I was recently interviewed by Daisy De Boevere, a vocal coach in Belgium, about all things singing, music, and life. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did…
You studied singing and have had a wonderful career as a professional singer and vocal coach. So, what drove you to study psychology?
In the early days of my coaching, I noticed that the majority of vocal issues people were dealing with had an emotional component. Even the most seemingly technical challenges- throat tension, trouble with certain notes or ranges, breathing- were almost always caused or exacerbated by personal issues. Thankfully, I had a knack for helping people find solutions to both their vocal and personal issues, and I chose to go to graduate school to add an academic understanding to what I’d been doing intuitively for many years.
In your experience and opinion, singing and psychology: where do they meet?
For me, they are inexorably linked. The voice and mind are both housed inside of the body. Whatever we feel, whatever we think… there is an effect on our physiology… our hormones, our energy, our heart rate, our breathing and blood flow. As such, the voice goes along on our emotional and experiential journeys, making it important to learn two things: 1) how to use our voices optimally, technically speaking, regardless of what is going on with us physically and emotionally and 2) how to better manage our emotional state and personal sense of wellbeing so that we are more grounded, empowered, and at ease- personally and vocally.
Can singing change one’s life? Have you seen that happen with anyone?
Oh my goodness, yes. Singing and music, both. I have many examples, but first, let’s look at why this is the case. Music- rhythm, percussion, melody, harmony, vocalization, instrumentation- has an emotional impact on our brain and physiological wellbeing. Whether we’re listening to or creating it, music bypasses our intellects and stirs something timeless and spiritual within us, calling us on to a more aware, present, and ego/identity free space. And in this space, what is unimportant falls away, leaving us in a heightened state of awareness.
Music also bonds and binds us together as a community. We are social animals, yet today, we are increasingly isolated and lonely. And there is a detrimental impact on our mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing that comes from this disconnection. Music helps to heal these divisions by reconnecting people to one another, and to themselves, in the shared creation of music making and listening.
In terms of examples of how music can change lives… I’ve seen music crack open the hardest of souls. I’ve seen learning to breathe and sing without tension release heartache and hurt that had been held onto for years. I’ve watched clients learn to gain trust in themselves and their purpose in life by letting go of pain and tension and speaking in their real voices. I’ve witnessed people sharing themselves with others in ways they never imagined possible, as well as being willing to let in the sharing of others. I’ve seen singer after singer lose the lesser, arrogant parts of themselves when connecting deeply with a song, and then bring that enlightened way of being into their lives, work and families.
For me, the voice is the quickest access we have to our best selves. Our voices show us what’s in the way, and lead us on to where we need to be.
What advice would you give people who really love to sing, but think/believe they’re “not good enough” to go on a singing adventure or share it with the world, and therefore hold back because of that belief?
This is a core issue I explore in my first book, The Art of Singing. Most people think that only a select few have the natural talent to sing, and that the rest of us are relegated to a life of listening. This simply isn’t true. It is our beliefs about singing, rather than our actual voices, that stop us from using and sharing them.
How can this be? Because our bodies and minds are connected. When we believe that singing is difficult, this belief manifests as physical tension. Our breathing becomes shallow. Our throats tighten. Our intellects take charge and interfere with the reflexive process of voice production. Naturally, in this scenario, the results don’t sound very good, which confirms that indeed, we’re not meant to sing. When in fact, it was a belief that kept our true and beautiful voices from emerging in the first place.
There is no ‘good enough’ when it comes to singing. Does the sun doubt its purpose? Does a tree stress out about whether or not it is beautiful? So should we set aside our own petty self doubts and engage joyfully in singing… engage fully in our lives.
What do you look for in a singer, to feel connected, inspired and amazed?
There are a number of things, but the one I’ve found to be most critical is that the desire to communicate be stronger than the desire to vocalize. Often we get this backward, focusing on how our voices sound and how we engage them, and then add on the ‘meaning’ of our delivery. Instead, I encourage both my singers and speakers to first focus on what they want to share; how they want to reveal themselves in service to something for others. When this purpose is understood, it clears the way for the development of the tools of that purpose- the voice, the specific material, and the delivery. Said another way, focus first on the why and then on the what.