No one else can sing your song

Voices are so personal. They mirror our story – our gifts, doubts, history, mood, identity, and secret dreams. Every time we speak, we are revealing something about ourselves – the things we’re proud of and perhaps the things we most want to hide.

When people hear that I am a voice coach, they often roll their eyes and say something like, “Wow, you must hear the most horrible sounds in your studio!” Or “Good thing I’m not your client! My voice is so terrible it would land you in the hospital!”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I want to tell them how moved I am by the first tentative, shaky sounds emerging from a long-silenced voice. I want to shout about the joy that gallops in on a newly bold voice set free at last. I want to bring them to the room when someone who believed for decades that their voice wasn’t worth hearing is moved to tears by their own beautiful singing. I want to express the deep honor I feel when the exiled, imprisoned aspects of a person are granted amnesty and welcomed back home.

Those tender, vulnerable moments in the teaching studio touch me more deeply than a highly trained, confident performance ever will.

Voices are so personal. They mirror our story – our gifts, doubts, history, mood, identity, and secret dreams. Every time we speak, we are revealing something about ourselves – the things we’re proud of and perhaps the things we most want to hide.

I believe each voice is an essential part of our collective story. We are all part of a vast choir that is singing the song of life. When any of the voices fall silent, our song is incomplete.

Several years ago I co-created a song with Stephanie Pace Marshall, a brilliant pioneer in education who founded the innovative Illinois Math and Science Academy near Chicago. It was based on a poem Stephanie wrote for her grandchildren – and all of the children. As I began searching for the thread of the song, I found these lines:

“As long as you have breath, there is still time
To awaken the dream that’s been yours all along.
And if you don’t sing it, no one else can sing your song.”

Sitting at my piano late at night, I was grieved and overwhelmed by how many of the songs in this world will never be sung. Some will be stolen by poverty, war, oppression, and the chaos that runs rampant in the world. Others will be silenced by abuse, shame, perfectionism, and the loneliness that pervades our Western consumer culture. We are taught to doubt our voices – literally and metaphorically. We are encouraged to outsource singing to the professionals and surrender our ears to highly processed and perfected music.

When people walk into my studio, before they even open their mouths, it is an act of emancipation. They come to this work to be “unsilenced.” To reclaim some aspect of their full humanness. To share their most secret and sacred wishes. To open their mouths and – bravely, beautifully, tremblingly – sing their song.

And lucky me – I get to listen.

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About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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