The Vulnerable Voice
This Year I have witnessed myself in some of the most vulnerable artistic positions in my performance/business career thus far. I have performed on a world stage in the 2015 International Blues Competition in Memphis Tennessee. I welcomed the birth of my brand new website (Arley Hughes Discovering Your Authentic Voice) as I stepped fully into my position as a creator and a facilitator of combining music and energy work. I have played the 2015 Thunder Bay Blues Fest and Canada Day in front of thousands of people. In truth that is a huge list of personal goals that I should be very proud about accomplishing. However with putting yourself way, way out there comes opening yourself to the world and everyones view of who you are as a person, and an artist, This I have learned, can leave you feeling very exposed....almost naked.....for the world to judge you and hold you and your creative soul accountable.
Talk about being VULNERABLE!!
And yes.... I did have some amazingly challenging moments working through my own negative self talk....which has been relentless at times. This negative self talk also grows from working through the publics comments of my performances both within my business and my stage work.
It is said that for every negative comment it takes 15 positive comments to erase the damage done. No wonder a very large amout of artists are working on a deficit. I believe that as a singer.....any singer....we are truly judged..... due to the fact that we have nothing to hide behind.....no saxophone.....no drum set.....no keyboard, bass or guitar. We are fully evaluated on the consistency and quality of our instrument that is part of our human form, and unlike any other instrument. Our instrument can get sick, be effected by the environment, get strained, our instrument comes straight from our bodies....So intimate.....so unlike yours....and yours....and yours.......yes I am pointing at you.
Walk up to any stranger on the street and ask them to sing a song for you. 9.99 times out of 10 they would rather be digging a hole straight to China than share their most exposed and vulnerable instrument with you. Then you can ask this stranger why? Why won't you share your voice??? 9.99 times out of ten they will tell you a story of how they have been silenced. SILENCED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes............ I know this as I have asked many people througought my teaching career what their vocal story is. Instantly the student can place an exact time and date and person to the question....just like it happened yesterday. These stories are detailed and wrought with feelings of sadness, fear, and vulnerability. These stories are based on being told to be quiet, or to shut up, teasing, joking about how bad they sound, feeling upset scared because the last time they sang for someone they were told that they couldn't hold a note. etc.....
My point being that the voice is a sacred thing, and once it is silenced it hides itself in a deep dark place, that only the car or the shower (when alone.....and only alone) bears witness to the shy, meek, hurt, loud, proud and amazingly unique soundscape. The victims..... never to share their voice with anyone. Until they get the courage....and give themselves permission to TRY AGAIN!!!!
It is a primal need to use our voices in song, it has been our communication and entertainment since the dawn of time. Our companion when we are lost and lonely. This silencing effects more people than you would know as the voice is connected to our bodies and when judged, it effects us very negatively as we feel that it is our entire being that is being appraised, not just our voice.
I remember as a child I would cry when my family sang to me. Funny to think back that far and remember my first memory of music to be a kind of sad one. I thought about why them singing to me would make me cry? Could it have been the choice of song....as they always sang "Go Tell Aunt Abby the Old Gray Goose is DEAD"!!!! ...Ha! As I was thinking, it dawned on me that it wasn't the song per say, but how vulnerable I felt when I was sung to. I think it was the emotions I felt that I was unsure of??? hmmmmm....well once I was able to talk a little, it was then my turn to start singing, and I didn't stop.....I sang in class, at dinner, in the car, in the bathroom, before bed....(Brian Adams Heaven was my fave....Hell Ya!!) anywhere and everywhere I was singing and soon I realized that we do indeed live in a world of judgment.....People....all sorts of people, young and old, were trying to silence me on the regular.......ok I get it.... incessant singing can rake on the strongest of nerves.....I am surprised and elated to this day that those comments didn't silence me on the spot. I continued to ignore the general public and just keep singing.
I was placed in Music Festivals where I was judged on my vocal perfection....most of the time just wanting to run off the stage as my nerves were out of control and my heart beat would sound right through my voice. I rarely placed 1st, 2nd, or 3rd as there were so many voices so much "better" "prettier" "perfected" and more "seasoned" than mine.
In University being judged and having epic fails in huge concerts where I would be given a main part....and forget my words come the big performance. In front of hundreds of people and orchestra players..... standing quiet with my mouth open in sheer panic...... while the singer beside me quietly hums my line to snap me out of my vocal paralysis........ as the teacher whips me with an icy stare that I can still remember to this day. It took a really long time to live that one down, as people would bring it up quite often, leaving me to feel like a musical flop.
Finishing my performance at the International Blues Challenge and hearing from someone that they "like my voice but they don't love my voice." um........errrrrrrrr..........Thaaaaanks.......I Guess???
At Blues fest this year hearing the only off comment of our entire show was "whats up with your singer using a music stand???" after I gave my heart and soul, and left everything on the stage. That's All You Got??? That was the off comment that made me feel like all my effort was for nothing.....because the person didn't give two F#$%& about how much pumped up energy, smiling to, and engaging the crowd went into my performance......he just noticed the stand that I use to hold a couple of key words and transitions, my tambourine and harmonica's.......Throw the Girl a Bone Here!!!!! ARGGG!
Also kind Sir....... YES the stand is a bit of a security blanket for me as it keeps me informed about all of our solos and breaks and also keeps me from blanking out....cutting my band mates off of their solos........looking like a total donkey.....and dropping the ball for everyone in the band...... However if you do ever feel inclined to memorize the lyrics to 65 or so songs to perfection let me know and you can take my place in the band as front person.....as I am sure you have nothing else to do in your spare time and could do a far better job then I.......Ahh Thank You! End Rant!!!
There are far more stories to accompany the previous....but I will end there, as looking back on all of it makes me feel like I have had to constantly explain myself as a singer, vocalist, performer, and human being.
Luckily there has always been something inside of me that drives me forward. A passion for the art and sharing it in whatever form it takes is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately it also comes with an understanding that no matter how positive you are the world is full of naysayers that can make you CRY........I mean truly CRY.....for those bits of your soul you will never get back.....that make you want to throw in the towel AND NEVER TRY AGAIN. Honestly, my instant reaction to the negative comments is to come out full force into my protective, warrior rage,( i.e. as stated above) and be just as mean and scathing.....inserting many F Bombs along the way.........I used to do this a lot as I was super sensitive and super protective of my creative space. Truly standing up for myself and taking no prisoners......who wouldn't sometimes?.... But really, where does that get me as an artist, person and performer? Nowhere......
I am now trying to make it a personal goal of mine to support all artists at every gig and every open stage. Thanking every performer and personally talking to them, greeting them with a big high five and a hug! Being an encourager to anyone who is gutsy enough to even get up on stage and sing from their heart.
I know my naysayers will never stop......and I am slowly coming to terms with giving ZERO F#$&'s about what people think or say about me as it is truly none of my business. It is all about continuing to do what I love and encouraging others to do the same......if loving that idea is wrong.....I don't want to be right!!!!
So to sum it up!
Speak Up, Be an Encourager, Give Yourself Permission to Be Vulnerable, Do Whatever Possible to Make Yourself as Comfortable as You Can on Stage, (if that means singing with a music stand, doing cartwheels, or running around in figure eights because it makes you feel that little bit safer) by all means DO IT! Don't let others opinions mess with what you know to be right....They Aren't You. Don't let others push you around.
And To All You Naysayers/Critics Out There!!!!
Were You told at some point that you weren't good enough?
Or that your Art or Music was Atrocious?
Or when you dared to share your voice at the top of your lungs were you SILENCED????
Is your inner artist Hurt, Broken or Sad?
Do You talk negatively of others to make yourself feel better? (I am previously guilty of this, but no longer)
So May all the Critics of the world be healed and free yourself from your lonely stewpot of judgement.......for YOU too.......Are Pure and Talented beyond your Wildest Dreams.....Essentially Limitless........Your Art and Music Immortal........Never to Die.......But Oh.... there will always be the naysayers, much like your former self, who will wish the worst upon you. Even with all of your Bravery and Courage.
In That Moment of Highest Vulnerability.......
Whatever You Do.......
When They Watch You.....
Make Them Wonder Why......
They Don't Have The Guts........
To Even TRY!!!
What's Your Vocal Story???
I would love to hear from you!!