Wow, I can't believe it is January again!!! This time last year, I had embraced full-time self employment and was unaware of the two months of intense flooding that was about to hit my local area! No one could get to me, and I could, just about, get to my teaching work in Windsor, Berkshire, with the help of some chest waders (to actually leave my house, as the water was waist deep in places) and continue with the few clients I had that I would visit away from my home. Yet, I was so sure it was time for me to make this career move, I just had to trust. I enjoyed the rest, and thought that the Universe was probably sending me some time off because the remainder of the year was about to get REALLY busy. I WAS NOT WRONG!!!!
The rest of 2014 was probably one of the busiest years of my life. I took over 5 choirs, got a sudden influx of private pupils, was offered extensive teaching and workshop leading from various schools, companies, institutions and local councils and suddenly found myself working 6 days a week, plus evenings and doing all my admin on my day off. Was I complaining? No!!! Did I want to say no to any of this work? No! Why??? Because I love it!!! Finally I was doing I job, where I was my own boss, and I genuinely loved the subject matter....and here's why.....
.......as a singing teacher, voice coach, sound therapist, and breath and relaxation therapist people seek you out for the number one obvious reason that they want to learn how to sing and develop their voice. This is usually because small part of them, sometimes very small indeed, longed to be a singer by profession. Some people are very young, and looking towards their future career, others are 40+ and always had that desire to sing professionally. Somewhere, some time in their life, something sparks, and they find themselves at their first singing lesson with me. It is quite a journey ahead.
Generally people think that to come to a singing lesson you should already "know" how to sing. This is another one of those weird judgements of society, like people shouldn't sing if it's not a "nice" sound, or they can't sing "in tune". Half the time "people" have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to "singing". People assume that the singing they hear on a CD, or on the West End stage or on TV is actually what is coming out of a person's mouth. How did we all get so disillusioned in this day and age with the presence of technology, and sound production???? Most of the singing we hear on whatever CD or professional stage, EXCEPT the genuine operatic one, has been digitally enhanced, and by that I mean made louder, fuller, warmer, you name it, it's usually been done, leaving the budding student singer at home in their living room, or more to the point in my music room, feeling somewhat disempowered and inadequate.
We forget that singing lessons are just that. Yet the obstacle I have encountered most this year are people coming to their first lesson upset that they don't sound like their favourite artist on the CD!!!! Out of what would be approximately 70 one to one students this year, not including those in the choirs I have directed, I have seen nothing but low self esteem, people that have been told they can't sing, or shouldn't sing, or worst of all, are their own worst enemy....everything that comes out of their mouth they criticise and discard.
We all understand basic psychology, if you put someone down enough, eventually they will start to believe it. I have met people in 2014 that have been put down a great deal by family and friends or past experiences and then come to their singing lesson and continue to echo those negative beliefs by putting themselves down.
BUT I have also seen those people, start to take the first steps in believing in themselves and committing to their singing without fear of who they really are, and what their voice sounds like. What we tend to forget is that our voice is individual to us, it won't sound like anyone else......if we let it! The easy thing is to copy and be the same. The challenge is to develop our own unique voice, our own individual communication tool. We can all tell our friends and family by their speaking voices, we can tell when they are happy or sad, yet, somehow when it comes to singing we are often not given the space to develop this. People are so quick to criticise, and I have seen this SO much, it makes me mad!
Interestingly enough, when I was training to be an opera singer, I was often amazed, as the people whose voices often seemed very hard to listen to close up, whether it was because of too much volume or what seemed like an ugly vocal timbre, were often the absolute best when put on the operatic stage. They could be heard all the way to the back of a theatre the size of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, over a full orchestra without amplification! And without amplification, means without MODIFICATION! Just them, their voice, sounding stunning. Their intense training (years and years!) of body and voice to produce this amazing natural sound.
Often what we hear in our own ears whilst we are singing is not what those around us hear. We are far too close to the ear canal to get an accurate sound reading of the tone we are making outside of ourself. This MUST be taken into account when learning to sing. If you feel the need to modify the sound as you produce it because you are listening to the sound as it happens.....then you are not fully producing it, you are in fact hindering it.
This is where I find that as people start to develop their voice, they re-find a physical and psychological awareness that was once there as a child but was soon lost due to parental and social conditioning. The ability to constantly monitor our actions and our responses. In monitoring, we interfere. When we were babies screaming and crying for food, or because of wind, did we monitor those cries? Yet our mother would be able to hear the difference in the sounds. She knew when we were hungry, she knew when we were experiencing discomfort.
When we sing, we have to let the voice ride the breath and be free. Initially we cannot constrict and criticise it otherwise the very instrument of body and voice retracts and distorts. We must put far from our mind our favourite recording, resist imitation allow our very own authentic sound to come forth without judgement. At first, it may not sound as you always imagined, but ALLOW this for a while. Allow yourself to discover the other sounds, the ones that "people" say are not so nice. You may find in doing so you engage with yourself, your breath and the real you that is lying underneath it all. After all, nobody ever got famous by recreating someone else's dream, only by creating something NEW. It is that something new that you bring to your singing lesson, that we work, and develop and create. In developing your true sound, you find the true you, the you that was lost under the do's and the don'ts, under the conditioning. Everyone can sing, and that's what I do. I facilitate that amazing journey of re-finding that sound, that characteristic of YOU that may have been forgotten, covered up or whatever.
Of course there is more to singing than this, but initially, we have to deal with the psyche, otherwise how can you open your body and your diaphragm to breathe? If you are afraid of your sound then subconsciously you will resist making it happen, you have to become very conscious, expanding and relaxing your diaphragm and allowing yourself to take air deep into your lungs, otherwise how can you hope to fuel your voice? The voice doesn't sound, without breath to fuel it! It is a mechanism after all!
And that's what I spent the other part of my year doing.....whether for relaxation of children from the age of five or elderly members of the community, body awareness, heightened awareness, and of course my beloved art of singing....I taught people how to breathe efficiently. Another interesting journey. Who would have "thunk" it? Human beings not understanding how to breathe and how that breath affects every aspect of their health and wellbeing from their ability to deal with day to day tasks to digesting the food they eat.
I read today a quote from James D' Angelo's book, "The Healing Power of the Human Voice".
"A brain starved of oxygen is robbed of the life force itself and results in a vegetative state."
We all know this.....yet most of us are still reluctant to introduce efficient breathing into our daily lives.
Happy 2015 y'all, may you all find your true peace and happiness according to your word.