I love to sing! It is from my soul. Lucky for me, I am part of an acoustic duo so, for many years, I have had the pleasure of singing in front of people.
It is interesting that singing has been such a consistent outlet for me considering that it was once a source of great humiliation.
I went to school for Musical Theatre in New York City when I was 19. Most of my classmates were amazing singers. I would shine in dance class, but when it came to singing I had countless moments of squawking, cracking, falling apart on stage in front of my peers. It was not pretty and, in no way, did I consider myself a singer.
There is a distinction, for me, in the skills required for the style of music I sing now, which I’ll call pop/folk, and legit musical theatre. My voice is well suited for the former and I love it. But my heart really belongs to the latter.
For the past couple of years I have been longing to sing show tunes again. Thanks to the Broadway Channel on XM radio, I perform a concert every afternoon in my car. But wanting more, I decided to take voice lessons and work on my musical theatre singing.
After several lessons, and plenty of frustration, my fabulous teacher said something that changed my life.
We were talking about tension. People tense up in singing, as in life, in an effort to achieve a desired result. To hit a challenging high note one can push, which in turn constricts the muscles making it harder to hit that note. It is counter productive, but instinctive. No one sets out to be tense, but the very effort of trying can sometimes interfere with success.
I am familiar with this type of tension and address it often with my yoga clients. I see it in myself too and when it comes to singing, I am aware of the tension patterns in my jaw and throat.
My teacher and I were discussing these patterns when, she stopped, looked thoughtful for a moment and said: I don’t think your tension is from pushing too hard, I think your tension is from holding back. You have to just let the sound out.
That tension in my jaw and throat may be an unconscious effort to keep the sound from getting out. Because it might be ugly or pathetic, it might cause me shame.
But so what? Hitting a bad note is embarrassing but it won’t kill you. I am living proof of that. Singing horribly won’t make you unlovable; I know this because the peers who witnessed the worst of my squawking never showed me anything but love. So what is the fear?
Her comment shed light on a lifelong struggle for me. I hold back. I know that I do this, I hate that I do this. But for me to give my all is, well … hard. So the fact that I hold back wasn’t the real revelation.
What was most illuminating was the idea that holding back resulted in physical tension. Tension causes an unnecessary expenditure of energy. Trying too hard, from an energy standpoint, is draining. You would think that holding back is less taxing. But in actuality it is the same. It is wasted energy and ultimately it stands in your way.
Something about identifying this obstacle in the singing of my beloved show tunes has given me a tangible and meaningful way to work on it in my life.
If you can identify the resistance, you can address it. Now when I sing I try to get as relaxed as possible in my body and just let the sound out. I see the notes float beyond the fear, beyond the shame, piercing the concern of how they will be heard.
I practice giving my all, come what may. I practice letting go of my resistance to step into my full ability. Sometimes I feel ashamed that this requires practice, so I practice letting go of that too.
Are you expending precious energy by pushing too hard? Are you straining yourself by holding back? Can you relax into who you are and simply operate from there?
With loving awareness, you can shed the layers of tension that keep you from the fullest, truest expression of yourself. Let your song out. Be true. Be free.