As I often send out tips and share stories of how my clients' voices transform and change on all of their individual journeys...
I thought perhaps I should share a story of my own.
Facebook had actually just reminded me today that exactly seven years ago, I was accepted into an advanced voice and movement programme geared towards performers in Canada. This programme was then known as Canada's National Voice Intensive, which is now the Moving Voice Institute.
The voice intensive was indeed what the name states, intense. Hugely intense.
Whilst I was finishing up my studies in an acting programme in Vancouver, I came across one of the best and most passionate teachers I have ever met in my life. His name is Ian Raffel and he was my Shakespeare teacher. His classes changed me and my views of the traits of what a great teacher encompassed, as well as how they taught.
I had never experienced in any class or lecture before, where the passion and clarity of any message, big or small, was astutely delivered in the right manner with full commitment. I'm not sure about you, but I can still recall what Shakespeare class in high school was like (utterly terrible) and it was entirely nothing like what I experienced with our dear teacher, Ian Raffel.
Anyway, to make a long story short - the fascination and enthusiasm I have for words and being able to communicate them through the voice 'passionately, precisely and with courage' all started there.
My application to Canada's National Voice Intensive required me to write about my desire to to attend the programme and etc, etc. Well, Ian had once noted he would recommend me for acceptance, as my habitual voice at that time in 2012 was basically that of a 'little girl's voice trapped in a grown woman's body'. I fully understood this concept logically, but had absolutely no idea how to change it, as this was likely my voice that I'd spoken with the past 22 years of my life.
The programme was focused on Shakespeare through and through. As a performance student at the time, it was very natural for me to fall in love with the words, the rhythms, the characters and all that lived in any play or sonnet. I do understand that Shakespeare is not for everyone and even though your interest may not lie in the stories he penned... I hope you can acknowledge that the way in which Shakespeare wrote, is so wholly rich in emotion and also in the use of words and language in Elizabethan English.
I speak of it being so rich on the entirety of the emotional spectrum... can you guess what medicine I was prescribed to help open and free up my voice? The ability to access ANGER. This would be better known as being cast as Hotspur from the historic play, ''King Henry IV Part 2''.
On this journey of finding my own voice, I came to understand that there were many layers of different barriers that stopped me from accessing it from birth. If you can imagine when a baby is born into the world, it breathes as it wants to and also cries as it wants to get the attention it needs. We soon learn to adapt and conform to our environments, our upbringings, our teachers (of all kinds) and more to shape and mold the way in how we communicate with the world.
What I learned about myself as I reflected through all this, was to begin asking myself:
What in the world had happened so that I do not allow my voice to be spoken in its natural way?
Why do I feel the need to hold my voice high and not let the rumbling vibration of the lower tone of my voice come out?
Here are some of the straight forward answers I found within myself over the 5 weeks of full time study at the intensive:
I was raised inside my home by Hong Kong - Chinese parents (who were also actively assimilating to Canadian culture). This was majorly a stark contrast to the very Caucasian-Canadian culture that I grew up in at the time - at school, at art class, field trips, and Girl Guides, etc.
I was extremely confused about the teachings in and outside the home and how they often contradicted one another. Learning about the culture majorly from miscommunications, disagreements and sometimes, from being disciplined for reasons my other friends were not... (though I must admit I wasn't always a good little child... apologies to my Mum and Dad, on that note 😜) and also from watching films with my Dad, were some of the ways I learned about Hong Kong - Chinese culture and how it might apply to me.
Some of the key points to note are: keeping your head down and staying low-key versus speaking your mind as you want to was mind-boggling one, to say the least. Another one is about 'saving face' - where the goal is to avoid humiliation by any means. Extreme emotion is just something that isn't shown or acted upon outside the household.
See, I knew all these things and followed them to an extent. But there was always an inner conflict.
Physical tension in the body can be conscious or unconscious. The best way to describe conscious physical tension would be to compare it to somebody who is actively lifting weights to grow muscle. As someone who has previously engaged in power lifting, I could feel the hardness of the muscles from my exercise (which was great at the time), but it also affected the free breath I had before it. Most of my clients who engage in highly intense physical activity/sports, often find that their muscle tension hinders their free breath in the body and that muscle tension lives there 24/7.
Unconscious physical tension can be brought on by stress, anxiety, trauma, among other things. The body finds a way to cope and survive through different experiences and becomes part of you and your muscle memory. Beyond this, stress, anxiety and trauma can also manifest itself negatively in our mental health as well, leading to an inability to find the courage to voice our opinions freely.
If we go one level deeper and think about our society's views of what one should be like according to our traits, I often can line up my voice with some of the communities and tribes I was apart of. As I felt it was okay to adhere to the stereotypes of what a cheerleader or sorority girl in North America sounded like, I now know that I, myself, adopted some qualities of that into my vocal communication as well. (Think higher pitched, girly girl, upwards inflection at the ends of all my sentences - West Coast/Californian regional accent)
Without the ability to ground ourselves with a body that is not holding any unnecessary tension, it will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the quality of the breath and voice... hence, holding the high pitch in my old voice!
If we are not aware of these different layers that may exist, it is nearly impossible to change our habits.
Once I was able to fully understand the complexity of the layers that were involved in how my voice came to be, I started to do the work I needed to free myself from the thoughts and beliefs that were holding me back. As those started to let go, I could now focus fully on the physicality of my body and work on the fundamentals of finding a freer breath and relaxing unnecessary muscle tension.
It's been over eight to nine years since I first started on my journey now and I am so happy that accessing the rest of my voice has given me the opportunity to help so many others find courage in speaking confidently and sharing their messages the way they want to.
You can do it too, I know you can!
If you need some courage in finding your own voice, I would be delighted to have a chat with you to see how we can tailor a programme with sessions to achieve your goal(s) within the next 3 months.
To book a consultation, please fill out the form on the Contact Page and I look forward to hearing from you!