Category Archives: Finding Your Voice
Excited to have an article in WNC Woman Magazine’s July issue on the evolution of music. Check it out!
Today, I was blessed to meet self-taught deaf artist, Scott Nordsell. Looking over his portfolio, I was inspired by the power his drawings and paintings conveyed. He had one piece, a vibrant multicolored print which bore the words, “Can you hear the voice of God’s creation?” or something to that effect. There were holy symbols in the corners, the animal kingdom, a crowd of villagers, nature and other elements that, or course, spoke to me…The Voice of Life.
The friend who had invited me to view this portfolio signed for me that I was touched by Scott’s work, especially because I work with people to help them discover their voice, free their expression, and to understand the sacredness of voice. Scott signed back that he works through his hands in the same way. His communication is his color, his proportion, his subject.
It got me to thinking. The Voice of Life isn’t just about the speaking voice. The Voice of Life is the voice of creation. When we allow it to speak through us, it comes out in song, poetry, dance or even beautiful paintings. It comes out in novel ideas and inventions for good. It comes out in solutions that reap benefits for all. Everyone has a voice whether or not they are capable of speech. Everyone has vision whether or not they are capable of seeing. It is imperative that each of us find our voice.
Viewing the artwork made my day, one that hadn’t started out so great. I was so inspired, it totally transformed my mood, a heavy mood I had been trying to shake all day. That is the grace of a voice expressed. When we free our expression and share that voice with the world, we inspire others. May this inspire you!
Funny, the first book isn’t even out yet, and I’m already 8000 words into the next one! What is it, you ask? Something along the lines of The Unknown Mother Companion. It will be a combination journal/workbook that will lead the reader through the 10 Gates of Sound with activities and exercises for reclaiming your voice with a capital “V”. Everything that Wrenne experiences in her apprenticeship with Matrina in The Unknown Mother will be broken down into practices to help build your awareness of the vocal mechanism, the breath, letters, words, stories, sound, and silence. It’s going to be a book of power and magic filled with glorious attunements and inspiring surprises. I’m having a blast creating it! Patience, grasshoppers. I have no clue when it will be complete.
I thought it might be fun to share a passage that I had decided to exclude from the book. Here, our Goddess, Matrina, instructs Wrenne on how the various elements…earth, wind, air, fire, metal, and ether…express themselves through the voice. Enjoy!
“Matrina, we talked once…way back when…about instruments representing the different elements. I recently remembered that and got to thinking. Do people’s voices represent an element as well?”
“Excellent topic for today’s discussion. As a matter of fact, every voice is made up of varying degrees of each of the elements, and where an individual may fall on the continuum of vocal flexibility is determined by the access he or she has to each of the elements as well as the extent to which each element is in balance with the others.”
“Whoa, slow down. Say what?” I was having trouble processing everything she was saying.
“Elemental imbalance is revealed through the voice.”
I tried to grok what that could mean. “So…a person who has an imbalance of…let’s say earth…would sound…how exactly?”
“Let’s just say person who exhibits a great deal of earth in his voice would tend to speak low in pitch and slowly thus bringing about a feeling of groundedness, reliability and emotional security. Or negatively aspected, perhaps the person would come across as rigid and opinionated or even dull and lazy.”
“I can imagine that.” The face of Rocky Balboa entered my mind. “I just thought of Rocky. Is he an earth voice?”
“Good example. Whereas someone exhibiting water traits would be more apt to instill a joyful, healing, and comforting feeling in the listener; that is to say, if they didn’t instead come across as overemotional, jealous or false as their voice meanders in speed and pitch.”
“Wait…is it good or bad to have a watery voice?”
“Child, there you go with that good or bad again! Each of the elements can present itself in either positive or negative aspects. None of it is good or bad. It just is, but if an element is well balanced with all others, it is more likely that the positive aspects will express.”
I must have been frowning a little. She reached out her hand and gently patted the top of my head, letting me know she wasn’t scolding me.
“It is no different whether we are referring to the speaking or singing voice,” she added.
“So what elements do you hear in my voice?” I was almost afraid to ask.
“Your voice expresses a lot of metal, fire, and earth. Sometimes water. Your air is very controlled.”
In my head, I kept thinking metal wasn’t an element; it caused me to completely forget everything else she had just said, but I was too embarrassed to admit it.
“Fire in the voice evokes enthusiasm, excitement, and connection to our intuition. But it can also signify anger, impulsivity or instability. Air is the transformer, it uplifts and spreads understanding, but it can sometimes be impatient, flighty, or worrisome.”
She ignored me. “Too little air, and a voice may evoke inertia. Space provides awareness without judgment and accommodates all that arises. Too much space may signify a loss of purpose, lack of presence, or overwhelm. And metal, metal at its worst can suggest oversensitivity and tendencies to overanalyze. Here’s where you should say, ‘Moi?’
I rolled my eyes.
“But expressed in its positive aspects, metal evokes beauty, truth, and strength.” She looked so deep into my eyes when she said that. I didn’t know whether to feel complimented or frightened.
“Have you even considered the underlying energies at play when you speak or sing?” she asked.
“I’m not sure what you mean. Like technique?”
“No, not exactly. I’m talking about something much deeper. Sure, your voice has its own palette, from which technique arises. It’s distinguishable from every other voice. Technique is choosing which paints to use from this palette. But I’m talking about what kind of brushstroke to make, creating a work of art that portrays your unique message. Trouble is, most people have no idea what’s on their palette, let alone what brush to use. But this knowledge can turn an average performance into something inexplicably magical and magnetic.”
“Cool. You have my rapt attention.”
“Well, I’m sure you already know how dynamics, phrasing, and tonal quality can color your vocalizations.”
“Sure. I mean, if I use a breathy voice, I can portray something seductive or fragile. If I increase my volume, I can give something an edge or raise the energy of the lyric. Isn’t that just technique?”
“Yes, for the most part. You see, pitch, vibrato, how long you hold a note, how clearly you sing the lyric…these are all just colors on your palette. It’s what you use to paint with them that makes all the difference. The brushstroke is where the magic lies.”
“Okay. I’m not much of a painter, but I’ll try to stay with you on this one.”
“Ever notice how certain people just open their mouths and seem to command attention effortlessly from everyone around them?”
“I guess so.
“A fiery minister is a good examples of what I’m talking about. He knows how to exert control with his voice. Can you think of any vocalists who do that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe Barbara Streisand?”
“Sure. There’s power and strength. Barbara illustrates something invisible that I’m wanting you to see.”
“Hmm…not always easy to see the invisible, is it?”
“Have you ever read Rumi’s poetry?”
“Wow, from paint to poetry. Actually, yes. I have.”
“How would you describe his voice?”
“Wait, I’ve never heard his voice, have I? I mean, he wrote poetry a rather long time ago.”
“A voice is a voice…on the radio, on paper, or in your head. So, how would you describe Rumi’s voice?
“Well, there’s a lot of beauty and longing in it, I guess.”
“Excellent! Yes. Can you think of a singer who does that?”
I had to think about that. I worked through my fear of giving a wrong answer and said, “Maybe Frank Sinatra, with his eloquent phrasing and heart-touching deliveries.”
I sighed with relief.
Matrina leaned back in her chair. “I keep thinking of Marilyn Monroe with her lilting, breathy voice, myself.”
“Well, those two are certainly breeds apart from Barbara.”
“Yes! So you are starting to see after all!”
“But I still have no idea what it is I’m seeing. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to hear that I am understanding when I feel like I still have no clue.”
“Yet you are still listening. Because you recognize something in what I’m saying. It is a quality, a wisdom that you trust.”
A lightbulb flipped on in my mind. “Ah, are you showing me examples of brushstrokes?”
“Let’s see, we had the strong, powerful voice. Then there was the sweet, longing voice. And…the voice of knowledge?”
“Oh, heavens, not knowledge. Let’s call it wisdom or truth instead.” Matrina opened her mouth about to say more, then shook her head and remained quiet.
“Is one brushstroke better than the other?”
“I wouldn’t say that. They each have their purpose.”
Just when I thought I had it, the kernel of understanding popped. “I’m not sure if I get it, exactly.”
“I’m referring to a quality carried on the voice. It isn’t about a person’s actual intellect, or beauty or power. It’s is far less tangible.”
“So how on earth do you figure what these brushstrokes are and how to use them?”
“First you listen. You listen to the voices of others and notice where each particular voice lands in you. And then you pay attention when a message arises in you. Before you express it, what quality do you want your voice to convey? It’s all part of our art. The point is learning to listen with new ears and hearing the supernatural elements at play behind the music. It’s an exercise in building awareness.”
“I’m beginning to think everything is an exercise in building awareness.”
“Well of course, honey, you came here to experience yourself. An understanding of these brushstrokes represents a new approach to your own voice and its power to inspire or make an impact on others. As a vocalist, when are you engaging strength, when sweet longing, and when truth? Do you know how to blend those qualities together to create an intentional vocal color in a song? Or when to draw upon only one for greater impact?”
“Ug, I still have so much more to learn!”
Matrina pulled a magazine off of my coffee table.
“A strength voice that is weighted in the earth element would express itself as very controlling and literal.” She pointed to a picture of a prominent news figure. “But on the other hand, a strength voice that is weighted in fire might be more like that of a zealous and fanatical preacher.” This time she pointed to a political figure. “This is not to say that all strength voices would express negative traits. A strength fire could also be represented by someone with the ability to awaken people and start a much needed revolution, for example.” She pointed to a photograph of a well-known singer. A sweet longing voice with an abundance of water might be very intoxicating, the voice of a tender lover perhaps. Or a sweet longing voice mixed with ether might be able to bring harmony to two warring factions.” She turned the page to a photo of an activist Indian woman I had seen on the news. “When we add the earth element to a truth voice, we get hope and wisdom in a mix that would calm our fears and raise us up above illusion.” Now she was showing me a picture of a celebrated author. “Or if we add fire to a truth voice, we may discover the voice of our intuition.”
“Ack, I’m lost.”
“Honey, it doesn’t all have to make sense. It’s working its way through you. Trust in that.”
“So, how do I apply this information?”
“Your song and the way you present it expresses at least one of the voice types as well as a unique combination of elements. This is your art, your alchemy, but only if you bring your attention and consciousness to your expression. Without consciousness, you are at the mercy of the elements rather than their master.”
“But I still don’t get what I’m supposed to do.”
“Why not try singing with the intent of expressing a particular element? Then, when you repeat the song, apply another element. What do you notice? What changes? What do you feel? What feedback do you receive? You know, maybe just a touch of air will lighten a line that feels overweighted with earth. Or perhaps some ether will open up a crowded lyric.”
“Sounds like the only way to really understand this is to just experiment.”
“…and give it time. Experiment and listen.”
In The Unknown Mother, Matrina speaks with Wrenne about how the concepts in which we place our faith or belief affect the structures of our lives and the way we approach our problems. She compares the US reaction to the terrorist attacks of 9-11 with the more enlightened response of Norway to the more recent terror of Anders Breivik’s insanity.
Today, Norway continues to demonstrate a sane and responsible course of action based more in love than fear. Here is one example of, as my friend Kevin put it, “A magnificent approach to such a horrible event and situation.”
We once held tremendous power over words, but at some point, words came to hold power over us. Now it is time to reclaim that power.
Shamanic Voice Work is a means to reclaim our power over words. It works on deep energetic levels to cleanse and widen our expressive channel, purifying it and restoring it to its unadulterated state. Through breath, movement and sounding practices, we shift blocks and holding patterns, making room for our truth to ring with the clarity of a bell. You get to control how deeply you engage, and you are the master here. No one else.
Each person’s voice is a link to that power we seek to reclaim, like a chord or tether from the Great Mystery to the manifest. The voice is used to make everything more and more real. Without awareness, the voice can convince us of the realness of a dream. But when we begin to pull our attention away from the illusion of form back to the formless, the voice becomes a tool of Spirit. We begin to create with impeccability.
I recently met a woman who near broke into tears just speaking with me about what I do. Just talking about singing and expressing herself freely was enough to ignite her deepest fears underneath which hid her deepest longings.
Why are we so frightened by our own voices? Why do we judge the way we sound on an answering machine? What is that fear that keeps our mouths so tightly closed when we really, really want to speak? Why do we deny ourselves the joy of singing along? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’ve managed to break through the myriad inhibiting beliefs, and you’ve set your voice free. But if you haven’t been one of the lucky ones, then what?
At some point in our lives, we have experienced “the clamp”. It is a defining moment or moments when we learned it simply wasn’t safe to open our mouths. Either we were yelled at or physically abused, ostracized, or humiliated for something we said. Regardless of the details of the situation, we realized that we could instantly lose love by something as simple as making a sound.
And then, along the way, we come to realize that we can also use our voice to stir a bit of trouble. We can speak words that trigger others…sometimes hurting those we love most. We learn that we have a rather interesting power at our disposal. Yield it one way, and it becomes a deadly weapon. Yield it another, and it is a fine tool. Either way, it is something over which we must exert the utmost control. Or so we believe.
And hence, the fear we have today…one so complex and intertwined with so many of our root beliefs that it is quite a challenge to free ourselves from our self-imposed prisons. But we can free ourselves. We must free ourselves! Because our voice is our power to create and express Life!
So the first step in overcoming our fear is an assessment of where we stand now. Do you like the sound of your voice? If not, why not? Do you allow yourself to speak up? In what kinds of situations do you “clamp it”. Do you sing? Where and how? And if not, why not? What do you believe about how you sound? Is it true? Who says? Do you want your freedom?
Once you answer “yes” to that last question, you can take the next step of watching yourself. This is a period in which you know you want to change, but you don’t hold unrealistic expectations for yourself. You simply watch yourself repeating old habits. You are learning the lay of the land, so to speak, so you can figure out where to take action in the next step.
Once you become aware, then you can begin to take steps to change your habits. Take baby steps if necessary. Hum along to the songs that play while you grocery shop. Sing along to your music collection as loud as you dare. Allow yourself to say “ouch!” when you bump your elbow. Keep saying it until the pain goes away. Keep moving into your fear, and you’ll find it evaporating like fog. The light of your voice will lead you to the other side.
And what’s there? You’ll find immense joy and pleasure. You’ll find a liberty and strength within you you never knew existed. You’ll find that you are a creative being with a beautiful voice!