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Relational Reflections: Yes, another blog, and this one’s from Dr. Nadine and Dr. Zan at True Heights

Finding Your Authentic Voice

Dr. Zan’s Thoughts:

When I was a little girl, every Sunday morning was time for church. We literally never missed. When the choir was off on a given week, my mother would sit beside me, and she would sing every hymn as well as the liturgical chants with the greatest of gusto. She had, by all accounts, a beautiful soprano voice filled with vibrato. Her voice projected with such power that it often caused other children or church visitors to crane their necks around to see the source of this strident singing. My mother believed it was her Christian duty to raise her voice in joyful praise and seemed completely unaware or certainly undaunted by the curious onlookers in the congregation. She also had no concern for my feelings about the matter, and I was fully mortified by her exuberant expressions of elation. I vowed to be a soft singer, so as not to attract any attention.

As the years have rolled on, I have had many occasions to realize that my mother was really onto something vital. Despite my lack of appreciation at the time, she was providing me with a very distinct and specific example of giving expression to one’s authentic voice. Here’s what I have come to appreciate about my mom’s loud singing:

First and foremost, she was clear about her values. My mom treasured her faith above all else. She was fervent in her beliefs and strove for consistent implementation of life choices that would reflect these beliefs. 

Secondly, she was making meaningful use of her gifts. My mother always interpreted her singing voice as a divine gift. I tend to agree with her. Given her midwestern farm life experience, she never once has a vocal lesson. It has occurred to me to wonder how her life might have followed a different course had she had access to such luxurious opportunities that I now take for granted. Yet, she did not feel inhibited by her lack of training. She had a gift, and she was determined to make good use of it. In fact, she felt it was her responsibility to make good use of it.

In addition, Mom knew how to commit with confidence. She truly was the embodiment of the “Go big or go home,” idiom that I love to quote. However, in truth I often restrain myself when the potentially “big” moment arrives. My mother was able to raise her voice without any visible self-conscious awareness of others who would, whether intentionally or incidentally, silence her. 

Finally, that raised voice of praise my other offered landed her fully in the moment. When she was singing in church, I know for a fact that she was not giving a thought to the meal she was responsible for after the service or her financial woes or her challenges at work. She was right there, raising her voice, filled with joy and gratitude and awe. Not a bad place to be.

What a gift to reflect on my parents and recognize the lessons, whether comfortable or not at the time of the teaching, that continue to shape my life. In finding my own authentic voice, my mother taught me well. When I maintain a focus on my values and skillfully implement my individual gifts, then I really can commit with confidence. Then I can embrace the moment and raise my voice. These days, I’m experimenting with letting my voice ring with a bit more resonance when I sing in a group. This is my tribute to my mom. Mine may not be particularly beautiful voice, but it is absolutely my joyful noise. 

Dr. Nadine’s Reflections:

One of the reasons I love working with Dr. Zan is because our developmental experiences overlap — we come from both similar and different situations as we’ve progressed through our lives.  Our experiences complement each other’s and richly add to the life lessons we’ve experienced separately and together. I always learn something fabulous from her.

As I’m thinking about her mother’s artistic experiences, I’m prompted to reflect on my own mother’s life and the lessons she taught.  I grew up in a musical family, hearing my mother and her sisters singing in four-part harmony at almost every family gathering. They sang on the radio and traveled a bit doing concerts for church.  Like Dr. Zan’s mom, my family’s musical expressions were based in the Christian tradition and they understood their music to be a ministry. It gave purpose and meaning to their endeavors. My mother was the only sister who made the decision to train formally in music, and, at the time when most women did not work outside the home, she followed her heart and her talents, and received a Bachelors and Masters degree in the musical arts.

Even though my mother sang, her real gift was the keyboard — her undergraduate degree was in piano performance.  And like Dr. Zan’s mom, she provided to me the same templates to be appreciated that Dr. Zan’s mother gave her. She had clarity of values, made meaningful use of her gifts, and committed to her work with confidence.  And, as I’ve learned from my Dear One, who’s also a performer, you can be nowhere else but in the moment when you’re creating artistically. Thus my mother was always in the present moment as she offered her gifts to her listeners.

Because my mother’s gift was far beyond my musical talents, I learned very early that I had nothing to lose by raising my voice.  I was bold in belting out my wobbly harmonies in the family gatherings. I sang in choirs throughout my secondary educational experiences and in college, and I even was in a small group of singers in my church.  We traveled regularly, performing musicals for churches around the region. At other times I plunked along on the piano, loosely approximating the melodies of the tunes being played.

But because I wasn’t as musically inclined or interested, I developed other artistic expressions and creative outlets.  I spent many years drawing, and still love fashion and languages and photography and journaling...

So, in a different way, I too have learned what Dr. Zan learned — to give expression to my authentic voice.  I understand its value, the gift it offers, the importance of being committed and the necessity of living in the moment.  I also learned to appreciate the gifts that others have and what they can teach us. You and I don’t have the same gifts as someone else.  And we don’t have to. The challenge is to embrace the gifts that we each have, no matter what the creative medium is. That is our “authentic voice”.  It would be lovely if you would add your gifts loudly to the harmony that we all are creating together. Raise your voice. No one can sing your part better than you.

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