Monday, 21 January 2019

Finding my voice by Anne Booth

These last years have been rather stressful, and for some reason I managed to lose my singing voice in the course of them. I was caring for children, and elderly parents, and working hard as a writer, and I think, not properly processing emotions about family things and burying them, and somehow in the course of this I lost the ability to sing.  My  throat would become very painful when I tried to sing - I felt as if I had a knot or a lump in it and I couldn't express anything. This  was huge for me, as I have always sung - it was a part of me, and I have been asked to sing solos at friends' weddings and at church and at parties and events, and I loved doing that - I  wasn't scared of doing it - I just loved performing for my friends or being part of worship, and sharing the beautiful songs I knew with others, and I loved singing along with my husband playing the guitar.  But then it went - and if I managed an occasional note it didn't sound good, and mostly I just felt physical pain and stopped and was mute. No more carols at carol services, no more solos at mass, no more singing with the family. I listened, but I couldn't join in.

 Losing my voice made me very sad. Then, last year at the end of a wonderful week at Chez Castillon retreat house in France and lots of relaxed laughter with lovely people, I found it briefly - not in a folk song but in a happy song from 'Oliver'. I was amazed and so grateful  (and this is a testimony to how brilliant Chez Castillon is and how relaxed I felt there) -  but then I returned home and  it went again,  and I thought it would never come back to stay. However, I recently did something which was wonderful for me. I booked a session with a voice coach and, magically, she found my voice again. I cried.  Before I could sing her a folk song, she had to go right back to basics with me. We talked, and she helped me sit comfortably.  She had to teach me to breathe in, and hold my breath, and breathe out. One of the exercises we did was that when I breathed out, I could groan or make whatever sounds I chose to express and to get out, my stress. I was nearly too embarrassed to do this and it was very difficult for me - but I was desperate to sing again, so I did it. It was very therapeutic. She told me not to care about the sounds being pretty or nice - just make them. Then she got me to lay a note of my choice on the outward breath. Then to vary the note, and pay attention to my singing, and, to cut a long story short, not long into the  session with her, easily, without any pain, I could make music again and sing as powerfully and clearly as I had years ago. I can't express how wonderful it was to hear the notes again and recognise my own singing voice. I hope to go back to her as this is a work in progress and my throat has tightened up with old patterns of stress- but now I have hope that, following her advice, I will be able to sing the way I used to.  I know I can get my voice back. She does group work too. I think she is amazing.

The amazing voice coach told me, when I finally sang to her, that my singing voice nurtured the person hearing it, but that first of all, to keep it, I needed to nurture myself and sing lots just for myself. She was so lovely. She also said that I had never lost the ability to sing, just that somewhere deep inside I had not let myself. I realised that I was self-censoring and blocking emotions and hadn't been allowing myself to be myself and sing as me, with all the emotions I had been feeling over the years and through bereavements.  She was right. She also made me cry, because she said that having not sung for years would not have damaged it, ( as I feared)  and she felt that my voice had come back stronger for the experiences I had brought to it.

I think that is like writing.

Hopefully, as writers, our writing nurtures our readers, but we have to write for ourselves first. We have to let ourselves explore difficult emotions and concepts, make ugly noises, experiment, try different pitches, play around with it, enjoy it for its own sake. We mustn't tighten up trying to please some imaginary reader or even a real publisher (!) We must be prepared to write stuff nobody but ourselves will ever see - in fact WANT to write stuff nobody but ourselves will ever see. We must accept and get to know and nurture ourselves and keep listening to ourselves so that we know our own voice better than anyone - and then we will know and feel whether we are expressing ourselves and being true to ourselves when we write for others.


Penny Dolan said...

So glad that you were able to get your singing voice back - and agree with the writing analogy, Anne.

Joan Lennon said...

Thanks for this, Anne - the cockles of my heart were well and truly warmed. (And Chez Castillon looks so gorgeous!

Lynda Waterhouse said...

Thank you for sharing these warm , wise words Anne.