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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why your voice gets stuck

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I was up against a wall. Literally. My tongue was valiantly trying to poke out of my open mouth to formulate some semblance of an “ah” vowel whilst singing a downward scale. 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. The teacher was attempting to have my tongue stay politely in place when I sang anything. This seemed to me rather extreme and frankly, impossible.

What she could not sense was the hot shame smeared on my face because I was so clearly incapable of this task.

I’m happy to report that I was wrong: I learned how to sing a downward scale on an “ah” vowel. But not in the way you think. And it took me roughly 20 years to suss it out. 

If only she could have said, “Allison, try not to overthink it. You are having difficulty connecting with your breath. Can you, like, inhale?”

Well, I couldn’t inhale OR exhale well or properly. My voice gremlins were running amuck, and I was debilitated by fear. I lost control and trust of my voice. I was, quite literally, stuck. 

Why?

The ego voice disrupts our connection with the flow of breath.

The Sacred Voice is inherently linked to the flow of breath. This inner voice, your sacred center, your source energy, is hard-wired to your being in a state of flow, which lands you plop! in the present moment. A very important place to be if you are a human being, but especially if you are a singer.

I call this place the Flow State. It is the second pillar of the framework that I have been developing throughout the course of my singing and teaching career, and it is the most hard-won lesson I have learned. I believe it is so incredibly useful and helpful for anyone because I believe it can truly help alleviate so much pressure, worry, and anguish for singers.

How?

The Flow State is breath flow, but more accurately breath energy flow. Breath energy is more than the binary inhale-exhale cycle we are accustomed to. It is the subtle force of life moving through you. 

The basic idea is that we want to keep it moving, to be in constant flow, a breath loop. When we are in Flow State, your instrument operates with subtle brilliance. You are quite literally a sacred instrument, like some heaven-constructed oboe: neutral construct, resonant, flexible, powerful. All it needs is a clear-minded operator!

Ok, how many of us are in the constant flow of breath energy when we sing? Right.

We lose access to our breath as we live our lives on Planet Earth. It is really damn hard being a human being. The flow of life that is so natural to us as children is decreased over the course of time. This affects the flow of breath energy which affects your singing and which affects your life.

Our energy flow is compromised. Our minds become oversized. Our muscles become rigid. Our breath becomes forced.

We are out of subtle balance. We have lost our flow of breath energy.

As a result, we are indoctrinated to believe that we must fix, push, or think our voice into behaving better.

I disagree. Having won back that breath energy back myself through incredible determination, I see how detrimental and potentially destructive this mindset can be. You will feel better and experience luminous, confident, effort-free singing when you are in a flow state of breath. It is utterly possible.

So HOW do we fall out of the Flow State? How are we separated from the Sacred Voice?

1) Overthinking

When you are overthinking your singing, you SABOTAGE your natural flow of breath. You are not designed to think your voice. You are designed to allow your voice. Your body knows how to sing perfectly. (Isn’t that awesome?) Overthinking invites effort and effort begets artificial pressure throughout your entire body. This means getting tight. You experience a total contraction of self. When you overthink your singing, you feel compelled to shove, grunt, or hoist your voice, and you will feel, see, hear, and experience the effects in the quality of vibration. Your breath flow system is off-kilter and out of balance, and leads to all-encompassing tension. More to the point, your ego voice is in control, and you feel disconnected from your Sacred Voice. Loss of Flow State. 

2) Fear

When you are scared, you STOP the natural flow of breath. Fear and singing are common bedfellows. When you encounter your fear, you seize up. You feel threatened. Imagine someone is about to smack you: what do you do? You clamp your eyes shut, suck in your gut, and hold your breath. I call this The Flinch. It is pure instinct, ancient patterning you inherited as a human being. So if you are singing and you feel scared, you hold your breath. This occurs within the span of a microsecond, mind you, but this complete stop will also cause full-scale tension throughout your instrument, starting in the brain, heading straight to your solar plexus, and then rippling throughout your system. Ultimately, this stoppage of breath flow makes us singers feel incredibly out of control and degrades trust in our voice. It is a lousy place to be and crazy-making for sure. Loss of Flow State?

3) Energy Block

When you have an energy block, you INHIBIT the natural flow of breath. Energy blocks are common to everyone I have ever met. They develop over the course of our lives, and they are part of our human experience. You block the flow of your energy, the life force moving within you, when you experience suffering, trauma, shame, or other triggering emotions. Each center (there are seven main energy centers) is related to some aspect of our Self, and they correspond to our emotional experiences. If, say, you feel threatened (as above), the energy moving through your solar plexus center is blocked. Your physical body manifests that block: the diaphragm becomes rigid, the jaw tightens, the tongue pulls backward, the soft palate droops, the pelvic floor tightens. Your instrument adapts to the quality of the energy flow. Blocked energy is a petri dish for overthinking and fear. Loss. Of. Flow. State. 

The Flow State is absolutely attainable for anyone. It is, in fact, our “natural” state.

But it takes a rigorous amount of self-awareness, discipline of the mind, and a trusty map of the breathing system to hook in and re-establish the flow.

How?

Keep your eye on the breath at all times. Never stray. When you fall off the wagon (you will), hop back on. And over and over again you practice, until you become addicted to your clear mind, your confidence, and your unadulterated joy in singing. 

And the greatest reward: dancing with your Sacred Voice as you share it with the world.

Hugs,

allison

Interested in learning more and upending those blocks? Work with me 1:1 and re-establish your Flow State.

Where has my voice gone?

Where has my voice gone?

Well, it depends on which voice you mean. 

Is it the ego voice? Or the Sacred Voice.

The “ego voice,” based in your mind, is terrified of something: rejection, judgment, punishment. It craves validation and acceptance. The ego voice is fed by the External. It allows something outside of itself to determine its worth, thereby granting or withholding permission to sing. Have you been given permission? Or has it been withheld? Or somewhere in between…

Your Sacred Voice does not go away. It simply waits, ready and alert. And sometimes, that inner voice gets so loud that it seeks a way out and there is some catalytic moment when a person declares: 

That’s it. I need to sing.

And then the process of unfolding begins. It is very beautiful, but oh so tender. 

I have worked with a number of singers who have begun this reclamation process. I have and continue to do this work myself. It is the healing process. We do not like to speak of it in classical music, my personal breeding ground. It is taboo, for a number of reasons. But when you feel so disconnected from your voice, I believe healing your relationship with your voice is the solution, no matter your style, musical aptitude, or inherent talent for singing.

It has become clear that there are two strands of this process: the Inner Work and the Outer Work.

The inner work is focused on a person’s voice story: what in the world has happened that has caused this separation from our voice? Sometimes the answer is quite clear, but just too painful and overwhelming. Sometimes it is fuzzy and buried deep, also too painful to allow to resurface, for any number of reasons. It’s personal.

Whatever the cause, the ego has shut it down. The result is some blockage in the energy system. It stems from our fears. This lack of free flowing, outwardly-expressing energy can make some people feel literally gagged or choked. Our voice is simply not accessible. For others, it may be less acute, but no less of a barrier.

Consider how integrated we are as human beings. The stories we construct around our voice have everything to do with us, not necessarily our voice. This means that our voice, or access to our voice, may be affected by blocked energy anywhere in the body. For me, it was my solar plexus (limping self-worth) and my heart (encased in stone). It’s personal.

So, what to do?

It’s a double job: we do the inner work and we do the outer work. You can do one without the other. I believe it is more effective, liberating, and rewarding when you steep yourself in both practices.

THE INNER WORK

1) Ignite Curiosity

Any process of healing begins with awareness. The whole reason we have found ourselves cut off from our voice is because our ego mind has been harboring attachments to painful memories or diminished impressions of our Self. By practicing curiosity we enable ourselves to regain some neutral ground by becoming the Observer, rather than the Afflicted. We practice curiosity and ask a very important question: What’s really going on here? The way to practice curiosity: connect with your heart center as you begin any practice. Your heart will never judge and has piercing clarity. 

2) Write Your Voice Story

If you desire more freedom and connection with your voice, it is crucial that you evaluate where you are and take stock of your relationship with your voice. Write it down: What is my Voice Story? What is my current relationship with my voice? What do I think? Feel? How long have I felt this way? Why does this feel so challenging? Do not expect revelations or to be immediately fixed, just allow the exploration to begin.

3) Release, Release, Release

Yup. Sorry. Here is the truth: painful experiences, hurtful comments, and rejections (to name a few) are highly impactful and often detrimental. These traumas, no matter how seemingly trivial, impact your ability to use your voice. They feed they ego voice and obscure the Sacred Voice. They block your energy, period. Thus, acknowledging and releasing your experiences, and your emotional response to them, is a crucial step towards healing and recovering your Sacred Voice. It will liberate your voice and change your life.

4) Write your Sacred Voice Story

If you could wave a magic wand and have exactly the voice you wanted, this is what that would be. When you let go of limiting beliefs, you transform your relationship with your voice. However, it is vital to re-envision your relationship with your Sacred Voice. What do you want to do with your voice? What is your vision? You may have no idea how you will get there, but begin by imagining a purposeful and joyful experience of using your voice. You will be amazed at how this vision will become your reality.

THE OUTER WORK

Here is where most people begin to recover their voice relationship. It is the obvious place to begin, but I believe it is a slower route. It is very much a part of my process, and helps singers de-tangle their fears from using their instrument. It can be rather sticky, but is a crucial aspect of how to heal.

1) Learn the Ropes

Learn how to sing. Or really, learn how your instrument can already sing. Learn how to breathe and harness breath energy. Eventually, when you become capable, you feel more confident, and then you feel more connected with your voice. As the curious observer, you learn how your breath gets caught when you start overthinking (i.e. scared, doubtful, critical, etc.). You learn the workarounds to an overthinking mind. You cannot think your singing. Essentially, you learn how to weave your mind into an integrated whole, centered and anchored at the heart, so that your fears, embedded in your mind and promulgated by your nervous system, are pacified.

2) Expand your Capacity

Breath and fear are bedfellows. (Oh, do I have so much to say about that!) Fear will constrict and limit your breath and cause your soft tissues to tighten. Like, all of them. You learn how to soften and relax and release and strengthen those muscles that support your voice. Bodies love breath. They thrive on it. Singing easefully and without fear is supported with expansive breath, the fuel of life. Learning how to breathe was the catalyst for my own voice healing. Importantly, when you gain greater access to your breath, your ego mind’s vice grip on your voice is loosened. You learn to trust your voice and feel more confident.

The Inner Work is now supported by the Outer Work. They weave together like a strand of DNA, made strong by the most crucial component of all combined: your will to transform. It may seem as though your voice has left the building. This is a very important part of your journey. But I believe the most important part is your willingness to call it back and to make yourself whole once more.

Your Sacred Voice is irrevocably part of you. You may be disheartened or displeased or appalled or abandoned by your ego voice, but know that the inner voice is truly divine. It is still with you. Your voice can never really be gone. Just waiting.

Hugs,

allison