Voice lessons in discernment
“You have to trust … Pay attention to each breath … Don’t be afraid … Let go of control.”
I narrowed my eyes, sizing up my voice teacher. This was not what I expected to hear during my first voice lesson of all time. Had she been talking to my novice director? Was this some conspiracy to inundate all aspects of my life with discernment propaganda?
One must understand that as a new canonical novice, discernment is my life. So, the fact that everything I read, each encounter, every circumstance in my daily life quickly becomes re-interpreted as a divine nudge is not surprising.
But conspiracy theories aside, my voice teacher, Katrina Welborn (a Candidate Associate with the Sisters of Providence) really was making a lot of sense. Our goal in letting go and re-learning how to breathe was to set the vocal chords free to do what they do best: express my natural, God-given voice. After just two lessons with her, I am amazed at how much the process of singing freely parallels and embodies the process of freeing the soul to discern.
I invite you to explore these observations with me and how they might apply to your spiritual path at this place, in this time.
Trust that your body knows how to breathe.
This seems like a no-brainer, right? But it’s amazing, as we did different exercises, how much tension I created as I gasped for air rather than letting my lungs do what they already know how to do. Katrina explained that breathing is an involuntary impulse. The respiratory system is a vacuum. My lungs will bring in air – I don’t have to worry about that. Trying to force air into my lungs was actually using more energy than was necessary and preventing my fullest, most supported voice from emerging.
For me, this begged the question … Do I trust that I have what I need at this time?
Pay attention to each breath.
Throughout the voice lesson, I found myself attentive to the breathing process in a way I’ve never experienced before. Placing my hand on my abdomen, I noticed each inhale and how its depth limited or invited a supported sound. I had no choice but to be frozen there – totally dedicated to the moment.
I wondered … How would I live differently if I reverenced each breath?
Don’t be afraid to squeak.
During warm-up exercises with Katrina, I began singing through the scales with confidence, with a clear and vibrant sound. As we worked our way up the piano, though, I found myself shying away from higher notes, wincing and sometimes breaking into laughter when I knew I just couldn’t go there. Katrina’s response was, “It’s okay. Don’t be afraid to squeak!” She explained that it’s natural when shifting to a higher register to find your voice in an awkward transitional space. She encouraged me to squeak if I needed to, but not to be afraid of the higher notes.
In this moment, I asked myself … In what ways am I shying away from risks for fear of imperfection?
Just let go – don’t try to mask your natural voice.
Perhaps my favorite insight from voice lessons so far has been the importance of letting my natural tone come through. In our first few minutes together, Katrina quickly noticed that I sometimes tried to “throw” my voice, to create a sound that didn’t match my speaking voice. She explained that each person’s natural singing voice should sound similar in tone to their speaking voice. (Think The Music Man’s “Pick a Little, Talk a Little”.) At first, this made me self-conscious. I worried that my speaking voice didn’t sound mature or powerful enough. But Katrina pointed out the unique brightness of my speaking voice. She also said that I could actually damage my voice by consistently trying to sing in a way that didn’t fit me.
As I tried to peel back the layers that covered my natural voice, I thought … Do my daily thoughts, words and actions fit the deepest part of who God created me to be?
I know that integrating these lessons and discovering what they mean for my spiritual path will be an ongoing process, probably the work of a lifetime. But for now, I’m doing my best to take discernment one breath – and in some cases, one note – at a time.