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Voice lessons in discernment

“You have to trust … Pay attention to each breath … Don’t be afraid … Let go of control.”

Me singing at the closing mass of our Annual Meeting this summer.

Me stretching my vocal chords at the closing mass of our Annual Meeting this summer.

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.

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Sister Tracey Horan

Sister Tracey Horan

Sister Tracey Horan is a Sister of Providence in formation. She professed first vows in 2017. She is a former intern at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence. She currently ministers as education coordinator at the Kino Border Initiative/Iniciativa Kino para la Frontera where she works with an education team to coordinate and host individuals and groups for immersions to the U.S./Mexico border in order to engage participants on the current reality of migration.

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  1. Avatar Marsha Speth on September 12, 2015 at 8:35 am

    Wonderful insights! Thank you!

  2. Avatar Denise on September 12, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    Tracey, I just wrote your observations/questions in my journal to reflect upon myself. Thank you. Perhaps conspiring and Providence something in common? Thanks for planting that seed in my brain!

  3. Avatar Terri Grasso, SP on September 13, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    As I’ve said to you before, Tracey, your singing voice is such a wonderful gift. Thank you for sharing it with us, along with your whole self, as you are, as your are becoming. Loved your reflections, too!

  4. Avatar Janice Smith, SP on September 14, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Hmmm, God’s “voice” seems to resonate in all aspects of our lives if we let it. Beautifully written and reflected!!

    Your Director

  5. Avatar Paula Modaff, S.P. on September 16, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    Finally, I have the opportunity to read your reflection. It resonates with the real you. How can you keep from singing?
    much love,
    Paula M.

  6. Avatar John F. Herbertz, Duluth, MN on September 19, 2015 at 11:46 am

    Querido Sissy Treisi, I guess it’s really too cliche, “Let go and let God “. One of my favorite movies is “Field of Dreams”. I have adapted the clap of James Earl Jones when Ray is about to leave him. James claps once in Ray’s direction . . . letting go of him. I use the same gesture two or three times simultaneously saying, “Let go and let God”. It’s just a silly little prayer exercise I use when I need God’s assistance.
    I spent a great week with Mom (Grandmamaryj). All my love and prayers, Tio Juancito

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