So, I just had an exchange with a student and good friend who is a visual artist. She sent me a picture of a detailed portion of the painting she's working on, and commented (well. . . texted. Let's just pretend it's the 90s and we were actually talking to each other)- "My version of singing Bach."
She knows that I sang Bach for years, from age 15 to 24 every week without pause. Singing Bach's complex choral melodies (in German) for first soprano taught me how to master control of my resonance, vowels, and vocal flexibility. It's ironic, because there is NOTHING flexible about singing first Soprano Bach parts in a choir. It's probably some of the most rigid singing you can imagine. Still, working on those difficult passages demanded that I develop flexibility in my voice, because if I didn't, I wouldn't be able to execute the passage. And trust me- when you are singing up to a high "A"- it really shows when you f**k up ; ) (Side note- I am dreaming of starting a series of vocal warm ups for vocal flexibility all based on Bach Melismas).
A melisma is basically *a lot of notes very fast* in a sequential pattern that moves up and down for a few bars. Here's the definition that popped up when I searched just now: "a group of notes sung to one syllable of text". So there you go- vowels, tone, and movement.
After my friend compared painting in intricate detail to singing Bach, I said- "I can totally appreciate the comparison". To which she replied,
"I can too now, I had no idea the voice was work. I thought you had it or not."
At this point, I saw a combination of lightbulbs and a sea of red. Because the more I teach, and the more I sing, the more I believe passionately that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is a natural vocalist. Using our voice is pretty much the VERY FIRST thing we do. We cry. We babble. We make lots of different expressive sounds. We talk. And most of us listen avidly, passionately, frequently to music.
Music is how we are designed, it helps us process our inner and outer worlds. So how come some people can sing, and some people "can't"?
It's just work.
Oh, and the desire/willingness/conviction to bare your soul in front of everyone. That too.
We all have an incredible natural musicality inside of us. It takes a huge amount of dedication to physical technique, fine motor development, neural connections, and strange abstract concepts (like engaging your diaphragm while you completely relax your tongue) to realize and strengthen your voice. It also requires a huge amount of vulnerability. Because when you sing you reveal your own unique sound, tone, and interpretation. We tend to want to sing about things that are close to our hearts and souls. Very close. Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve.
It's been shown that, on average, people fear public speaking more than they fear death. So- imagine what happens when you ask people to try public SINGING!?!
If you are afraid of sharing your voice, here is something to think about. Something I know to be true, because I've been doing it for 20 years. Because, quite honestly, it was the only way I could express certain thoughts and feelings that had to be expressed or they would make me implode. Can you relate?
Having the courage to express yourself with integrity and authenticity will touch those around you and create ripples of healing from the inside out.
If you'd like to find out more about the song circle and vocal expression program I'm starting for women in February, CLICK HERE.
Thanks to my friend for the food for thought. I'm leaving you with The B Minor Mass and a Bach Melisma. To find the right one to share, I just looked through my old Bach scores and looked for the most dog-eared page. Sweet Dreams.
Alison is a Musician, Writer, Teacher and Mother. She lives in rural Sonoma County with her daughter, Ella.