Singing is our birthright.

If you’ve already been to the About Emma page you’ll know that I’m someone who has sung for my living since leaving college. I’ve sung as a soloist on operatic stages all over the place, so you may be thinking that I was just born with whatever it takes, to sing, right? Hm… perhaps that is what you might think, but I am very aware of what it feels like to be told to ‘stop that racket’, to be ridiculed for singing as a child, to be thrown out of choir at school, and I remember what it was to be stood on stage and be so terrified that not a peep comes out.

I feel blessed that I was given the opportunity to become a singer, and you can read more about how that happened in a later blog. I have always felt most ‘myself’ when singing. However, when my life-direction changed and I began singing seriously, I came from a point of total incredulity and have had to learn many lessons along the way – the hardest being to believe that my voice is worth hearing, and that people want to hear it.

Like many people, I come from a ‘children should be seen and not heard’ background. The dominant natural impulse that leads to singing is that feeling of running wild in the back garden whooping for joy, perhaps yelling rules for a game of imaginary pirates at friends (I can hear our neighbours’ kids doing this and their voices carry beautifully resonant over adjoining gardens), plus laughing, shrieking with excitement, celebrating etc. All these natural exclamations do to the body that which we strive for when we learn to sing. These are natural impulses so often lost in the ‘growing up’ process. They are tamed out of our systems and our psyches.

When I meet people and I’m asked what I do for a living, I say “I’m a singer” and the most common response is “oh, how lucky you are, I can’t sing” or “I would have loved to have been a singer, but I have such a horrible voice”. So why do so many of us feel we cannot, or should not, sing? I always ask, “what makes you think that you can’t sing?” and it is always, without fail, a tale of childhood humiliation, being told by someone that they cannot and should not sing.

These people explain to me, with their clear, perfectly functioning, speaking voices, why they cannot sing, or how they sing for themselves and love it, but that I wouldn’t want to hear them. There is no reason, if your speaking voice works, why you cannot sing. I truly believe this. It is only incorrect muscle use and our thoughts which stand between any of us and a good clear singing voice.

Culturally, our current attitude to singing is akin to deciding that in order for it to be ‘OK’ for anyone to run somewhere, they must be of Olympic athletic quality, and a winner at that. Singing appears to have become competitive. If you are not either the next Pavarotti or Kylie, you shouldn’t bother. Shows like X-factor have led so many people to believe that high-earning professional singing is only a step away (this is a myth on several grounds!). Many of us feel so powerfully about singing, but it has become attached to the quest for fame and over-flowing material gain, rather than the beautiful tool for health that it can be.

In generations past, singing has been part of everyday life. Let’s go right back, back to cave people. I’m not an anthropologist, but let us suppose that communities of cave people would hum, chant, intone, or sing together – I cannot believe that individuals would have been excluded for incorrect tone production or tuning, or being too loud, or on grounds of personal taste, or just for not being amongst the best. Community would surely have taken priority over perfection, expression over excellence. It’s such a shame that so many individuals, through ego or carelessness have led so many of us to believe we should not sing.

For hundreds of years sound, as music, has been a healing modality. In a later blog I’ll talk more about the science of psycho-acoustics, but we all know that having a little sing by ourselves can make us feel better, right? Parents still instinctively sing to their babies, when they think no-one hears, but they stop as soon as they become self-conscious or the children become questioning, “Mummy, why is your voice so high” or maybe “Jamie’s Dad has a nicer voice”.

We are so sensitive about our singing selves – but perhaps this is because it touches the very core of who we are. The sound of our own voice has the power to balance and heal us, and to help heal our communities. Historically and internationally so many communities have been supported and held together by song. Many people still find joy and friendship in local choirs, choruses, congregations etc, but they are now the exceptions to a non-singing rule and community singing is no longer a strong part of our culture.

It’s a cop out to say”I’m tone deaf”. I’ve never yet met a hearing person who was genuinely tone deaf, and it’s not much more likely than meeting someone with two genuine left feet. It is so much easier to say you have an impairment than, as an adult, to take a deep breath, and face the embarrassment installed by someone, probably with their own issues, early in life. Year after year people come to me with an enormous desire to sing, but saying that their friends beg them not to. It has always been the case that, with some new ideas and encouragement, they can sing, and they can sing in tune and happily.

So, I’m here to tell you, you don’t have to be an opera star or pop star to enjoy singing or to use your own voice for your own health or comfort. In this blog I will endeavour to give you tips and ideas, and most of all encouragement to find your voice, love it and allow it to help de-stress your life and heal your pains. I’ll talk about hearing, feeling, singing, muscle coordination, breathing, grounding, sounding, flowing, and anything else that connects to your singing self. Through singing you can find your authentic self, your true voice in the world.

Emma Curtis
Emma Curtis is an opera and concert singer on the international stage, a teacher, a master breatwork practitioner and a Shamanic minister and teacher. She has taught singing for more than 25 years and works holistically through counselling or coaching and really good vocal technique, to help people feel inspired and confident in their speaking and singing voices, to feel empowered and in control.
  1. Nicola Scull Reply

    Hi Emma

    “Culturally, our current attitude to singing is akin to deciding that in order for it to be ‘OK’ for anyone to run somewhere, they must be of Olympic athletic quality, and a winner at that. Singing appears to have become competitive. If you are not either the next Pavarotti or Kylie, you shouldn’t bother.”

    This really resonated with me. I desperately wanted to sing at school. At both primary and secondary school I auditioned for the choir – each time I was rejected. (I also wanted to learn to play the flute but my music teacher told my mum it wasn’t worth the money. She believed him).

    Now clearly music is not my forte – but I do agree that you don’t have to be good at something to enjoy it. If it brings you (or others) pleasure then it is certainly worthwhile.

    As a child and an adult I have enjoyed singing with Guides. I may not always be in tune – but we have a lot of fun and no one seems to mind. Unless you want to make a career out of it that should be enough – and we should all be encouraged!

    Nicola

    • Emma Curtis
      Emma Curtis Reply

      We certainly should all be encouraged Nicola! Such a shame that a school music teacher told your Mum that she shouldn’t spend money on Flute lessons. Surely a music teacher’s role should be to encourage music-making? If you desperately wanted to be in the choir then wouldn’t it have been wonderful if that music teacher had helped you to get there? It seems so jaded to me to discourage a child who wants to make music, whatever their perceived potential might be. With children you often cannot tell whether they have talent for something until they’ve had a chance to try it anyway. Sometimes I wonder if it has more to do the the ego, or issues, of the adult than the potential of the child. I’m so glad that you enjoy singing with the Guides, there is something very special about singing for fun with other people.

      all the best,
      Emma

  2. Aven Reply

    I agree completely with this. I have always felt lucky to be part of a family that has always sung — informally at home, while doing the dishes, in the car, at the cottage around the campfire, carolling, in choirs and jazz groups and jams, all the time. It never occurred to me not to sing. When I was in high school, many of my friends thought they “couldn’t sing” and made a big deal about myself and another friend or two who were in choirs, as people who “had nice voices”. Being of a bossy nature, and wanting music to be part of my social life, I essentially bullied my closest friends into singing & playing music, regardless of their protests. And group singing — with a guitar, rock and folk mainly, but also some more “choir-y” musice, did end up being an important part of our core group. My proudest achievement was a friend who thought he couldn’t sing at all, but loved the Beatles and was starting to try to play the guitar — after a few years of my relentless “encouragement”, he became an accomplished guitarist and even did some open-mic singing in pubs and other places in university. Now he’s singing to his new baby, so I hope the cycle’s been broken a bit!

    The best of luck with your efforts to show people that, almost always, the “inability” to sing is just the lack of exercise of those muscles, and lack of practice at listening. It’s a great thing if you can help people learn how much pure fun they can have, even if all they do is sing to themselves. 🙂

    • Emma Curtis
      Emma Curtis Reply

      Thanks Aven for your comment and good wishes 🙂 I love that your friend is now singing to his new baby! That’s wonderful. Emma

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