Finding My Voice

I once loved to sing. When I was in elementary school, I joined the choir and performed in the school play a number of times. Although only a member of the ensemble, I still enjoyed being part of the productions and singing songs. In middle school, I joined the choir for a year before choosing orchestra as my music class.

 Here I am at 9 years old, being silly with my sister. At this point of my life I very much still believed I could sing! Here I am at 9 years old, being silly with my sister. At this point of my life I very much still believed I could sing!

In 6th grade, I remember loving choir class. One day we were given an assignment. We were each to choose a song that we would sing solo to the class. I was very excited. I think at that point I still had the mindset that anything was possible, which may have included my potential career as a singer. Anyway, I distinctly remember the song I chose while driving to work today – it was “A Song For Mama” by Boyz II Men. I must have chosen it because it doesn’t contain any difficult, high-pitched notes (even though I was a Soprano back then). Funnily enough, the song’s tonal range actually quite suits my current voice range, which is lower than what it was at the age of 11.

I remember the afternoon distinctly. I had come home from school, and was practicing “A Song For Mama” at the dining table at home. My mom heard me singing and asked what I was doing. I said I was practicing a song to perform in choir. She chuckled and said, “Don’t think about becoming a singer as your profession.”

It may have been just a quick side comment that she let slip, but I very recently realized that that phrase has stayed with me up until now. Since that day, my confidence in singing slowly waned, and I rarely sang in public in a performance setting. I only ever sang in the shower or around friends for fun.

There were a few short periods of time throughout my young adult life when I reconnected with singing, especially with accompaniment of my ukulele, but I always harbored the idea that I didn’t sing well. I could sing with correct pitch, but other than that, I found my singing voice to be nothing special. I am trying to reverse this misguided notion now. I am learning slowly that while my voice may not be able to reach the widest tonal range, there is a range that I am able to sing in, and my voice has a special warm quality to it when I sing in that range.

I’m starting to share my singing voice more. I may post some more covers/songs on YouTube if I muster up the courage. I watched a TEDx video recently that said that singing soothes one’s body in many ways. The vibrations lead one to feel good, and has even been proven in some studies to improve certain ailments. I also believe using one’s voice to sing is related to using one’s voice to speak up. The more comfortable you are singing around others, the more comfortable you will be speaking your truth. Which, if you haven’t picked up by now, I find paramount.

Moral of the story is, I’m sure we’ve all had comments made to us when we were younger that have stuck with us in one way or another. Whether justifiably or not. But I nudge you to remember that those comments were likely a one-time occurrence, made by someone who wasn’t aware of the consequences of their words. Someone who probably did not intend to cause much serious harm. Try not to let it affect you. You may not even be aware of it, as I was unaware of the effect of my mother’s words to the joy I once had and am now rediscovering in singing. Remember that the only person who gets to determine your experience of life is yourself. Be unapologetic, be bold, be freely yourself. After all, you are the only one who can guarantee your own true happiness.

xo

J

2 thoughts on “Finding My Voice

  1. Hi Joey,I was looking on YouTube to see if there were any clios from LaPhil gig last night by Glen Hansard and I saw your yours. So this letter I found recently came to mind and I’m sharing here with you. It was written by Leonard Cohen about finding his voice.
    Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies, Members of the Jury, Distinguished Laureates, Ladies and Gentlemen:
    It is a great honor to stand here before you tonight. Perhaps, like the great maestro, Riccardo Muti, I am not used to standing in front of an audience without an orchestra behind me, but I will do my best as a solo artist tonight.
    I stayed up all night last night wondering what I might say to this august assembly. And after I had eaten all the chocolate bars and peanuts in the mini-bar, I scribbled a few words. I don’t think I have to refer to them. Obviously, I am deeply touched to be recognized by the Foundation. But I’ve come here tonight to express another dimension of gratitude. I think I can do it in three or four minutes — and I will try.
    When I was packing in Los Angeles to come here, I had a sense of unease because I’ve always felt some ambiguity about an award for poetry. Poetry comes from a place that no one commands and no one conquers. So I feel somewhat like a charlatan to accept an award for an activity which I do not command. In other words, if I knew where the good songs came from I’d go there more often.
    I was compelled in the midst of that ordeal of packing to go and open my guitar. I have a Condeguitar, which was made in Spain in the great workshop at Number 7 Gravina Street; a beautiful instrument that I acquired over 40 years ago. I took it out of the case and I lifted it. It seemed to be filled with helium — it was so light. And I brought it to my face. I put my face close to the beautifully designed rosette, and I inhaled the fragrance of the living wood. You know that wood never dies.
    I inhaled the fragrance of cedar as fresh as the first day that I acquired the guitar. And a voice seemed to say to me, "You are an old man and you have not said thank you; you have not brought your gratitude back to the soil from which this fragrance arose." And so I come here tonight to thank the soil and the soul of this people that has given me so much — because I know just as an identity card is not a man, a credit rating is not a country.
    Now, you know of my deep association and confraternity with the poet Federico Garcia Lorca. I could say that when I was a young man, an adolescent, and I hungered for a voice, I studied the English poets and I knew their work well, and I copied their styles, but I could not find a voice. It was only when — when I read, even in translation, the works of Lorca that I understood that there was a voice. It is not that I copied his voice; I would not dare. But he gave me permission to find a voice, to locate a voice; that is, to locate a self, a self that that is not fixed, a self that struggles for its own existence.
    And as I grew older I understood that instructions came with this voice. What were these instructions? The instructions were never to lament casually. And if one is to express the great inevitable defeat that awaits us all, it must be done within the strict confines of dignity and beauty.
    And so I had a voice, but I did not have an instrument. I did not have a song.
    And now I’m going to tell you very briefly a story of how I got my song.
    Because — I was an indifferent guitar player. I banged the chords. I only knew a few of them. I sat around with my college friends, drinking and singing the folk songs, or the popular songs of the day, but I never in a thousand years thought of myself as a musician or as a singer.
    One day in the early ’60s, I was visiting my mother’s house in Montreal. The house is beside a park and in the park there’s a tennis court where many people come to watch the beautiful young tennis players enjoy their sport. I wandered back to this park which I’d known since my childhood, and there was a young man playing a guitar. He was playing a flamenco guitar, and he was surrounded by two or three girls and boys who were listening to him. I loved the way he played. There was something about the way he played that — that captured me.
    It was the way I wanted to play — and knew that I would never be able to play.
    And I sat there with the other listeners for a few moments and when there was a — a silence, an appropriate silence, I asked him if he would give me guitar lessons. He was a young man from Spain, and we could only communicate in my broken French and his broken French. He didn’t speak English. And he agreed to give me guitar lessons. I pointed to my mother’s house which you could see from the tennis court, and we made an appointment; we settled the price.
    And he came to my mother’s house the next day and he said, “Let me hear you play something.” I tried to play something. He said, “You don’t know how to play, do you?" I — I said, “No, I really don’t know how to play.” He said, "First of all, let me tune your guitar. It’s — It’s all out of tune.” So he took the guitar, and — and he tuned it. He said, "It’s not a bad guitar." It — It wasn’t the Conde, but it wasn’t a bad guitar. So he handed it back to me. He said, “Now play.”
    [I] couldn’t play any better.
    He said "Let me show you some chords." And he took the guitar and he produced a sound from that guitar that I’d never heard. And he — he played a sequence of chords with a tremolo, and he said, "Now you do it." I said, "It’s out of the question. I can’t possibly do it." He said, "Let me put your fingers on the frets." And he — he put my fingers on the frets. And he said, "Now, now play." It — It was a mess. He said, "I’ll come back tomorrow."
    He came back tomorrow. He put my hands on the guitar. He — He placed it on my lap in the way that was appropriate, and I began again with those six chords — six chord progression that many, many flamenco songs are based on.
    I was a little better that day.
    The third day — improved, somewhat improved. But I knew the chords now. And I knew that although I couldn’t coordinate my fingers with my thumb to produce the correct tremolo pattern, I knew the chords — I knew them very, very well by this point.
    The next day, he didn’t come. He didn’t come. I had the number of his — of his boarding house in Montreal. I phoned to find out why he had missed the appointment, and they told me that he’d taken his life — that he committed suicide. I knew nothing about the man. I — I did not know what part of Spain he came from. I did not know why he came to Montreal. I did not know why he stayed there. I did not know why he he appeared there in that tennis court. I did not know why he took his life. I — I was deeply saddened, of course.
    But now I disclose something that I’ve never spoken in public. It was those six chords — it was that guitar pattern that has been the basis of all my songs and all my music.
    So now you will begin to understand the dimensions of the gratitude I have for this country.
    Everything that you have found favorable in my work comes from this place.
    Everything, everything that you have found favorable in my songs and my poetry are inspired by this soil.
    So I thank you so much for the warm hospitality that you have shown my work because it is really yours, and you have allowed me to affix my signature to the bottom of the page.
    Thank you so much, ladies and gentlemen.

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