Today, singing is my life: I lead multiple Sing Portland! rehearsals a week, I take part in singing events, I even find myself singing under my breath as I go through my day.
I’m the last person that you’d think would have a fear of singing — but it wasn’t always this way.
When I was a teenager, I decided I wanted to be a musician. My parents begged to differ. In fact, my dad made it clear that I wasn’t good enough to make it in music, and there was no way I’d be able to support myself. And so I bought into it, at least for a while.
For years, whenever I thought about singing, I got this little voice in the back of my mind saying “Not good enough. Not good enough. Who do you think you are?” (Sound familiar?) And for years I let that voice take the front seat.
But I couldn’t get away from music — after becoming a music therapist and seeing just how powerful a force for change and healing music is, I eventually circled back around to becoming a singer and song leader. And oh, how I love having 100+ singers at my fingertips, molding that sound, putting sparkles in their eyes and smiles on their faces.
You might have the idea that this is the part in the story where I tell you that I’ve now totally conquered my fear of singing and all’s right with the world. But that’s not true.
Even while I was leading all of these singers, I had this secret dream to belt it out myself. I kept thinking that maybe, one day I could be as creative and free to sing as Bobby McFerrin or Rhiannon.
And then I met Barbara.
Barbara and I were still getting to know each other when she mentioned that she was studying vocal improv and wanted some people to practice with. I was floored that she wanted to improv with me, since I hadn’t really done that much improv myself, but I dove in. I loved it so much that I decided to study vocal improv with one of my heroes — Rhiannon.
I’d love to tell you that I dove right into that too, but the truth is that as I walked into the workshop, all those old insecurities and fears came flooding back.
What if she thought I was terrible? What if I sang the wrong note? What if actually, I’m really not a good enough singer?
I shouldn’t have worried though — like all the great teachers, Rhiannon met me where I was, and created a safe space in the group. And it turns out that I wasn’t the only one there who was worried. In fact, everyone had their own insecurities, which made it all the more amazing when we witnessed them and loved them through it. After spending a few days singing with the others, I was feeling pretty good … until it came time to do my solo.
This was the moment of truth: was I going to let this fear keep muting me, or was I going to let it go?
When my turn came, I stood up on the stage, absolutely convinced that there was no way I could simply improv for four minutes. But then I looked at the other singers, saw their loving faces beaming support back at me. And I dropped all my judgments, all my fears, all my insecurities and sang as if I was totally naked.
It was one of the most beautiful, transformative experiences of my life.
It wasn’t perfect. There were all kinds of “glitches”. I didn’t stay on pitch every single note, and I may have taken the timing too liberal here and there. Sometimes I had no clue what scale we were in. But I gave it my all, and they absolutely loved it. (Here’s a clip if you want to see it. OMG – I’m sweating bullets all over again just sharing this vulnerable and naked moment with you. But yes – it’s the real me). And then it hit me:
They didn’t love my singing because it was perfect. They loved it because I was totally me when I sang.
Brian Eno brings it home in this interview, where he says “Imperfection has character … [music] offers you a chance to surrender. A chance to NOT be in control.
The least interesting sound in the universe is the perfect sound wave. It’s the sound of nothing happening. It’s boring. Distortion is character. Character is deviation from perfection.”
And so that’s what I want to encourage you to remember the next time your own internal critic pipes up.
You don’t have to be perfect.
(In fact, please, please don’t be perfect!)
Please bring all your imperfections. Have character. Show up as you are. With all your flaws. I’ll love you for it, give you a safe place to sing, where everyone accepts you as you are. And we’ll have a darn good time doing it!
Want to try out improv for yourself? We do improv at the beginning of every single Sing Portland! rehearsal, plus we have dedicated improv sessions every second Thursday of the month! Can’t wait to see you there!