Finding Your Voice

Singing Lessons, Workshops and Therapy.

Over the last week I have been teaching Sing Your Own Song, the songwriting course which is designed to both guide students through the process of writing a song AND give them the chance to perform their new songs, and thus express something intimate of themselves, in a performance setting. By all accounts the students are reveling in the challenges and the new learnings, and in watching them I am reliving both my own fledgling experiences of performing, of songwriting, and of the joy I took in inviting myself into that deeply nurturing creative space.

I remember my first performance as a singer SOOO clearly. I was in year 8 at high school and had an amazing teacher, Vicki Watson, burst into my life. She arrived at Eltham High School where I was a student and taught a subject called “choir”. I loved singing – who didn’t? And Vicki’s version of a choir was just singing stuff that we liked. She made her own arrangements of popular songs (and sometimes slightly obscure ones in styles we could related to) and asked students to volunteer to sing verses as a solo. She arranged the choruses into two or three part harmony. I was unable to join “choir in year 8”, it was for middle school (year nine and ten) and was an actually subject, not an extra-curricular activity (although Vicki DID also have a number of extra-curricular musical ensembles that I also joined). I joined the choir saying “I love singing, but I’d never put my hand up for a solo”, and then proceeded to do just that my very first term in the class. I thought I would never forget the name of the song, but as I sit here and type, I cannot remember it. I do remember, however that it was a three verse song, my solo was the second verse, and when I stood up at the microphone to sing two things happened: I felt as if my body had turned to liquid and would just slither through the floor boards, a feeling which persisted through the entire performance; I managed to sing despite this, but I accidentally sang the third verse of the song instead of the second. The girl whose job it was to sing the third verse never forgave me. However, I continued to do solos in each subsequent term of choir, so clearly I wasn’t too traumatised by the event. In fact I think I managed to sing in tune and in time which is really all you need from a first performance.

I also remember those first songs I wrote some fifteen years later. Armed with Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”, and having been invited into my first songwriting group by a woman named Fiona Vance (who had also introduced me to “The Artist’s Way”, I diligently wrote a song pretty much every week or two for a year, persistently NOT judging myself or my output. At the time I was experiencing a severe emotional crisis about myself as a singer and musician, and all I could cope with was praise for my work, both from others and from myself. At the end of that year I was ready for more meaty input and criticism: I really wanted to develop my craft. But that first year of completely non-judgmental support was crucial to me being able to write songs at all.  There is something infinitely vulnerable about putting one’s self into song, and then putting that in front of others. One of the things I love about being a songwriter is that it gives me the chance to express vulnerable and otherwise hidden parts of myself. With each singing of a song I slowly de-sensitise and become more confident in allowing myself to be myself, with all my frailty and vulnerability, and my strength.

But perhaps the most beautiful memory that is flooding through me as I watch these students begin to discover the joys of “filling up the creative well” (one of Julia Cameron’s concepts) and “enter the playground” – a concept I learned from Kristina Olsen[i] and which means letting one’s self play with some creative ideas without judging the output, and then putting on the “editor’s cap” later to decide which bits of this will be useful in a song – I am re-finding my own joy in doing these same things. It is a deep soul-felt joy; a sense of filling one’s self up with beautiful things. It is revisiting me as I take a morning walk, drive into the country, and swim in a beautiful natural waterhole. All of these things make space for the brain to go into free-flow and gestate ideas. I think I feel some songs coming on.

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[i] I believe Kristina may have attributed this idea to someone else, but I do not remember who.

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Raelene lives in Perth, Australia. She tours & is available for festivals, workshops, & country & interstate events.
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