Dear Singers and Creators,
I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity and singing. They are both forms of expression and communication that have been stripped away from a lot of people who are told- “You can’t sing” in one way or another. Using your voice is powerful, so I don’t wonder that so many people are told that they can’t.
The consumer market takes powerful, authentic things and turns them into a commodity that someone can make money off of. To fuel sales, Artists are presented as Gods, Unreachable Beings who aren’t like anybody else, who are more beautiful, more talented. Super-Human.
A lot of people don’t realize the amount of production that goes into creating that image, especially young people, who tend to take the image at face value. Neither the economy, or our culture values the arts, and there is tragically little arts education and creativity in schools. Corporate American Media strips people of their personal power by making them believe that they are NOT natural singers and creators.
When I was younger, I didn’t believe that somebody who couldn’t sing in tune could learn to communicate effectively with singing. I thought it was just a skill you had or you didn’t, because I started singing and being taught about music at a very young age. My father was an elementary school music teacher, so I had a ton of support for my musical development. Over the years, I discovered how wrong I was the hard way, with many humbling lessons about the incredible damage of judging others to cover up one’s own insecurities. My music teaching practice opened my eyes to everyone’s natural ability to sing and make music. It’s an ancient creative, expressive right that we have lost along the way.
In many ways, people consume music like it’s air, or water. They are constantly tapped in. People listen to music with their whole souls, and absorb it in their bones. Learning to sing is a lot more like connecting the dots than starting from scratch. With a little bit of know how, and physical technique (how do you get that sound out, how do you access breath support, how do you create tone, how do you use your vowels so you sound like a singer?), I believe that ANYONE can learn to sing with joy, healing, and authentic self expression from the heart.
I am constantly amazed by the strong learning foundation of my student’s love of music, even if they have never shared their voice with anyone. I’ve truly been humbled by the realization that everyone is a natural singer. Everybody has the right to sing, and share.
There are some studies that have been done that suggest that the brain’s ability to process music predates speech. Consider that for a moment. Singing might actually be more natural to us as humans than speaking.
Then there is creatvity and creative self expression. For me, being able to create songs and music in a supportive, artistic community saved me. I was SO shy as a middle school kid. I was bullied starting in fifth grade through seventh grade, and had very little self confidence. As an only child, I spent a lot of time alone. The only place I could put all of those new social feelings, hormones, desire- all of that stuff- was in my music and my songs. Music was my outlet for exploring feelings and to sharing them.
Creative thought is so natural to us. It’s essential to take time to create and to feel, and reflect on what you’re feeling, wether it’s from internal sources or external sources, wether it’s from a relationship, or a parent, or the world, or your community. Being aware of one’s emotions and processing them through art is so key to our healing and balance. Sharing those creations with other people - empowers other people to do the same work, and creates incredible ripples of healing.
It’s kind of miraculous that I was ever brave enough to start performing. My musical foundation allowed me to take the extreme risk of singing a very personal song I had written at an open mic, on stage for the first time. What happened is that a couple of people came up to me and said- “Did you write that song about [such and such situation], because that happened to me, and I felt like you were telling my story!
That kind of human connection is a basic human need that we need to thrive and survive. Art is a powerful means for making that connection. My passion is musical creativity, but there are so many different ways to be creative- writing, for example, or even just reflection and thought in a beautiful place.
These are some of the things I’m thinking about lately. I’m working on some programs to empower people to sing, share, and create more. Songs are such a beautiful, simple structure for containing really complex emotions. Songwriting is a lot like speech, it’s a very colloquial style of writing. Melody and song are more intuitive to us than most believe.
I hope that this inspires some ideas for you, and maybe some singing and creation. I’d love for you to share with me what you’re thinking, singing, and creating. Please visit my website at www.alisonsowls.com and get in touch with me there.
I hope that you do some singing and creating today!
I've recently started talking to my students about the importance of doing a gentle warm up every morning. This isn't the kind of warm up where you are strengthening, pushing, memorizing in every cell how to automatically turn on your breath support and tonal placement. That's also important to practice every day if you want to sing at your full potential, but this gentle morning warm up serves a different purpose, and it doesn't involve scales and arpeggios.
So what is it? It's all things gentle on the voice and soothing to the soul. Lip trills, gentle vocal sirens, humming a tune that speaks to the state of your soul, singing a melody to yourself on a gentle vowel or series of vowels. Ooh and an rounded ee (start with the ooh shape and then move your lips into an ee without losing the round shape at the back of the throat) are my faves for this, because they can be sung quietly, to the self, where Oh and Ah feel more external, vowels for projecting and singing out to the world.
The vocal purpose of this kind of singing first thing, and as a precursor to any warm up, is to relax and free the vocal chords. Because even when you hit those high, loud notes, which will push your vocal chords out of their comfort zone, you always want to come back to a place of total vocal freedom in the vocal chords by using the tools of unflagging breath support and tonal placement (knowing how and where to resonate different pitches and vowels to get the absolute most out of every single syllable).
But what I realized in my teaching process is that our vocal chords can serve as an internal barometer for the state of our bodies and souls. Because if you try to push your vocal chords without being totally in your body, without tapping into breath support and tone, if you are tired, sick, or out of balance- it's going to show up in your voice! You will feel it, and hear it in your voice. But- with this grounding, gentle warm up you can tap into every cell as well as your emotional being. Even if your voice, your body, and/or your soul are just tired, or sad, or gunky that day, you will begin healing through awareness, and you will be able to move through your day with respect for your current state and an informed intention of restoring health and balance. AND you might discover- wow, my voice feels like a million bucks today without even trying! Some days are just like that. Either way, this check in with your body through the voice will guide you as you use and share your voice, and ultimately result in more vocal strength and freedom.
[By the way, I just looked up synonyms for "unflagging" and they are all great, relevant words that communicate the level of physical engagement needed with breath and tone at all times to achieve true vocal freedom and sing like a pro: Indefatigable, Energetic, Vigorous, Industrious, Hard-Working, Determined, Enthusiastic, Keen, Zealous, Spirited, Dynamic, Dogged, Tenacious, Persevering, Untiring, Unwearying, Unremitting, Unflagging, and Indomitable. Check out my "It's Not About The Notes" video for more on that!]
Much Love to you all! I'd love to hear from you about your musical/vocal/creative journeys as of late- feel free to share with me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Alison is a Musician, Writer, Teacher and Mother. She lives in rural Sonoma County with her daughter, Ella.