I love to sing, but it also makes me bat crap crazy. In fact, every time I try to take my voice seriously, I usually wind-up flat on my back with some kind of illness. When I was a kid, it was completely predictable. If there was an all-state choir audition or a solo that was any sort of challenge for me, I developed an instant sore throat. It is a wonder that I was ever asked to sing in public, given that I was always singing over some kind of respiratory infection.
Somehow the other musical disciplines I practice do not have this effect on me. Sure I can get nervous when playing the piano, guitar, or conducting for an audience, but I don’t get ill. I don’t lose my mind and my health. Somehow singing for others scares me sick.
Fear is a great teacher, perhaps the greatest teacher, we experience in our human journey. I’m not afraid of many things and until recently didn’t really understand how scary singing is for me. Singing, unlike most other musical disciplines, is done mostly on faith because singers cannot really hear themselves sing. When I play the piano, I can hear what my audience hears, albeit at closer range. When I sing, I have only a slight idea what it really sounds like, so I must rely on conductors, colleagues, teachers, (my wife who hears better than most dogs) and audience reaction to discover whether my singing matches what the composer has written. And when I practice alone, I don’t really know if I am getting better or not.
From the time I was very young, I cannot remember loving anything more than music. And I wanted to do it. I wanted to participate and to be in the process of making music more than anything in the world. I have journals from junior high school that chart my desperation to sing in the adult choir at the Disciples church in our small town because they had the only pipe organ and the best choir director. I wanted to sing in that choir in the same way that most girls that age wanted a boyfriend and to hang out with the popular crowd. Despite the fear-based illnesses that struck me on a regular basis, I kept auditioning, volunteering, and looking for opportunities to sing and play music.
As a spiritual leader and artist, I really need to understand why singing makes me nuts. I also believe that I am not alone in this crazy place. When I am leading and teaching workshops that include some element of vocal production, I will notice at least one (or more) of the participants go a bit crazy too. Since I believe that the four primary spiritual practices are: silence, movement, story, and singing, confronting the fear that seems to accompany the practice of singing – of having your voice – is an essential task.
It is hard in this culture to “have your voice”. There is just so much noise and there are so many things competing for our attention. It is difficult in such an environment to take a deep breath, open up, and be fully heard – even if you physically have the capacity to make big sounds.
The journey through Advent is often thought of as a time for more inward reflection. But maybe it is also a time to extend our voices in the same way that God reached toward us through singing angels. The practice of singing may not be scary for you, but I invite you in this season to move past whatever fears you do have so you can really “have the voice” you are meant to have. If many of us can do this together, I believe the world will be blessed by so much joy and hope that we will no longer have to strain to hear the songs the angels sing because the angels will be singing inside of us.