V – Please! Raise Your Voice

VI sat stunned at the adjudicator’s comment. With a few thoughtless words she had crushed the feelings of a young girl. I could see it in Shelley’s face. “I can’t give you a high mark on this because there is just something unpleasant in your voice that I find hard listening to.”

I was not Shelley’s teacher. In fact, I was not even a music teacher yet at that time. Her teacher had chosen her as one of the top girls in her school due to her musicianship. She had even won first place at the festival the year before. Yes, she sang with a tightness in her throat, but tell her that so she has something to work on! Don’t take her voice away from her in such an ugly way! There was nothing I could say at that time. My words did not have the clout to undo the damage.

Though I saw that devastation with my own eyes, I hear it often when others learn I am a music teacher. “My teacher told me to just mouth the words in choir.” “I wasn’t even allowed to sing in the choir.” So many adults fear using their voice publically because of supposedly well intentioned but thoughtless judgments that limit instead of giving feedback about how to grow. There are only a few with very specific medical conditions who cannot sing. Otherwise we all have a voice we can raise expressively. The bane of our competitive society is that it has limited those who are called singers to those who can win contests. Prizes don’t make people singers. The goal is enjoyment and fulfillment. Training needs to keep that in mind.

singing_childrenIf there is a need to sing together as a choral group, listen to the specific need of the child to help them grow. The important thing is to see the child and balance other musical activities to affirm their musicianship while they are developing their singing voice. Often their greatest struggle is a fear of their voice that causes them to stay in a talking range of notes. And when it comes to matching notes. That has to do with training the ear.

But did Shelley’s story of singing end that day? I watched her with concern as she sat silently Sunday after Sunday in church. She shied away from anything that had to do with singing.

About a year later I was in the position to talk to her about the experience. “Shelley, I noticed you weren’t singing at church and you used to love to sing. Do you sing at all anymore?”

“No,” she answered, head low. “I won’t even sing in my room or in the shower.”

057850ca1b34d15f0aadd6d0f9d1d01aI opened up and talked to her about how I felt about the adjudicator’s words and what I had noticed she could work on. Then I made her a deal. I would work with her on her voice for three months. At the end of that time, she would pay me for the lessons by singing a duet with me.

Shelley began singing again in church and before long helped lead the children’s music.

The last time I saw Shelley, she was coming through the town to sing with her college choir. Her eyes sparkled as she opened her mouth in harmony and joy.

**** While looking up a question on line I came upon this site: Natural Voice Practitioner’s Network, http://naturalvoice.net/ . The quotes in the banner are wonderful.


6 thoughts on “V – Please! Raise Your Voice

  1. Shelley DuPont

    We certainly can apply this to learning of any kind, can’t we? It’s all about learning how to criticize in the right spirit and manner. I really think a lot of people really don’t know how. I had to learn, myself. Unfortunately, we seem to repeat what was done to us. Learning to break the pattern is difficult, but necessary if we’re going to be in a leadership role of any degree. I love how you encouraged her and became part of her support. She will never forget you.

    1. ljandrie57 Post author

      I am learning to change the word criticize to “give feedback” or the like. When we talk about performances in class, the kids are invited to share the positive things they see first. This gives that stability of ability to build any further growth on.

      Since, when working with others that is a need to be able to suggest other options we also model how to do so. If there is a place for sharing further, we work on sharing a single area for growth. This much be something that the group or individual would be able to work on.

      In small group practices, there might be further sharing. For example, If some students are having trouble on playing certain notes the group slows down and work together on the same part to help the person.

      Since performances happen as groups it is a great place for helping students know that what we say matters to all of us. It works well. I hear that kind of critique becoming the norm of how students talk to each other in the class.

  2. Denise Jackson

    I love the graphic you chose at the end of this piece because I feel like it represents who you are as a music teacher. You see the wider view, and have elevated your calling to something so much more than music teacher. Your students are blessed to have your influence and love in their lives.

    1. ljandrie57 Post author

      Thank you. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I had thought of if more as her being able to share her story and encouraging others to sing. Thank you for the affirming comment.

  3. angelawatt

    How easy it is stunt the growth of others especially when they’re younger people who readily take on board these comments. A reminder of how we use language and the impact it can have on others. So glad that you were able to give alternative feedback and encouragement.

    1. ljandrie57 Post author

      What is hard sometimes is knowing when waiting matters. To help helped her earlier would not have solved the situation. I am just glad that I was listening enough to know when the opening came. Imagine if I had not been there and known what had caused her to close down so much. There is no telling if she would have been able to share that with me.

      I did not become a music teacher officially until years later. I never forgot that lesson though.


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