We are family Dance Jam at Shenandoah, July 2023 (video by Amanda Kind)

It’s been a while since I’ve put fingers to keyboard and waxed philosophical on all things voice, singing and identity. To be honest, it was a pretty challenging spring and early summer in many ways, and I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to share anything of the darkness that had descended on me when I thought of the music business, the purpose of higher education in music and the general state of the world. But I have just returned from a transformative nine days at the CCM (Contemporary Commercial Music) Vocal Pedagogy Institute at Shenandoah University, and despite all that seems doomed in society and this planet, I find myself feeling inspired and positive again, having reconnected with my musical self alongside others doing the same.

Throughout our time in Winchester, Virginia (birthplace of country vocal icon Patsy Cline), we worked amongst and were taught by some of the most positive, affirming, warm and intelligent humans I have ever had the pleasure of collaborating with and learning from. We laughed, we cried, we geeked out and explored our voices together. We meditated and breathed, we investigated our deepest artist impulses. We visited a cadaver lab to discover the mysteries of the human body, and I even held someone’s heart in my hand–a deep spiritual experience if ever there was one.

What we learned was that we are all different and unique, yet so much the same. That the desire to sing, dance and communicate is universal, and that doing so together connects us in the most profound ways. That there is no hierarchy in singing or music, that the techniques we use as singers are as varied and specific as the genres we sing, and that our instruments are flexible beyond belief if we train them to be so. But probably most powerful of all was the sense that we are all one human family, united in song, and that we can all be the change in the world that we wish to see. In the very last session, Institute head Matt Edwards invited us–nay, invoked us–all to teach with love, compassion and generosity, ensuring that the students we serve will sing with joy and confidence, free of the abuses that so many of us suffered in our training. And then we all sang and danced together to Sister Sledge’s “We are family”. Because yes we are.