Updated: Mar 16, 2021
Last week I began this series of ‘Secrets to Joyful Singing’ where I share some of the more prominent stories & lessons that have transformed my voice over the years. These ‘secrets’ are less about technical singing & more about internal behaviours, beliefs, & revelations that changed not only the way we sound but widen the realms of what can be expressed through voice.
If you missed last week I highly recommend you check it out here in Part 1. It lays out key foundations for joyful singing & I promise these ‘secrets’ are a LOT of fun. The stories in Part 1 are all from before I ever started singing professionally up right until a very short, very strange, Canadian Idol stint.
This week I want to dig a litter deeper into the subtleties of developing voice ~ those lessons that I learned in & around the stage. Some are performative, some spiritual, & these lessons continue to nurture my own voice & my work with clients. These secrets have changed not only my sound but have deeply impacted my understanding of self & communication in all forms. Whether you rarely sing or spend your life on the stage I hope these secrets will help you discover layers of your voice & your being as well!
Say Yes to (Acceptable) Stress
After Canadian Idol & some time singing at open mics I received my first opportunity for a regular paid gig! My old reached out & offered me a regular gig playing jazz at his restaurant. Now, here’s the catch, I had no band, no professional experience singing jazz, & only three weeks to figure all that out. Of course, I said Yes!
The next three weeks were a firestorm. I found a great jazz guitarist & sax play for my band & we learned & rehearsed roughly 30 songs. Fortunately, these guys were pros & picked it up easy. I on the other hand, was on a steeeeeep learning curve.
When performance day came I was legitimately frozen with nerves. My family came to support me & I couldn’t even remember my sister-in-laws name. I was so unbelievably nervous. To be honest, I don’t really remember the actual gig but I'm grateful I did it. That gig lead into so much growth for me as a vocalist & professional singer. That jazz trio went on to play at restaurants around the city for several years. Through repetition & exposure I learned more about vocal technique than any lessons could have taught me.
Stories like this, where I have gone far out of my comfort zone, define much of the growth I've had in my voice & career. Even when things have gone poorly I’ve come to see that the ‘bad’ or ‘embarrassing’ performance/ interaction/ tour actually gave me greater resilience & comfort later on.
Bring it Home
We often hear how stress is bad for us but not all stress is negative. Short term stress can be incredibly helpful. It motivates us, keeps us focused, and boosts our immune system. Just think of a time you had to meet a crazy deadline & how much you accomplished because of it.
Of course, playing a gig in front of a bunch of people might not be in your style ~ but if you want to build courage & resilience in your voice intentional stressful scenarios can help. Take it to your edge but not beyond. Maybe it's singing at an open mic, hitting karaoke, going to a song circle, or beginning voice coaching. This little stress boost will build your resilience to take on bigger scary/ exciting voice opportunities in the future.
The jazz gig was a catalyst. I learned hard & fast about performing, getting over loud & embarrassing mistakes, & how to deal with cruel & judgemental feedback
One night during my first set there was a couple who sat about 2 meters away. As I sang the man spoke loudly about how terrible I was & how the restaurant should really hire a professional. For the entire 50 minute he made loud & harsh comments about everything I sang. It took everything in me to stay on that stage. The gig was still fresh & I felt vulnerable & exposed. As soon as our set was done I went straight to the bathroom & locked myself in a stall.
I felt it all. The hurt, the sadness, & the voices in my head telling me that I was failure. But, I still had to sing. I had a job to do & that man was not going to take me down even if I felt crushed. When I got back to our table my bandmate Peter, a seasoned player, was there to lend his support & experience. He told me the guy was way out of line, that his comments had nothing to do with me, & reminded me of everything I had accomplished. Fortunately, the couple left early in our second set & I didn’t have to go through it again.
Bring it Home
Almost everyone is told at some point that they can’t or shouldn’t sing. For some, this feedback is so painful that they stop singing right there and then. But, no one gets to decide whether or not you can sing. That is always you choice. Sure, it might not be appropriate in all situations but singing is your birthright. It's like medicine for your body, spirit, & mind. So please don’t let someone’s passing remark dictate whether or not you should sing. Sing anyway. Create a space for you & for your song whether it’s blaring it in the car or as a sacred practice. Your voice & your song are a gift to enjoy.
Listen & Connect
In 2009 I went to Peru to work with an Ayahuasca community. My teacher & his team led exquisite ceremonies with beautiful songs of mantra & icaros. I loved the music & sang in the first ceremony with my whole voice. I enjoyed the sound, the power, the beauty of it.
The following day a member of the leading team made a passive aggressive comment about my singing & I felt embarrassed, ashamed and confused as there wasn’t any context or clarity around exactly what I did that was inappropriate. Shortly after Diego, my teacher & the ceremony leader spoke to me. He shared how he loved my voice, loved hearing me sing, & that in ceremony it was over powering at times. He gently invited me to listen more ~ to hear the voices in the space & to sing with the music instead of over it.
In the next ceremony I remained silent. I was uncomfortable. I felt afraid of being ‘too much’(a common fear woven in my life) as I swam in the medicine & those internal voices of unworthiness. At the same time I did my best to listen to the beautiful music. Afterwards Diego asked why I hadn’t sung. I told him how I felt & that I thought it was best if I didn't sing & just listened. He gently encouraged me to sing next time & that he missed hearing my voice in ceremony.
The seed Diego planted has lived with me ever since. It was a deeply humbling experience as it taught me that there is more to singing then just the joy, power, & performance of it (all of which are great in their own ways). Singing, if not all expression, is a vehicle for connection, to ourselves, to others, & to something greater. When we deeply listen from a place of inner steadiness we uncover a voice that weaves itself without agenda into the tapestry & beauty of a moment. In this we become part of something greater.
Bring it Home
In that first ceremony when I sang there was joy & freedom, but there was also another side of me ~ the part that wanted to be validated, special, & heard. Yet in that power & freedom & my expression it was I that was not truly listening, to the space, the intention, the holistic harmony.
This lesson goes far beyond singing ~ it touches my life to this day. It humbles & reminds me that we are all a part of something greater. There are times when it is about us, our process or healing & there are times when it is about being sensitive to & moving with a greater & expanded whole. Magic occurs in this dance of connection.
What happens when you sing from this deep place of listening? Try singing with others or a recording & really listening to what is happening. As your voice comes through feel into your body & give it time & space to finds it's thread in the tapestry of sound. Notice how your voice lands in your cells & attune your system to feeling of connection.
Reveal Your Voice
Around 2011 I began to work with a music mentor, a brilliant and insightful musician & producer. Early in our relationship he listened to me to me sing & said;
“Amy you have a beautiful voice & could make the phone book sound good. But sometimes good singers hide behind a pretty voice”
He was asking for truth & vulnerability even if it didn’t sound as ‘pretty.’ That when we share raw & unfiltered emotion it brings depth into our voice & invites others into our experience.
I think of this almost daily. It echoes in my mind when I work with clients. This ‘pretty’ voice isn’t just about singing it’s about how we try & make our voices accepted & palatable. How we get lost behind our roles, our comforts, our superiority, even our insecurity & mask the depths beneath. To embody our voice is to become comfortable with all part of ourself & to allow them expression regardless of how ‘pretty’ they are.
Bring it Home
When you sing what voice is comfortable? Is it the pretty one, the powerful one, the soulful one? What voices/ feelings do you avoid? For some it’s the performer, for others the wounded child. Within your comfort level try singing from a voice you tend to avoid or hid. Give yourself the freedom to make any sounds & experience any resonance form enjoyment to judgement. As you become more comfortable in these sounds & sensations your voice & your heart open.
About the Author
Amy Thiessen is a coach, writer, & musician who focuses on helping women connect to their confidence, purpose, & self esteem through voice & communication. Offering a holistic approach Amy helps individuals uncover & overcome their unique blocks around voice & communication, connect to their self esteem & purpose, & ultimately express themselves in a way that is empowered & impactful.
Singing can be scary. For many people it's one of the most intimate & vulnerable exercises. In my 1:1 Embodied Voice program I work with clients to feel a spiritual & embodied connection to their voice through sound & song. Unlike traditional singing lessons this program approaches voice as a gateway for healing, self expression, self understanding, & freedom! Through processes of breathwork, somatic & vocal techniques, sound, gentle inquiry, & individualized ritual you will bridge the space between felt sense of free expression.If this sounds appealing please book a 20 min session with me with absolutely zero strings. Here you can learn more about the 'Embodied Voice' Program & we can check & see if it's right for you. I PROMISE that if I don't think I'm the right fit or I believe there is a better vocal coach or therapist for you I will pass along their info.