Finding my real voice

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]

Something surprising and wonderful happened to me tonight. It has had a deep emotional impact on me because, on both a literal and metaphorical level, it is all about finding my real voice.

As anyone who has been following my blog entries knows, I have been singing in the choir at the local Unity church. Because of this, I have been working on improving my singing voice. I’ve always had a reasonably good voice, but it is nowhere near professional grade. Good enough for the bass section at Unity North Atlanta, but I won’t be singing at the Met any time soon.

One weakness of my voice is that I have never had a vibrato, the oscillating tone that gives a fuller and richer sound to good voices. (Even if you’ve never heard the term “vibrato,” you’ve heard what it sounds like, because virtually every professional singer uses it.) I had always assumed that some people had it, some people didn’t, and I was just out of luck. Oh, maybe I could develop it a little if I trained with a voice coach, but I didn’t know any voice coaches and private lessons are expensive.

But I did some reading on the Internet about developing vibrato, and learned some surprising things. According to an article by a voice coach, vibrato is quite natural to the voice, actually more natural than the “straight tone” way that I’ve sung all my life, and virtually anyone could awaken their vibrato with a bit of training. Among other things, this coach said that for your vibrato to come out, you need to have an “open throat.” So, as I’ve worked with the practice CDs my choir director gave me, I’ve tried opening my throat, and to my surprise, found a little tentative vibrato coming out. Nothing great, and it only came out on a fairly narrow range of notes, but maybe with a bit more work, I could make it passable.

Which brings me to tonight. I was singing along with the CD for a new song called “And Now I Rise,” a song written by my choir director. It is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard; its words speak to me deeply on a pure meaning level, and they are set to wonderful music. It’s such a great song that I get choked up with happy tears when I hear it. Well, while I was singing, sure enough, I started crying. But instead of stopping my singing, I decided to keep singing while I was crying. I don’t know why I decided to do that, but I’m glad I did. Because that’s when it happened.

The crying caused my throat to open up really wide. And all of a sudden, I heard this incredibly beautiful voice come out. I had a rich vibrato, fully formed, completely effortless, even on high notes I had never come close to singing that way before. It took my breath away. It was so beautiful that it actually made me cry some more, which was good because that just made the voice sound better. Well, actually, the full effect wasn’t wholly beautiful, because there was plenty of snuffling, my articulation left a lot to be desired, and it definitely needed more control (in a good sense). But the tone was truly amazing.

This has moved me immensely, and I’ve been reflecting all evening on the reason why. I think my emotional reaction stems from this: I am 46 years old and have probably sung thousands of times in my life. I thought I knew what my voice sounded like by now. I wasn’t going to go through puberty again, so it wasn’t going to change. But all of a sudden, I heard something coming out of my mouth that I had never heard before, something beautiful. I found myself saying, “Where on earth did that come from?” It was completely unlike anything I had ever heard come out of me before. (It had never occurred to me to cry and sing at the same time!)

Yet though it was utterly surprising, it was also oddly familiar. I had the feeling that the voice I had been singing with all my life was not really me. It was some imposter who didn’t really know how to sing. This was what my voice was always meant to be. This was what my song really sounded like. I felt like for the first time in my life, I was hearing my real voice.

I’m also moved by this because it strikes me as such a perfect metaphor for finding my spiritual voice, the unique form of “salvation’s song” (T-31.VIII.10:7) that I’m meant to share with the world. Robert’s recent discussions of embarrassment have forced me to reflect on all the ways I metaphorically tighten my throat and choke back the beauty the Holy Spirit wants to come forth from me. I hold back. I’m guarded. Unlike Jesus’ beloved Mrs. Albert, I don’t just say what I believe. Yes, I have a career teaching what I believe, but I keep the deepest passions of my heart pretty boxed in. What I end up with is a spiritual voice that’s a lot like my current singing voice: Pretty good as voices go, but only a dim shadow of what it could be.

What I’m meant to do is a kind of spiritual version of what happened tonight when I was singing. Just as I had a beautiful singing voice within me all along, I have a beautiful spiritual voice just waiting for the constrictions that stifle its song to be removed. (Of course, all of us have this voice.) What I’m meant to do is get in touch with what is most deeply meaningful to me (the song), open up to the deeply felt emotion it arouses in my heart (the happy tears), and let my voice freely and naturally pour forth that beautiful song to the world.

The emotional impact of tonight shows me that I’ve stumbled upon something crucial to my journey. It has awakened in me a determination to find my true voice on both a literal and metaphorical level. On a literal level, I’m going to talk to my choir director and see if I can find a good coach who can train my singing voice. There’s got to be someone out there in this big city who can help me without breaking the bank. I want to learn how to get that glorious tone out even when I’m not crying. Bringing onions to every performance isn’t going to cut it. Maybe I’ll sound good, but no one will want to get near me!

On a metaphorical level, I want to go within and ask the Holy Spirit for help in finding my true spiritual voice. I have the feeling that, even though I’ve had some success so far in my attempts to bring salvation’s song to the world, there is yet a beautiful voice in me that I’ve never heard before. I want to find that voice. I want to hear what my voice was really meant to be. I want to hear what my real song sounds like. I want to sing salvation’s song with my real voice.