Hello out there to everyone reading,
I came across a tweet from my singing tutor Leontine Hass. It was about singing and loving your voice and the way in which it can be used in creative expression. I suddenly thought of how in this pandemic during lockdown motivation at times has been difficult around singing due to all the uncertainty and a feeling that I need to keep up singing but not solely for the purpose of an audition/ specific job. Prior to the pandemic I had recently finished a wonderful production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ at Leeds Playhouse and was then so motivated to further develop skills in movement and music. I had just had the opportunity to work with two fantastic physical theatre companies ‘Frantic Assembly’ and ‘Gecko’ which I was so grateful for and I was excited to see what this year would hold for myself and many of my friends. However lockdown occurred and I needed to find my own ways around healthcare work to keep creatively inspired and stay sane.
To help with my own motivation at home I chose try and get into things I’ve been wanting to focus on for a while such as music & reflective writing, meditation and tonnes of admin. Music however has been a big focus and I wanted to find music I could play and sing that I really loved, to tell little stories or reflect my inner emotions. From there I built up my own gentle routine in order to somehow keep my passion and inspiration going even though things are so uncertain. I also thought back to a time when I had vocal issues. That was another time of uncertainty and surrender aswell as a period of growth in self love and expression.
This is what I wanted to speak about as it ties up with some of the emotions people are feeling currently as well as current events where having an individual voice and knowing how to express it is essential.
I hope you can find solace in this piece at this strange time and know that if you ever experience something similar, you probably aren’t alone, support is out there and you will come through the other side perhaps in ways unexpected. So here goes……..
At a time in life when we begin to find our voice full of originality, passion and strength it can be upsetting when we experience the loss of it or the loss of choice to use it to express ourselves.
Prior to training at Associated Studios I had the experience of my voice being badly affected, which to most wouldn’t seem like too much of a problem but to a singer could be disastrous. This short period was one in which I felt so lost in a way I couldn’t control and many failed to truly understand the feeling of having something you love, no longer be easily accessible.
At some point in a singer’s life, problems will be experienced where longer periods of vocal rest, therapy or even treatment are required to get the voice back to a healthy functioning state.
I wanted to write about how it feels to lose control over something we may take for granted and link this metaphorically to our voice and how we express ourselves in our communities and the world.
For as long as I remember I have always sung, even long before I started training.
I never thought I would experience vocal problems at a time when I really needed to use my singing voice for my work.
Part of me to this day wonders if it was my body’s way of forcing me to stop, reflect and rebuild myself before embarking on the next chapter of my life. It may have been a way to remind me also that nothing is certain, problems can occur at any time and that I needed to know how to be in the present moment to deal with issues as they come up as well as staying true to myself.
A loss of control or uncertainty is always unsettling especially when you are a serial planner like myself.
After a show and being unwell, I noticed difficulty doing things vocally that were normally fine and my sound was different, not as clear or easy to produce. I actually disliked the sound of my voice and something felt off. The more I worried, panicked under stress whilst trying to produce a certain sound, the more I noticed my singing voice suffered.
My mum always tells me to relax, says I will be looked after and things will work out fine in the end. She is a wise lady and often knows best, but due to my fear around the situation, I lost the ability to trust these words from loved ones or in myself that my voice would return.
Dr Maya Angelou said once:
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
Very true words, but in my head all I could think of was:
How and when would my singing voice return?
How would I even learn to trust that my singing voice would return?
How would I get through the next series of auditions?
Would people accept me with my voice the way it was now?
How do I not break down every time I want to sing but can’t?
Have I failed already when my singing is just getting started?
Who am I without my singing?
Initially I had no idea how to manage my anxiety and couldn’t seem to reach out for emotional support, which meant I felt quite alone. I needed to connect with those who could understand what it means as an artist who relies on her voice for work.
I felt so frustrated because I had just started to strengthen my voice and find a new style to my singing which I loved and knew it would open up new opportunities and now I was feeling like it was all lost forever.
The weeks of hoarseness, dryness, aching, constriction with a sound that wasn’t mine, felt like months and when I finally realised it was causing me to be emotionally unwell……… I took a time out. I re-evaluated again, the third time in a year, what it was that actually made me happy and how I could find my way back to a lifestyle where I could be more in that zone of peace and contentment whilst still being able to achieve goals.
It came to me that when you sing out of necessity to fulfill job expectations and high demands you can feel like an object or machine without individuality or soul and this is when the problems can occur.
I was trying to meet others expectations and demands without looking at my own needs or values and in the process was putting myself under so much pressure to be perfect at every moment. This was effecting my singing voice but wasn’t this also a metaphor for issues around speaking up and expressing inner truth?
I was sinking in a world where I felt there wasn’t a space for me or my voice, a world that perhaps I wasn’t ready for mentally. I hadn’t looked at who I was and who I wanted to be now in this creative world. In a short space of time I began to dislike singing and I almost lost my love for it completely. This form of expression for me became associated now with stress, tears, unhappiness, insecurity, self directed anger and a feeling of failure.
When had all this started and why? This wasn’t why I was singing, to feel awful about myself. I had started singing in order to feel joy, tell stories and express what was at my core.
I had wanted to grow this voice within me so that I could eventually also tell stories of my history and my journey but now I felt lost and stifled. I didn’t want to feel like this anymore.
I started to work out that it had been a busy and emotional few months where I had celebrated a big birthday, come out of a romantic relationship and started feeling I wasn’t where I wanted to be in my life yet. Added to that I then got ill with a terrible chest infection whilst doing a musical where I was belting a lot. Although I got through the show, as soon as it all finished I was understandably exhausted. I remember sitting in the middle of my town centre crying to my mum on the phone at how lost I felt and that’s when I realised the issues with my voice were really affecting me and were an indicator of other emotions I was holding back. It was as if my body decided to show me that I was not aligned with my core values or purpose and that something needed to change.
What specifically was I being asked or called to do? Well for starters something needed to change psychologically and spirituality so that I could heal, adapt and deal with change in circumstances. Our lives are such that things change suddenly, I certainly hadn’t picked a life of routine and stability so I wanted to learn how to navigate this. Then somehow I had to find love for singing again……… purely for me internally and not for external gain.
It was as if the recent events had exhausted every part of me, leaving me empty causing my body to shut down my voice before it could express sounds lacking passion, soul and love, which were all things I treasured so dearly.
As a small child I listened to my father sing with so much joy and knew around age 6 that I wanted to keep that joy of singing in my life. The genres he sang would be the areas I loved to sing in and were ones which would start my performing career and would allow me to express myself in new ways, travel and lead me to form connections with people that would mean the world to me. These areas I loved to sing in were classical, choral and musical theatre.
I went to my singing tutor for a lesson and she sat me down to give me some advice. I had been feeling so stressed that much of the information went in one ear and out of the other but talking to someone who understood the situation was a real help. The voices in my head drowned out much of the sensible advice people were offering and all I could hear was the drone of sounds which made me feel embarrassed that I was calling myself a performer with my voice in this condition and hurt that I had no control over something I loved doing.
In the few weeks following the talk with my singing tutor I went to my GP who acknowledged how important my singing was to me and for my career as a performer and so referred me to an ENT (Ear Nose Throat) specialist for further investigation. He also confirmed my thoughts that being ill recently had strained my voice so much, it now needed to heal and my hay fever& rhinitis were now also contributing to the issue. This gave me some comfort and until that ENT appointment I would have lots of time to try and rest a little. I decided to now take time for myself in which I could reflect, meditate, watch inspiring films and documentaries, listen to my favourite music, read novels & poetry, be in nature a little and spend time with my family and friends. I would only do the things I was really drawn to do and I felt so content watching, listening and reading stories that were about a world larger than my performing and were about human resilience and love through adversity as well as the beauty of nature. I also threw myself into my other work as a dentist which I do as a locum between acting jobs. I concentrated on looking after my patients and continuing to deliver a high standard of care and compassion. As always I felt needed, appreciated and each day I walked with more purpose and my head held higher. Being able to bring healing to others in a clinical setting is another huge part of who I am and keeps me grounded, seeing the bigger picture of the world and at this time it was bringing healing back towards me also.
I started to voice concerns that I had written down, to friends and family and felt small weights being lifted off my shoulders and my soul feeling a little lighter as they offered empathy and love. Another factor in my repair was the day I was taken to a church service by a dear friend and the themes being discussed were appreciating or rejoicing in the small joys and pleasures as well as having a sense of daily life renewal. This really struck a chord because somewhere along the way recently I had been comparing myself to others, following other people’s values, especially thier ideas of success and joy and had abandoned my own. I had lost my way from the little world where I found joy in the smallest things. That day at church I had also met so many kind, welcoming and positive people. It left me feeling uplifted, loved and worthy to speak up and be me. A little love from people can certainly go a long way in healing those around them.
After two months I started to find myself and stopped forcing myself to be something that wasn’t aligned with my values and therefore something I couldn’t sustain. My inner strength grew, I started to love my imperfect self again and eventually my voice returned. When it returned I valued it more than I ever had and it felt beautiful to sing. I suddenly felt motivation to sing the songs I had once loved before and I found new songs to connect to. My voice felt as strong as it was before, if not stronger and I felt powerful owning my voice which felt related to the old one but new in its essence and intention.
By the time I saw the ENT doctor I was in the clear and he confirmed that I had good vocal health and that the cold and chest infection along with allergies and stress had inflamed my vocal folds and throat more than normal so recommended some things to help me for the future. He also expressed how much he loved theatre and empathised with my initial worries, wishing me luck for future projects. Around that time I had just landed a lead role at my home theatre where I would be certainly using my voice in new songs written for the show and to hopefully inspire young audience members to also be their full selves.
All I know is that the mind is such a powerful thing. I had needed to quiet my mind’s unhelpful chatter and restrictions to allow my soul’s true desires to speak so that I could work out what my body required to heal. I had needed to release worries and fears in order to rest and reflect. I then needed to give myself a large dose of self love and go back to my inner joy and sense of purpose. I needed to know who I was, understand what makes me who I am and embrace all of me, including my imperfections. Finally I needed to be clear about my values and work to align my life with them. It was evident that once I made these connections, things were slotting into place and my mum was right…….. things tend to work out ok in the end.
I realised that I am that girl with a big heart who is romantic, nerdy, occasionally shy with a quiet confidence and a dry sense of humour. I can also be mischievous, talkative, yet thoughtful & calm, a daydreamer and passionate with big hair (that has a few more strands of grey these days). I love to watch people, learn new things, understand behaviour and emotion and form genuine connections. I realised I will always be the girl who has many imperfect unique sides to her and I wouldn’t want to change that to fit anywhere.
In any area of life, each time I present myself, it should reflect who I am at my core and I should be my most authentic self from a place of love because then I can be proud no matter what the outcome is. I can’t be anything else than what I am. The moment I try to be something different I will feel less than myself and without an individual voice that I need to successfully express myself, interact with the world around me and be at peace.
Lessons I’ve learnt:
Being and embracing your whole self is essential for true self expression. Read that again.
We all may find times when we lose ourselves on the journey and it is important to note that the key to recover is a personal one, that can be done in a variety of ways and will take people different amounts of time, so we can’t compare our journeys and lessons learnt to anyone else’s, but know you aren’t alone. We are all going through battles of our own every day.
Literal or metaphorical loss of voice can be frightening but be gentle and patient, figure out how you got there, and keep loving yourself in that place even though it may be hard. Eventually you can lead yourself back to a place of strength, power and resilience. Lastly and most importantly, once you realise your voice or it returns don’t forget to nurture and treasure it.
It’s such a beautiful thing because of the beauty that it sits within.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and lots of love.
Esme Sears xxx