When I was a little girl I had a four-poster bed. The tips of each post came off which served as the perfect make-believe superstar microphone. I could entertain myself for hours by playing records and singing along like I was a star. I bet you did something similar using whatever gadget could replicate your own make-believe superstar microphone…right? For me it wasn’t the pretending I was a star that was such fun; it was the act of singing that brought me so much joy. I loved to sing!
In junior high I joined chorus, but never found it as joyful as my superstar imitations. In chorus our voices were analyzed and then put into a category such as soprano, baritone, alto, etc. So now there were boundaries around what I could sing and not sing. To add to my dissatisfaction of the choral experience, I was at an age and in a culture where judgment ruled my world. Not to mention the fact that my hormones where influencing my vocal range making it difficult to fit into any one choral category and effectively causing a sense of being in a vocal prison. I’ve never liked rules. Just ask my parents.
It wasn’t long before I ditched chorus and pretty much began to feel disheartened about any skill I might hold for singing, and in general, any musical talent I might have altogether. Such a shame. And so, after utter exhaustion from my parents and there endless attempts to help me find a natural talent through piano, guitar & flute lessons, a variety of types of dance classes, gymnastics, formal art training, etc., I ended up giving up altogether and really focused on fitting in with the “cool” crowd, which in those days, had NOTHING to do with music making or singing.
It wasn’t really that I didn’t have any talent, clearly I did and do, we all do. After all, a large chunk of my bread and butter earned today is through drumming on stage, dance movement and song shared with audiences of hundreds. The talent was always there it was just stifled by the formalities in music my Western civilized culture has implemented. I had to essentially unlearn the nonsense of musical parameters and uncover my inherent right to sing, dance and make music. Since I had already rejected the directive conventional music teachers had attempted to instill in me, it was just a matter of inwardly saying “screw you” to any judgments or confines I might feel from the world around me.
Although all types of music-making are amazingly therapeutic, I really want to focus on the healing power of our voice, for it is the instrument our creator embedded into every human. When you use your voice as an instrument through singing, toning, even poetry, you are not only creating a biochemical reaction in the brain, you are also exercising the abdominal and intercostal muscles and stimulating circulation which shifts the energy of the body. Of course you are also allowing your soul an exquisite opportunity to express and your subconscious mind the ability to unlock blockages and articulate suppressed emotions. All of this profound mental, emotional, physical and spiritual activity can change your immediate and long-term trajectory! Ever wonder why Karaoke is so incredibly popular?
Your song is your prayer. Think about the indigenous people and their singing. Do you think there is some choral director amongst their tribe that teaches them a right or wrong way to sing? Do you think they are criticized or chastised by their peers if their voice doesn’t sound like the next American idol? Can I get a “HELL NO!” They sing as part of their tribal spiritual expression. They sing to the Great Spirit; they sing to the Earth Mother; they sing to heal; they sing in ritual and ceremony; they sing to celebrate and mark the passages of life. They don’t stop to analyze and critique their voice. They just sing.
Our ancestors instinctively knew of the healing power of the voice for music-making. There are many factors that influence the wellness of a community. Could singing and music-making be one of the key causes of excellent health in indigenous peoples that are still untouched by Western civilization? Can I now get a “HELL YES!” Indigenous peoples, of the past and present, don’t need a verified reason to sing. They just sing! There is a beautiful song called “Oglala” by Lakota artist Quiltman. The opening lines of the song are “My relatives, don’t be afraid to sing. The common people talk to the grandfathers through our songs, then our hearts. My relatives, don’t be afraid to sing.”
In Native culture, the drum and the songs that are sung with the drum are central to the society. When various nations or “tribes” of Native people come together, it is important that everyone be able to sing songs to the Great Spirit. Using voice as prayer is what is important, not the words. As a way to transcend the boundary of language, when different tribes join together in song, they replace the words of the songs with “vocables” so everyone can sing together without words. Although there is immense honor and respect around the songs that are sung, no one says “hey, you can’t sing so be quiet.”
The call and response chanting tradition of Kirtan, originally performed in India’s Bhakti devotional traditions has gained enormous popularity here in the West. Jai Uttal, noted Bhakit and Kirtan leader and Grammy nominated artist beautiful describes the phenomenon as this: “Kirtan is for all people. There are no experts, no beginners. The practice itself is the teacher, guiding us to ourselves. Kirtan allows us to enter into a mystery world – a world where all the logic of our minds and all the conditioning are left aside. With Kirtan, we create a temple inside the altar of our hearts. A place of refuge, a place of love, and a place of just being.” Yes, yes, YES! Although I have never publicly practiced Kirtan, I have sung the chants in my car and living room through CD’s. I yearn to find a nearby Kirtan community that I can pop into. It is not the lyrics or any religious affiliation that draws me, but the experience of singing. When I sing I connect with that inner temple Uttal refers too, whether it is in English, Cherokee, Lakota, Sanskrit or gibberish. And I know, without a doubt, you do too whether you are mindfully aware or it or not.
So I invite you to sing – today (if you haven’t already, and if you have, sing again!). Sing in the car. Sing in the shower. Sing while you work. Sing with your kids. Sing with your partner. Let any silly notions of not having a good voice be flushed down the toilet! YOU CAN SING! You were born a singer – don’t let anyone tell you different. Let the sound of your vibrating vocal cords send waves of healing energy throughout your body, seep deep into your brain, and lovingly free the expression of your soul. It doesn’t matter what you sing, just sing. To get you started, below are some lovely songs to sing along too. Who cares if you screw up the words…use vocables. Just unleash that voice of yours and the sweet healing ju ju that flows through you.
Although these songs I’ve shared are of a softer nature, don’t shy away from the harder variety if that’s what you are attracted too. When I need to blow off some steam, some good Metalica or LinkinPark’s “Faint” keeps anger from settling into my being by singing it out!
I want to hear from you in the comments or the Pathways Of Wisdom Facebook page. What is your favorite sing-a-long song and why? Heck, I dare you to link a video of you singing. Inspire me.
In Rhythm & Harmony,
Ong Namo by Snatam Kaur
Oglala by Quiltman