replace strife with wonder

replace strife with wonder

When I was in graduate school, a small but stout music conservatory, I had to take one of the most lethal classes: Graduate Seminar. Required for all grad students, it was a hodge-podge of this and that, overseen by the conservatory’s director. 

I was in there with every manner of student, but it was terribly lonely. I had no solidarity buddies from the Early Music department, and anytime we stepped out of talking about performance (like learning Schenkerian analysis or whatever) I was lost. I am pretty sure I cried.

Except every once in a while, we had a guest speak: Benjamin Zander, a motivational speaker who would blow off all of our grumpy, overwhelmed, self-conscious, conservative conservatory tops. He would say things like, “Sit in the front row of your life!” and I would sit there and think, “yes, I will!” and then look around at the class and wonder, “is this amazing to everyone else, too? What the hell is going on right now? Is it safe to participate with joy and show that this is utterly life-changing?” 

Zander introduced me to the art of The Reframe. I have fairly described myself as a myopic musician. I was not evolved or self-aware enough at that time to consider the potential of this perspective and his excellent advice. But I have never forgotten.

I recall him telling a parable about some Student who kept Messing Up. Over and over and over again, the same bloody mistake: a rut. You know that student, right? It’s you and me. What is our typical response?

I am so stupid! I suck! What’s wrong with me? I am never going to get it! Duh, I should know better! Etc, etc.

Zander suggested a reframe. Rather than, “Oh shit, I did it again, why not… how fascinating?” (I’m pretty sure that is word for word, even after twenty years!)

This was an indelible moment for me. It has shaped my journey of personal growth and completely altered the path of my voice practice. 

Dear One: you are going to make mistakes. You are going to make some clunkers. You are going to look funny. You are going to kick yourself. I’m sorry. I do it, too. But be wise about it. Mistakes are not a character flaw: they are an essential element of our humanity. But let them teach you.

What happens when you reframe your mistakes into valuable lessons?

I know it is much easier to berate yourself, but that will not serve you in any way, whatsoever. So the next time you have to, say, record yourself (which I did the other day: good times!), and you keep seeing or hearing that thing that is bothering you, try to absorb it rather than reject it.

I keep doing that Thing I don’t want to do. How fascinating!

Here is the jewel of understanding: when you bring an unconscious pattern to light, you evolve. You stop making the damn mistake. It is only possible to bring the unconscious to light when we take the timeand have the willingnessto understand our patterns.

Mr. Zander’s appearance those dreary mornings in seminar were potentially more impactful than any musical training I received at school. His ideas gave me an understanding that it is not simply the content of what we offer as musicians, but it is about our wholeness as beings who vessel that content. But we are all simply too blinded by our faults to see the true power and potency of what we do. 

So please, try to gain some perspective. With your singing, at least! 

The next time you make a bloop (which you will), or are disappointed with your performance (which you will), or pull back in fear (which you will), STOP the critique. Assess the situation. Here is my personal reframe of Mr. Zander’s question:

What is really going on here?

I swear it will help. I probably ask myself this question ten times per day. It is honestly harder to ask when I sing, but that, to me, is the most important time.

Because I recognize that my mistakes are borne of my fears. And when I can shed light on my fears (even teensy ones), they are transformed into feedback. Feedback that can help me change my habits and undo those tendencies that irk me the most and hold me back. Feedback that can help me heal.

Try reframing in your practice. Remove the Strife, and replace it with Wonder. It works. You will feel better and sing better. You will show up with greater authenticity and self-regard. You will become that vessel of something that is much greater than we can possibly conceive.

You just have to get out of the way first.

Hugs,

 

allison

Allison Mondel is a reformed self-critic turned Transformational Voice Coach. She is the founder of The Sacred Voice Studio, a holistic voice coaching practice. She helps singers transform their relationship with their voice and dramatically improve their singing through a radically simple, heart-centered framework. Allison has taught and performed widely across the United States and Europe, and believes in every person’s innate potential to discover, unlock, and use their brilliant, divine voice.

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overcoming the singing squelch

overcoming the singing squelch

“We are meant to shine as children do.” – Mariann Williamson

When do singers lose our joy of singing? When we do we become fearful of being heard? When do we become terrified of making mistakes?

Last year I had the eye-opening experience of sitting on a panel with other musicians at Towson University, home to an enormous department of voice majors. I was there to speak about careers in ensemble music, and it was a truly wonderful, enriching event. 

I noticed something, sitting on the stage, looking into the student’s faces. As I began to speak about my own singing journey, about having a hard time with my singing, but also how I gained a clarity of  purpose and moved past my blocks, hands began to shoot up to ask me questions. I detected a real hunger for answers: answers that helped them make sense of why this singing gig is freaking hard, and how can they overcome it. After the event wrapped up, students began to line up en masse to chat with me, in the hopes of having their questions answered. They were having a hard time.

I was heartened to help. I was also heartbroken.

The other day I was tagged on a Facebook post: a colleague was asking other music teachers about how to get students to practice more effectively. Oy, a veritable Pandora’s Box for me, having worked with a million young students (and being one myself), and the invariable battle with urging students to practice. 

Why do students resist practice? They are afraid. When you are afraid of constantly making mistakes and facing your worst insecurities–on a daily schedule–this can be torture. It can also begin the undoing of joyful music-making. Of loving music. Of loving singing. Of being heard.

I came across another post of a client of mine, we worked together only once. She recorded herself singing a sweet folk tune, it was beautiful to read her post and witness her step up courageously to her community, embracing her fears and being honest about her singing gremlins.

When we met, she was very quiet. She told me bits of her story, thoughtfully took everything in as I spoke and offered my guidance, and then when she started singing I almost fell off my seat. This person had a formidable talent, skills, all the “goods.” Why was she so fearful?

I scanned the comments of her brave post. I read the reactions of other singer friends, presumably also with formidable talents, who were struggling to find their own voice again after they finished their undergrad. One even confessed that she had stopped singing altogether. 

My heart broke again.

I have met many people who have struggled with finding their voice after school. Me, too. 

Traditional voice training is a system that means to develop a singer’s basic functionality in order to maximize the resonant potential of their sound. This means buffing out imperfections and bloops that stand in the way.

For some people, that is no big deal (or at least, it would seem so). 

For others, it is a life-threatening process. I am not exaggerating. Especially if you are highly-sensitive, which is probably a LOT of singers. 

Why would someone stop singing after learning how to sing? After stepping into an educational experience that is meant to hold them up and develop their skills and expose them to the inherent beauty of fine musical literature. Why do we run for the hills? What causes us to become so squelched?

I believe that the means by which we have been taught to improve our singing are the very same used to sabotage our singing. 

I witnessed this in my studio over many years, as every trap we fell into, every disgusted moment we have with ourselves is all connected back to one thing: thinking our singing

Let’s get out of this loop.

For some singers, this method is volatile and inefficient, and I will be frank: it instills fear and shame.

Here is the thing: your voice is not broken. It is sacred. You will not be told this in traditional music training, I’m sorry to say.

I have been told over and over in every lesson about how to fix my vocal problems, since I was in the ninth grade. A gal begins to think that her voice is broken, you know? She can even become ashamed of her voice, and herself. That is a lot to manage emotionally, especially for young people who are not equipped with the emotional tools to manage those big emotions. Especially for a real squishy emotional absorbent softie, like myself. Shame is a big deal, and the fear is real. No wonder we run away from our fears and shut down our voice.

My friend, you are not in need of fixing. You are, however, in need of healing. 

The first thing to do, right now, is acknowledge the sacred nature of your voice. Unfortunately, the voice of the mind is much, much louder. So you need to be a little bit quiet in order to begin this process.

Start by inviting the connection. It’s as simple as anything and anyone can do it.

Connect with your heart center.

Say these words: “I call forth my Sacred Voice.”

And go from there.

Hugs, 

 

allison

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truly, wildly self-configuring

truly, wildly self-configuring

I had a dream the other night that was such a transparent display of unconscious fears that I laughed out loud when I woke up.

In the dream, I was trying to help out some conductors. (Oh God, this is too much!) By “helping” I mean pleasing, being pleasant, can-do, will-do, think highly of me, know that I am capable and responsible and good enough to be part of the group. For the first dream segment, I was grabbing a courtesy coffee at Starbucks for Conductor #1, cue maddening dreamy obstacles to obtaining coffee, then BOOM I am running late to rehearsal. In the second installment, I was compiling a list of Christmas rep, but was late with the deliverables and invoked Conductor #2’s sullen disappointment. Such dream frustration! 

What I appreciate right now is how upset I was. I was so frustrated, so myopic! This dream was a condensed replay of how I Used To Be. And now I see how much of my precious self I frittered away in my desire to please and to be accepted by Others. 

These fears used to keep me in shadows. Shadows that kept me hidden, my good sense and intuition and creativity and worthiness tucked away for another day, another job, another time, another life. 

It is uncomfortable to write this. Literally. But my present awareness is the greater pleasure. It is a relief to see how I have pulled my energy out of these external outlets. I have woven these strands back into my own source, which I am learning to manage anew. I feel strange, and still filled with massive, slobbery, unruly doubts. But I recognize them now. I am less near-sighted.

I also have a greater awareness of a life pattern. It is a cycle that I have repeated countless times, and I am faced at this time with a reckoning.

I give away (myself). I suffer. I awaken. 

But I have always fallen short of the final piece: I reclaim

To Reclaim means you have to change. It means you have to freaking grow, bigger and larger than you have been conditioned, and condition yourself, to be.

I don’t know what A Larger Self looks like. It is a fairly intimidating, overwhelming prospect.

But once you decide to reclaim your personal power, well, lurking back in the shadows of yourself becomes unacceptable and seriously uncomfortable. 

I have reclaimed the power of my voice. I have decided to reclaim everything else in my life, too. That hilarious dream and those shadowy archetypes were a reminder that I must hold true to myself. (And frankly, a pretty lousy attempt at pulling me backwards. My poor ego, she must be sorely disappointed!)

My Self will not be overtaken by the fear of others acceptance, validation, approval. Period. Rather, I will believe steadfastly in my truest, wildest self-configuration of my voice and my artistry. 

Do we not look at our musical idols and say, oh how I wish I had their courage? Their tenacity? Their brilliance at themselves? Do we not long to do the same? 

The more I deepen my singing practice, the closer I get to that place of courage, and trust, and knowing that I am on the right track. I am so proud of myself. I am so much lighter inside myself, so much more caring and kind and understanding and for sure my voice feels like a million dollars, like liquid silver, like a factory showroom model.

The only thing is, I have no external proof. I have no person or institution saying to me, Congratulations! You have self-realized as a singer and sound awesome and are brilliant and you can now proceed to fame and fortune!

(Oh that is hilarious!)

Dammit.

But… I do have these teeeeeeny-tiny whispers. They are of inner knowing. That’s it. Teeny-tiny. This quiet, inner place of Yes. I understand. Now go. Do it. Just be yourself. It’s alright. It’s important. In fact, your life depends on it. 

So what else can I do?

Can’t hide in the shadows. Can’t ask other people what they think. Can’t wait for the phone to ring. Or for a lucky email. Can’t hope for the best. And I certainly cannot ask others to provide validation for myself and my voice. The very thought of it seems ludicrous! But there you go.

So, I will actively practice being myself.

I will rely on my inner knowing as the only authority on that self. I will listen to this inner knowing when I sing, when I create, when I make choices, and when I guide others to do the very same. I will sing, create, and make choices. I will guide others. I will be in the constant unfolding of Reclaim. I will live into Larger. I will truly, wildly self-configure.

May you always listen to your dreams.

Hugs,

allison

ps: this post is partly inspired by “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle. I recommend you read it. I wish I did that yesterday. It is in synchronistic alignment with my life’s timeline right now. It is brave and fierce, and I hope it may inspire you to craft your own true, wild self-configuration.

 

Listening to desire

Listening to desire

I decided on Valentine’s Day that I would no longer be a soprano. I mean, a “Soprano,” as a title on my resume. Ironic, that this decision should come to me on the Day of Love. I made a decision to let something go that made me feel no love. (I love that!)

I had uncomfortably worn the title for a long time. Indeed, it is something that we all expect and understand in the world of classical music, coming out of conservatory, hitting the pavement, and making a go of a singing career. But what I knew was that it was making me quite unpleasant to be around. It made me cranky and upset and withdrawn and spiky and a liiiiiittle crazy. And also, incited homicidal inner thoughts about my voice.

What I also know is that this is not reflecting my typically peaceful and harmonious state of being and ohmygod what I would never choose to be. Yikes!

I had been growing into my work as a voice coach, developing my ideas and framework around the nature of the Sacred Voice. This continues to unfold at rapid pace and feeds me like no other work ever has. I have a vision to serve others, to connect with my own sacred center. And I desire to be liberated from that ego voice which was ruling the show for sooooo long.

So I can plainly see this soprano gig is not working. About a week prior to my big decision, I had actually started updating my performance website. I had gotten some new slapdash-get-’em headshots (after many years of ashamedly using the same ones) and knew my site needed some TLC. I started to edit the thing, and inadvertently started pulling it all down. I mean, I actually started accidentally deleting pages from the site! I started destroying my own website. (Oh that makes me smile to think of it now!)

My Valentine’s career revelation organically followed this subconscious identity destruction. I realized quite plainly that I could no longer follow this path for my voice. I had other career fish to fry. It’s time to move on.

Ok, let’s do it.

I drew a line in the sand for myself: I will no longer suffer on account of my voice.

I will let this go in order that something much more precious, joyful, and purposeful will come into being.

If my desire is to be free, then dammit, this must be the way towards that goal. Right?

It hurt for about five seconds. Then it didn’t. And now here we are.

Interestingly, I have not touched that site. I had been avoiding it. (It’s allisonmondel.com, if you are curious. It may be down by the time you read this!) For decades I had been scrambling and hustling and longing for others to accept me, to hire me, to approve of my talents, to look at what I have done and say this is impressive!

My self-worth was swept up in the ebb and tide of this external validation. It is absolutely the most normal thing in the world in the field of classical music: singers need to get noticed, they need training, they need street cred, they need to get hired. Mind you, it is wonderful to get hired! But not if it means that I sacrifice my own worth if I am not hired. Which I have done about a million times and it is basically The Worst. My level of Mettle was not sufficient enough to weather the tide.

But that doesn’t mean I’m giving up. And it certainly doesn’t mean that I will stop singing music that provides a wellspring of joy for me, and that exercises my artist muscle.

It is an interesting, unsettling place to be, shedding my old skin and growing into my new. I am not at all sure about where my “voice career” is headed, and I am ok with that. I have settled into a new role: Teaching Artist, which is something that feels aligned and awesome. And I am witnessing the path towards honoring my desire.

It is nothing short of a blessed miracle that when you do honor your desire, your desire turns into reality. I trust this process, I have seen it unfold in my own life many times. I believe that the trickiest parts are 1) determining to follow your desire and 2) being in the process of unfolding and uncertainty.

Everything is so unknown! What am I supposed to do now? Who am I if I am not this? What is the right way?

But I still recommend it. The desire for my own voice is to be free of any obstacles from my ego. My vision is to use my Sacred Voice in service of healing, both for myself, for others, and the planet. This may seem a little broad right now, but the details are filling in.

My desire informs my vision.

It is rather delightful to have both of these elements fulfilled in your career, when you have a second to notice that they are actually there. Because that is what is happening, and has been happening since I committed to myself to feel better. Tricky when you are so used to them not being there?

What I can assure you is that I have never once, since Valentine’s Day, ever criticized my voice.

Now THAT is a pretty sweet gift, indeed.

Hugs,

allison