An Attitude of Acceptance
When I was thirty, I found out that I was a baby musician. Singing was one of my passions, but I had never received any musical training and did not think of myself as a musician. As a child, I poured my heart out with Olivia Newton John, Barbara Streisand, and Journey in secret. After joining a band for a few months in my twenties, I largely gave it up. Until I was in Romania, in a Transylvanian forest, singing with Michel Montanaro, an amazing French improviser who had us singing a drone in a circle, and harmonies flew out of me like it was the most natural thing in the world. And I remembered my dream of being a singer when I was 5, singing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” over and over again.
The precious gift had returned in a new form, and I made a decision to protect my fledgling musician from judgment. I wanted to keep beginner’s mind as long as possible, because I was amazed at what was happening. I trusted it. It was magical and it was mysterious. So I created an oasis of acceptance, an improviser’s sandbox to allow my voice to unfold. I discovered many new ways of using my voice, exploring different inner landscapes. During one two week period I had a terrible sinus infection, and it was the first time I tried a piercing kind of nasal singing, a bit like I had heard from Mali singers. I loved it. It opened up my sinuses, and the emotion it evoked was raw and thrilling. Or the time when I was frustrated when I kept singing a minor note in a major scale my singing mentor Rhiannon was teaching me, and this deep belly Rasta kind of singing erupted. “What is that?” she asked. “I don’t know, but it feels really good,” was my reply.
In the voice work I do, cultivating a non-judgmental attitude is essential. Accepting your voice, however it is expressing itself in the moment , leads to more opening and discoveries, and to releasing the often harsh judgments that are stored there. Our voice, like ourselves, is very sensitive to criticism. Many of my clients were told that they couldn’t sing when they were children, or to be quiet. This shutting down led to a lack of confidence in their voice, a feeling of shame about an essential part of themselves, and a deep longing to reconnect.
It’s not that scales are bad, it’s just that many people have bad memories associated with them. And comparison soon leads to ‘trying’ in singing, which often leads to ‘efforting,’ which leads to not great singing. The best singers, in my opinion, have an effortless quality. It is an attitude of love. They allow their voice to move through them like an instrument.
That’s why when I am first working with someone, the most important thing is creating an atmosphere of acceptance and curiosity. A place where their voice, in all its colors and textures, can come out of hiding. The voice has many mysteries, and in this kind of atmosphere they begin to be revealed.