I have guided many singers over the years in my work as a vocal pedagogue and clinician, taking them through a process of establishing their vocal technique and all the while—initially without realizing it—I was also guiding them through an emotional and spiritual growth process.
It’s no accident that in basically every spiritual practice, breath and vibrant sound is central. Slow, mindful breathing calms the mind and allows for greater focus and awareness. And the use of chant or any other kind of vocalization, particularly of repetitive text (think of prayers, psalms, hymns), awakens the warmth of vibrancy not just in our voice box and throat, but in our entire body and gives us a sense of communion with something larger than ourselves. Let’s call it “community”.
In my voice studio, with each new academic year we create a new community of singers. Every week we gather in a circle to share our victories, our discoveries, our challenges and our crushing defeats. I am not just a facilitator and spectator at these events, but a willing participant. And I believe it is my willingness to expose my own vulnerability and my never-ending quest for lifelong learning that continues to give my students the courage to follow their own course. Together we share how our singing relates to our own emotional understanding of ourselves, and also how that can inform the way we communicate to our audiences through a pool of shared meaning in music. The work with our voices can help us to become more integrated and authentic. It also builds mental and emotional resilience.
I firmly believe that it has been my consistent vocal practice over the course of most of my life that has given me the tools to weather the trauma that was my father’s suicide. This work is never over: working with breath and sound uncovers layer after layer of emotional shrapnel. But it is through this practice that I have been able to offer comfort and nurturing to myself—a sort of self-love and self-care. My singing is an essential piece of who I am. It’s my lifeblood. And that’s my emotional landscape.