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September 16, 2010 / Jenny Ann Fraser

Singing My Way Through The Fear

"If you hear a voice within you say, "You are not a painter," then, by all means paint... and that voice will be silenced." -Vincent Van Gogh

All of my life I have wanted desperately to sing.  I have been obsessed with music  for as long as I can remember, but singing was something I ached to do.  I used to sing into my skipping rope at the top of my lungs to my Olivia Newton-John records certain that I had that thing that singers had. That thing that moved me so much that I never wanted to stop listening.

Then,when I was about 7 or 8,  I overheard one adult tell another that I couldn’t sing.  It was a comment that I wasn’t meant to hear and would never have been said had this person known that I was eavesdropping. But I was, and it shattered my confidence.

I wonder sometimes how any of us survive when we are all so fragile as children that makes it impossible to reach adulthood unscathed. I find myself wondering if these things don’t happen to force us to grow, but so often we don’t know how to heal and remain stuck.

I played the flute all through Jr. High and High School. My flute was true love and I have no doubt that I was born to play it. I made it sing, but still I ached with jealousy over those who could use their voices. I won scholarships to International Music Camp where I sat in top chairs with other students from all over the world.  Teachers told me that I was gifted, but I never could believe it somehow. I don’t believe that this had anything to do with the singing comment, just a total lack of faith that I could ever be anything special. Musicians were my heroes. They were special and I was not.  I dreaded the day that everyone would find out the real truth. My anxiety lead me to give up dreams of studying music. Eventually I quit all together.

I surround myself with musicians.  I know that this is no accident, but it made sense because my brother is one, and very talented at that. The group of musician friends that hung around with him when we were young are now also mine.  Back yard bonfires and house parties always come with guitarists and bass players and singers and the most fun I can ever have.  But for years I felt I had no choice but to sit on the sidelines.  I wouldn’t even sing in the shower, but the aching never went away.

Finally, 5 years ago I took a two-week group singing class for adults. The course consisted of 8 evening sessions. The group was large enough that I felt I could hide somewhat, but not too large to overwhelm me.  I immediately felt comfortable with the instructor, and signed up for fall lessons.

I loved every lesson.  I discovered that I really could learn to sing, and even survived the first recital. The one I was determined not to take part in.  I continued for three years, and though I grew in confidence and skill,  still I could not shake the last remnants of my anxiety disorder. Fear created tension in my body and tension and singing just don’t go together all that well. So for all I accomplished, it still held me back.

I switched teachers for a year, but allowed life and fear to get in the way. I didn’t have the courage to practice all that much, and it became too difficult. Though I was determined to push through. Apparently The Universe had other plans for me.

Last year, I just couldn’t afford tuition, and was far too busy working multiple jobs to focus on singing lessons. I was forced to stop.  I prayed that it wouldn’t be for very long, but didn’t see how I would be able to start-up again any time soon.

Once in a while, a thought will suddenly come to me out of the blue.  It is my thought, but it seems to come from somewhere outside and it slams into my mind with amazing clarity. I find that on the rare occasions when I have this experience , the thought that comes to me is always a small but life-altering revelation.

The thought was;  “When I am lucky enough to be able to take lessons again, I am not going to waste it by being afraid!”

That was it. I had set an inadvertent intention.

So, this July, I signed up for lessons.  I’ll give anything else up if I have to. But it seems clear to me that it is time to start living my life instead of waiting for the right circumstances, and then complaining when they don’t show up.

So I joined a choir.

So this week, consisted of a birthday, a new and improved space to write in, voice lessons and joining a choir… I vow that I will not diminish these gifts by allowing fear to hold me back.

Choir practice was incredible fun. I realized that I am out of practice at reading music, still shy in a group, tensing most of my body and unable to breathe properly while sitting down but I’m already working on it. The gut wrenching anxiety was nowhere to be found. The rest can be worked through with practice and faith.

My first lesson surprised me.  I am not nearly as rusty as I thought. I left the lesson aware that my new attitude isn’t just some words that I have tried to believe in. It has changed the quality of my voice and I can’t wait to explore this new perspective. I’ve been focused on this for months and the wiring in my brain is getting the lesson.  It ran on overdrive, as it did at the previous day’s rehearsal with  everything that I haven’t thought about for nearly two years flying through all at once, and yet I remembered my commitment and simply observed what was happening in my mind and my body, knowing that by being there and staying with it, I can work to change what isn’t serving me, if not today then some other day.  I had no desire to leave, in fact… I didn’t want either experience to end.  And I get to do it all over again next week!

Two years ago, just days before my last recital, I opened up one of those tiny books of inspirational quotes to a random page and read the quote that lead me to where I am now.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. ”

-Marianne Williamson

I finally get that it is not only about giving myself permission to make mistakes. It is also about believing that I am worthy and have the right to shine.

Musicians might be special people, but that is because we are all special. Each and every one of us. All too often we do not believe in ourselves enough explore our own potential and cannot find our gifts, so we never know what they are.

While learning anything can be a long arduous task, we do not have to allow perfection to get in our way. There is no need to be perfect at anything…  this is good because it probably isn’t possible. Even if it is possible… it isn’t necessary.

I’m beginning to understand that the point of all of our desires is to simply move from where we are today, to wherever we end up tomorrow, and then do it again. The key is to remember to stop and cherish the gifts that learning brings along the way.

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16 Comments

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  1. rob white / Sep 16 2010 7:37 am

    That’s beautiful, Jenny. That Van Gogh quote is perfect. I think every artist experiences those moments of self-doubt. I know it took me long enough to create a new epoch and declare myself an author. Creating a new epoch requires consciously setting new aspirations and aims that challenge how you regularly do things. This may sound simple enough, but it requires effort. It means that you have to deliberately create a new version of yourself.

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Sep 16 2010 12:37 pm

      Thank you Rob,
      I was thinking about it on my way to work this morning and I am amazed at how much life changes when you begin to believe that you can create that “new version of yourself.” And while it is hard work, like everything, it becomes less hard over time. The more you believe, the more you succeed, the more you succeed, the more you belief. It’s quite a ride!

  2. Emily Jane / Sep 16 2010 7:55 am

    I made a point of reading this first thing this morning after we’d talked about the subject. And I am so glad I did! The quotes are perfect, and your lesson has wonderful impact on me, especially today – the night of my first singing lesson!

    “I wonder sometimes how any of us survive when we are all so fragile as children that makes it impossible to reach adulthood unscathed.”

    Funny you mention this – I was just saying to a friend of mine on Sunday, while we were recording an episode of his radio play – that I was so terrified of anything to do with my voice. Speaking in front of people, singing, doing voiceover work – yet it keeps coming my way. And I couldn’t understand it because I wasn’t very good. “But what’s the logical conclusion,” my friend asked? “That maybe I’m not that bad?” I said. “Not bad? People don’t want ‘not bad’. They want excellent! Shouldn’t that tell you something?” I told him I could pinpoint the moment I became afraid to use my voice. In Grade Ten American History class, when we had to give a presentation. I stood there in front of everyone, teacher included, terrified – I was new to Canada and on top of being a bit of a quiet person, I worried my accent would be made fun of. So I read it, and it came out FAST. My teacher stopped me after my first few sentences, laughed and told me to speak up and slow the heck down because nobody could understand me. Bright red and humiliated, I had to continue. And every class presentation for the rest of the term, he’d chuckle to himself as I got up there and tell me “remember, slow down the speed!” That was the single thing that made me feel I was terrible at anything to do with using my voice. And like you, on top of an anxiety disorder, too. But there is something inside me that wants to burst into song. That WANTS to be able to command a room full of people, or to belt the high notes in the Glee soundtrack. I’m starting my first lesson this evening, and I’m going to remember what you said .

    ” ”When I am lucky enough to be able to take lessons again, I am not going to waste it by being afraid”.

    Thank you for this 🙂

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Sep 16 2010 12:44 pm

      You are so very welcome Emily!
      I have come to believe that opportunities arise for us, like voice over work because we are meant to be doing them. It might be about becoming brilliant, or it might be about what we can learn from them which is brilliant! I finally understand that these lessons are gifts.
      I am so very excited for you tonight.
      My advice? (Sorry, I can’t help myself 🙂 ) Be gentle and patient with yourself and don’t worry that you are being judged, because that is not what singing teachers do. They want to teach you just as much as you want to learn so have a blast!

  3. Lucky dc / Sep 16 2010 5:51 pm

    Hmmm…When someone said that you couldn’t sing, you gone be feel sad right. But you always try to be better.Good inspiration for others 🙂

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Sep 16 2010 5:59 pm

      Thank you for that. That is my hope that I can offer something to others.

  4. Patty - Why Not Start Now? / Sep 16 2010 10:39 pm

    Hi Jenny – I just wanted to stop by and say thank you for leaving your comment on my blog when I was on vacation. I so resonated with this piece. I too had an early experience of being told I couldn’t sing, and oh my how I wanted to, like you. I finally started to sing, though, when I was in my twenties, alone in my apartment. Singing along with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, June Christie. They weren’t of my generation, but their voices called to me. Looking back now, I think they taught me to sing. And these days I’m happy to sing. I even did a thing on my blog about singing my way through my life. But singing for family members? Not so much. They still don’t know that I can sing!

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Sep 16 2010 11:57 pm

      Hello Patty,
      I’m so glad you stopped by! I often feel I’m an old soul when it comes to music that I love too! My parents introduced me to all that you mentioned and then there was Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughn, and the family favorite Harry Belafonte!
      Thanks for the reminder. I’m loading some Sarah Vaughn on my ipod as I write this!
      The choir that I just joined was created with the idea that everyone should sing. Whether you are good at it or not! It really is true.

  5. Chris Edgar / Sep 17 2010 12:19 pm

    Hi Jenny — I was struck by the poignancy of the childhood experience you described around the adult saying you couldn’t sing — I had the same kind of experience around playing drums, where someone close to me remarked that I probably wasn’t coordinated enough to do it. I felt so angry when I heard this that I was determined to do it and show them. 🙂

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Sep 18 2010 10:42 am

      Wow, that’s fabulous Chris. I’ve been thinking about your comment quite a bit since I first read it. I’m interested as to how some of us react to such comments with fear and others with determination.
      I know that there have been many times in my life when I was just as determined but not so with singing.
      I think that part of the problem is, that like many I didn’t know that singing was something that you learn although certainly knew that about all of the other instruments. I thought that singing was something you either could do or you couldn’t. End of story.
      Glad to know I was wrong! 😛

  6. Angela Artemis / Sep 17 2010 2:08 pm

    Wow Jenny! You should be so proud of yourself! I love to sing too. Singing opens up our throat chakra – the one that has to do with communicating. I bet you’ll get over a lot of shyness and be able to speak up for yourself more as you continue to honor your desire to sing! I think you heard your intuitive voice telling you – not to waste a moment ever again if you had the opportunity to sing!
    There is nothing so beautiful as the human voice – especially in a choir. I think this is a magnificent and inspiring post! Thank you so much!

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Sep 18 2010 10:45 am

      Thank you Andrea,
      Yes, I too believe that it was my intuitive voice… it’s so much wiser than I am. I haven’t always trusted it, but fortunately it has a tendency to keep screaming at me until I do listen. Hopefully it won’t have to work so hard in the future!
      Singing has already done so much for my confidence. Simply trying and experiencing the success I’ve had up to now has made me much more willing to face other fears.
      I can’t wait to see where it takes me now!

  7. Belinda Munoz + The Halfway Point / Sep 20 2010 12:47 pm

    What a wonderfully inspirational post, Jenny! I’m so happy to hear that you took action to get over your fear.

    The part about your childhood experience really struck me. I had a similar experience and those words can be so paralyzing to us children. I think the hurt we incur is not intentional on the adult’s part. But this post reminds me that I need to be careful with the words I use to describe my child, whether or not he’s listening. I have a tendency to be overly protective and I know that I have cautioned my child with words as a way to blanket him from pain or disappointment. I don’t think this is such good practice on my part because I’m preventing him from experiencing things that may in the long run be good for him in the end.

    I love to sing, too, but have never thought of joining a choir. Maybe someday, who knows. Thank you for this.

    • Jenny Ann Fraser / Sep 20 2010 4:54 pm

      You are welcome Belinda,
      I too am moved by your ability to be aware that you may be too protective over your son. I know so many parents who don’t realize this and I see children who are going to really suffer as adults because of it. We do need to experience pain, loss, or disappointment at times or we will never be able to cope with real life. I wouldn’t change much if I had the chance I don’t think.
      I vote yes for the choir thing! When you’re ready and have time. I suspect that deep down, most of us yearn to sing at some level. Skill isn’t really important.

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