I have, today, a personal story to share. My hope is that there is a lesson in here somewhere that will be of use to some of you out there. Please comment and share your stories.
In a previous life, I was a singer. A serious vocalist. In high school I took private voice lessons during the year and went to music camp every summer. I went to college on a vocal scholarship, and earned a Bachelors of Music degree. I sang with a semi-professional opera company in Chicago, and then paid for my grad school musical studies through an internship. My plan was to be an opera singer.
Then tragedy struck. Three days before I was to give my Masters recital, I lost my voice. Completely. Gone. Not even a whisper. For three months. It might as well have been forever.
Looking back, I have realized there was an incredible mountain of stress burying my voice alive. I was preparing for my recital while simultaneously singing in a mainstage opera production. With my practice regimen, I was singing close to 8 hours every day, if not more. I was nearing the completion of my degree and did not have a clear path forward after graduation. Talk about stress! Though I had learned my craft, I had not yet learned how to turn my craft into a career. On top of all of this, my voice professor was wildly unsupportive – one may even say cruel. Cruel to the point of making me doubt just about everything that came out of my mouth.
After losing my voice, I saw doctors and therapists and vocal coaches. I took medications and vitamins and underwent analyses and procedures. Basically I did everything I could think of, or anyone else could think of, to recover. At some point during those three months I came to a conclusion: My body was not to be trusted. I simply could not put my future and my security in the hands of something that I could not rely upon.
So I stopped. Completely.
For the next many years, I rarely sang. I would sometimes do Christmas caroling with my husband (an amazingly talented classical guitarist), sang intermittently with a church choir, and sang a wedding or two. I sang nightly to my children, but talk about a non-judgmental audience! Plus they usually fell asleep by the second note. But in reality, very little singing. I put all of my effort into my family and into my career. My (now) non-musical career.
And I missed it. I missed making music. I especially missed being on the stage, sharing my music, my joy, my stories, with an audience. But for some reason, I stayed away. It was just too hard.
This year, I made a new choice. I decided it had been long enough and I needed to take a risk. I needed to try again. I wanted the specific joy making music brought to my life. So, I took a bold step and signed up for voice lessons. I knew it would be hard, and in fact, just figuring out who to study with, what my story would be would be tough enough.
It was even harder than I imagined. I anticipated difficulty in reaching the high notes and the low notes. I knew I needed to get my support system (breathing muscles) back into shape. I understood that I needed to find new ways to fit in practice and regain that discipline (still working on this one). What I did not anticipate was how much I had changed. And how much baggage I was carrying.
My body, my instrument, has changed, and not in inconsequential ways. I have given birth to three beautiful children. I have gained weight (I blame those three children for that!). I have, unbelievably, gotten older. I am now working with a completely different instrument. And boy does she sound different! She is richer, fuller, deeper. It’s taken several months to realize this, but she is beautiful!
As for the baggage – I have had to recognize the ‘voices’ in my head. Even after all this time, every time I open my mouth to sing I hear my professor tell me I can’t sing, that I shouldn’t even try, and that I should give up. I have nothing riding on my singing – no career ambitions, no expectations – and yet her voice keeps me scared from really trying. It has taken weeks and weeks of lessons to even recognize the voice, and who it belonged to. Now, I am working to ignore it and/or work around it.
So the lessons here – there has to be a lesson, right? One might be that it is never too late to start – or restart – anything. Another might be that change is inevitable, and many times it results in something beautiful. Yet another might be that old habits (or voices) die hard, and we must be vigilant and persistent in dealing with them. Still another could be that unused skills do not come back to us as easily as we might think/wish, so we must not let them go.
For me, the big lesson is that I need to take more risks. I need to keep in mind what is important to me as a person, what brings me joy, and do those things. It may have no connection to my career. It may be no bigger than me in a room with a piano. But I needed to find more of my joy, and I found it in a song.
Are there things you aren’t prioritizing in your life that would bring you joy? Are there risks you aren’t taking? What is holding you back? Please share!
As always, keep it positive, and smile!
Brava! The voice may be silent on the cords, but it never leaves the soul. From a fellow opera singer, I wish you all the joy of singing to your heart’s desire 🙂