The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the voice is definitely the party music wafting out of that window. It can express our joys, our fears, and our excitements. What does it really mean to have a free voice, if we use it every day? Babies know more about this than adults do; any small irritation, desire, need, or discomfort is expressed by crying or screaming. When babies are particularly ear-shattering, adults comment, "What a set of lungs! They'll be a singer someday." Well, I hope so! And I hope even more that baby can hold on to that vocal freedom.
As we grow and orient ourselves to the world around us, we have to learn to edit ourselves. "Ssh, it's not polite to be loud in church," or "Settle down!" or "Let's use our indoor voices," or "Children should be seen and not heard." The world isn't as safe as it was when my father was growing up and could run and play and scream unsupervised until dark, when mothers would simply come out on to the stoop and call their children in for dinner.
Children today have a whole host of voiceless, indoor activities with computers, e-mail, video games, and social networking and texting. As they move into the unsteady social hierarchy of middle school, they must edit themselves even more as they navigate what is acceptable to say and do to fit in. By the time we reach adulthood, we rely more and more on computers and e-mail to communicate. I once taught a lawyer who told me of the tightness in her shoulders as she hunched over a screen eight hours a day. To create an electronic record of all correspondence in the office, she had to e-mail her boss, who was only a few doors away, rather than just taking a walk and delivering the message verbally.
If we are speaking less and less during the day, how then do we free ourselves enough to be able to sing? The voice is an instrument like no other, because it is part of our body. It's much more personal if we can't get it to "work." As singers, we need to get back to that place of relaxation and freedom that we experienced when we were children, and a voice studio should provide that enviroment.
Voice lessons should be free of judgment, criticism should be gentle and designed to foster healthy growth, and above all, a student should feel like they can be completely free. Free to let the voice be a channel for expressing their deepest emotions and facets of their personality. As a teacher, it's so rewarding to see the layers of nervousness fall away as someone finds his or her voice. You don't have to do as much emotional work with a clarinet! It's a secret dream of mine to get voice students of all ages back to a place where they can be so free that they don't think twice about running and yelping towards that neighborhood ice-cream truck in the summer. "I'd like a rocket pop, please," isn't something you need to e-mail your boss, anyway.
Natalie Megules, Voice Teacher