About Singing

“I’m the world’s worst singer.  Can’t carry a tune in a bucket!”

“I used to sing. Then I stopped.  Went to school, got a job, had a family, got busy.  I sure miss it.”

“The only reason I go to church, confidentially, is for the singing!  Where else do people sing any more?”

As a visible singer in the world, I hear a LOT of stories about singing.
Some are tragic.
Some hilarious.
All touching.

Mostly I hear about why people don’t sing.
They’re waiting for a better time, the right teacher, or – heaven forbid – the perfect voice.

Here’s what I have to say about singing.
Want it to sound beautiful every single time you open your mouth?
It won’t happen.
Want to quit your day job, be “discovered,” get a recording contract, make a ton of money?
Don’t hold your breath, Sweetheart.

Music is not a commodity.
It’s not a product for sale.
It’s not something you need extensive training to enjoy or claim as your own.
It’s just….well….HUMAN.

All of the judgment, money, and competition (don’t get me started on “American Idol”….) has so little to do with the deep nourishment that comes from singing. Especially if you’re a “Singer” — which I often pronounce “Big-S Singer.” (Yes, enjoy that double entendre…). If you’re one of those, your heart breaks a little every day you don’t sing.
Your soul gets pruny and wizened.

When you do sing, suddenly there is a storm of inner critics telling you to sit down, shut up, get trained, don’t make a mistake, etc. So you have to assume that trying to sing at all is a big mistake.  That one magical day those critical voices will fall silent and leave you to your singing pleasure.

Well, don’t hold your breath about that either!

As I told a new singing friend this week – those “brain rats” aren’t going to be quiet. It’s downright foolish to wait for them to be quiet before you sing, sing, sing.
Just sing anyway.

Sing in places where singing isn’t expected.
Sing for lonely people.
Sing your prayers.
Sing in traffic jams, with or without the radio.
Sing while you walk in the park or shop for groceries.
To quote the great Sufi mystic, Hafiz:
“Sing some songs to your pets and plants;
why not let them get all drunk and wild?”

Sing WITH people, too. Cultivate a dozen useful little songs for marking life events — like the sun coming up AGAIN (!) or welcoming a stranger or expressing grief.
Then teach them to the people in your life.
Become the song-carrier in your community.
You don’t need a fabulous voice to invite people to sing.
In fact, it can make them more comfortable to try it themselves if you are less than perfect.

Sing past the crazy notion that unless you make your living at something, it doesn’t count. Sing past your own personal “American Idol” panel saying snarky things and voting you down.

Most of all, sing into the deep ancestry we all carry — of people who persisted through unthinkable hardship, privation, displacement, and pain by raising their voices in beauty. Remember them.
Ask them to sing with you.

I guarantee they will come –and walk beside you in those wide open fields of blooming, buzzing, enlivening SONG.

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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4 Responses to About Singing

  1. Avril says:

    Hey wonder woman!

    Your new post made me think of this song by Serena Ryder – thought you’d enjoy it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZXeo44MKHs

    It was such a joy being with you last week, and especially sweet to have that gracious time over breakfast with you on Day 3 and singing together over lunch. My life is so enriched by your presence in it! I sure do love you.

    xoxox Avril

  2. Judy Archer says:

    Hi Barbara,
    I am delighted to read your stories and hear your voice – in writing and also to find your videos and sing along. I have warned Michael (Jones) that he may hear more voices at unusual hours as I make my way through your book and practice along with your videos. Already I feel more uplifted.

  3. Crystal Howe says:

    Reblogged this on Rev. Crystal and commented:
    Barbara McAfee’s book, Full Voice, has been an uplifting, entertaining, and informative resource on more than the act of singing! Thank you, Barbara! To you, me, and everyone else, may we all sing our hearts open!

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