–Robert Wadsworth Lowry
Some of you know that I sing in the Eugene Peace Choir. I joined in September, and it has quickly become one of my favorite things. Every Monday, for two hours, I feel as I do with a pen and paper in my hand: I’m playing. But this play is not the reckless, mindless type. It is disciplined. It follows rhythm and patterns. It challenges me to listen inwardly, to pay attention to what the other voices in the room are doing. If I haven’t already taken the time in the day to really listen to my breath, then I do so when I sing. I straighten my back, hold my body up with the certain belief that my body is capable and worthy of making music. And on top of it all, I have fun. I delight in the words of the songs, in meeting the right note, in seeing the progress that the group makes together week after week.
Since I began choir, some of my friends have said to me, “I didn’t know you sing!” That’s fair enough. They wouldn’t know because I’ve largely kept this interest to myself. The last time I sang in front of people was in middle school choir. Since then, I’ve been a closeted singer (a shower/car singer). I acted in plays in high school, but never auditioned for the musicals. I watched my musical friends sing in choirs, bands, and living rooms and whisper sang (“swispered”?) beneath their voices. My husband, knowing how much I love to sing, suggested that we sing a song for our wedding day, and just the idea of it made me want to jump into the Hood Canal and float out into oblivion.
So why the fear? I’m still figuring it out, but I suspect it was because singing is a vulnerable act, one that subjects the singer to possible judgement and criticism. Not only did I fear this criticism, but I truly believe that I didn’t feel confident enough in my own singing voice to embrace it and share it regardless of what people might think of it. I wasn’t going to learn how to sing in front of people by thinking something like, “I hope they like what they hear” or even “Who cares what they think!” The key for me was learning how to love my voice–and, ultimately, myself–no matter how it sounded or who was listening. Then I could sing with confidence in front of an audience.
I learned to love my voice by joining a choir. I’ve rediscovered the joy I felt as a teenager singing in choir, but this time I don’t try to shrink myself and melt into the group. No one ever benefits from trying to make themself small, least of all yourself. I’ve grown so much in my confidence that I’m even singing with another member of the choir outside of choir. We’ve been meeting weekly since November, practicing songs that we will eventually perform at various open mics. When performance time comes, I know I will be nervous. I might even think up an excuse not to do it. But I will remember to think about the journey, the courageous steps I’ve taken that have brought me to that place. Don’t shrink, stand tall, love your voice. Sing.