviting the connection. It’s as simple as anything and anyone can do it.
Connect with your heart center.
Say these words: “I call forth my Sacred Voice.” And go from there.