Singing Out Loud, Living Out Loud
Jessica L. Atcheson
I love singing—in the shower, in the car, around my apartment—always by myself. I hate public speaking. My voice shakes, my hands tremble, my heart races. So, it logically follows that the idea of singing in front of people terrifies me, even in front of really close friends. And yet, somehow, the weekend after Thanksgiving last year, I found myself standing in front of a room of 27 strangers, staring at the floor, trying to find the strength somewhere inside of me to sing the first few lines of “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent.
I’d gotten to a point in my life where I was sick of letting my fear silence me. In all sorts of ways. So I signed up for Claude Stein’s Natural Singer workshop, something I had always wanted to do but never gotten up the nerve to.
The first night of the workshop, we all sat in a circle, sharing our goals, which ranged from singing karaoke to improving vocal technique to just getting started or getting back into singing again after a long break. We sang simple things together and did warm-ups and exercises to work on tone and projection. You could feel the nerves in the room calm a bit, and excitement and joy begin to bubble up.
Claude urged us to hold on to the reasons we were there. He told us that emotions would naturally come up during the weekend. “Don’t think, just sing,” he said, urging us to let our intention to sing be more powerful than anything else—more powerful than nerves, emotions, fear. Scared? Sing louder. Crying? Sing through the tears. Just keep singing, even if it’s “Row Your Boat” or “la la la.”
That’s how I found myself in front of the room, staring at the floor. I took a deep breath, opened my mouth … and nothing came out. Still looking at the floor, I took another deep breath and then sang my song quietly, hands gripping my pockets for dear life.
Claude has an uncanny ability to know just what to say, just what exercise will get you—and by you, I mean anyone—to loosen up and let it out. He knew my goal was to get past the fear that silences me, so he identified volume as the first thing to tackle. “Volume is the key today—to life, to everything,” he said, which felt so incredibly true for me.
We started with baby steps. Literally. He asked me to take a half-step toward the audience (“I don’t think you could get any further from us unless you opened that window behind you”), and then another half-step. Then I sang about what scares me, to a tune Claude provided. Half of what I sang didn’t even make sense, but I just kept on singing. When I sang that I was scared of looking silly, Claude suggested a new exercise: sing “Seasons of Love” again, only this time with the accent of a Russian from Paris who spent time in Bolivia. When I told him I’m not very good with accents, Claude said, “Perfect!” and sang with me in an accent for the first line or two. It was hilarious. And awesome.
Finally, we returned to my song which names the most treasured aspects of our lives. Claude asked me to sing out a list of the most important things I treasured in my life, things that had been unexpressed. Out came my own authentic “Seasons of Love” – a powerful, uninhibited, cathartic celebration that brought the room to their feet, with tears in their eyes.
As I sang the first lines of “Seasons of Love” one more time—this time looking into the eyes of the people watching me, singing louder, smiling even. I wasn’t shaking; I felt amazing. And I sensed that I could bring this feeling back into my life—this conquering of fear, this getting past silence, this bolstering of self-confidence. Looking around the room, I saw supportive, smiling faces. No one was judging me. One woman said to me afterward, “It’s clear you have so much in there, and we could see it start to come out, and it was beautiful.”
Not only was my time in front of the group amazing, but witnessing everyone else was, too—seeing myself in others, watching people work through what came up for them, appreciating their strength and talent. Recognizing how far each of us came in our own particular ways, in such a short time, was awe-inspiring, and left me wondering what it is that silences all of us. We have things to say. We have things to sing.