My Difficult Journey as a Classical Singer, Part Two



Hi, beautiful souls!

Thank you for the amazing love you have poured out in response to part one of my classical singing journey. I’m realizing just how many musicians have been through an experience like mine. None of us are free from the irrevocable bond between our crafts and our identities as a whole. Our emotions, our feelings of worth, our personal experiences, our hearts, and our souls cannot be undone from our art, and yet all the while the world asks us to sound a certain, predetermined way. When the inevitable dissonance between our authenticity and that ideal sound we’re desperately trying to create arises, we think the problem is us.

Listen y’all, it’s not.

We are NOT broken. We’re just lost in the opinions, the “shoulds”, and the sounds we’ve been told to emulate. But we can find ourselves again by listening to and speaking our desires, our needs, our passions, our loves. What lights us up.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I left off by promising to impart some of the insights I’ve gained since returning home to my original love of music.

I want to be clear before I get into it, though. My journey is not over and the healing is not complete. These are reflections, realizations, and musings that have come up along the way. I share them here because, while they may not pull you completely out of the darkness, they have the potential to shed some light on your journey and empower you to take even just one small step on the road back home to yourself.

First thing’s first.

Self-Worth

Last time, I mentioned that classical singing – in all its loud, dramatic glory – demands that we make a massively powerful statement: “I feel worthy of being heard and seen.” Let’s dig into that a little more.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, most of us are taught not to feel worthy of being heard and seen. Whether because of the stories we were told about ourselves as children, the scathing opinions of social media, or comments made to us throughout our time in academia, our sense of worth becomes deeply wounded over time. We learn not to trust ourselves, and we sure as hell learn not to trust our bodies.

This is problematic because voice is the physical body. It’s part of the anatomy we were born with. If someone comments negatively on your singing, it feels like a personal attack on the body you came into this world with. Because of the deep connection between mind, body, and soul, when we’re made to feel like our bodies aren’t good enough, it’s a very short leap to feeling like our existence as a whole isn’t good enough.

This is why so much emotional pain gets wrapped up in singing. Over time, singing becomes equivalent to feelings of unworthiness. Singing triggers negative self-talk and memories of unkind words and uncomfortable experiences. What was once a joyful escape and something we built our identities around becomes a painful reminder of our shortcomings.

While the manifestations of my vocal trauma are physical (see last post for a vivid description), I have known intuitively throughout the process that the root of the issue lies in the damages that my sense of self-worth has accrued over time.

My banged-up self-worth resulted in feelings of shame, fear, and other negative emotions. Meanwhile, I was in daily rehearsals, lessons, and classes with younger students who looked up to me and where my musical worthiness was being assessed by peers and professors moment by moment.

I didn’t feel like I had the option to be open about my experience while I was in the thick of it. So, it stayed in the deep recesses of my heart, festering in the dark, where negative emotions derive their power over us. It’s only in bringing them into the light to be seen, heard, and understood that we can begin to revoke their hold over our hearts.

Dr. Brené Brown teaches that the experience of allowing our truest, deepest, darkest, bravest selves to crawl out of the dark and be seen – without any scintilla of certainty that they will be positively received by others – is called vulnerability.

Vulnerability

I couldn’t begin the process of healing my voice until I shared openly about what I was going through and admitted that I was not okay.

Much easier said than done, especially for performers. We were attracted to performing in the first place because it gives us a space to show off the best of ourselves – the work that has been polished and perfected.

But here’s the thing.

Vulnerability is not about expressing only the polished, memorized, prepared parts of ourselves. In fact, it’s the opposite. Vulnerability is about expressing ourselves honestly and in all our broken human glory, not knowing what the response from others may be.

Vulnerability is not cute. It’s not pretty. It doesn’t come with a bow on top. But I believe wholeheartedly that, as singers and humans in general, vulnerability is our strength.

Vulnerability brings us together in our broken humanness. It gives us the opportunity to be seen, heard, and loved for exactly who we are. And that’s what every human on this earth is wandering around searching for.

Vulnerability gives us true connection. As long as we are hiding our pain and strife from each other, we are robbing ourselves of that which we naturally long for.

I am grateful to say that I was able to share bits and pieces of my challenges with many kind friends and mentors along the way. However, I couldn’t lean into true vulnerability until I was out of school. It had to be after the fact, because had I admitted the full extent of what I was going through during my time in graduate school, I wouldn’t have been able to finish my degree. It would have meant saying, “I don’t want to do this. This no longer aligns with my soul. This isn’t right for me.”

It’s only in this past year since I’ve been out of school that I’ve been able to say those words freely. I used to think those words would make me a failure. Now I think they’re the most liberating words I’ve ever uttered.

Sharing openly about our struggles is the gate to freedom. Before I shared, my negative emotions had a hold over me, telling me all kinds of stories about what people would say and how my world would come crashing down if I allowed others to see the darkness I was living with. But when I finally did it, I realized that I didn’t care because I was free. I was finally standing in the light of my truth, and nothing could touch me there.