Finding My Singing Voice
I sing. I sing as part of my livelihood. I sing for my supper, and I am
happy to say that I am not going hungry - although friends who watch me
eat after a concert might disagree! People who hear me sing often
assume that I’ve been a singer forever, or that I was born lucky
and endowed with the gift. The truth is that for a good chunk of my
life I was too afraid sing, and finding my willingness to develop and
use my voice was quite a challenging and triumphant adventure.
I was one of those people who believed you are either born with a
natural talent for singing or you are doomed to be a non-singer all
your life. This was a curious thought, because I had started from
scratch with both the violin and guitar, and stumbled through learning
to play them over time. When I took violin lessons I trusted that
through practice and diligence I would eventually learn to play the
violin. When I took up guitar I knew that I would one day, with the
help of my weekly lessons, become an adequate guitar player. Yet
somehow it did not enter my mind that I could take singing lessons and
learn how to sing.
Much to my delight I discovered what anyone who has taken voice lessons
has learned, that the voice is just another instrument, and that it can
be developed through exercises, practice and persistence. In a few
years after I had left college I went from playing my guitar without
vocals to making my own recordings and putting myself out in the world
as a professional singer-songwriter. Here’s a piece of my story.
In college I took an anthropology course called Magic, Witchcraft And Sorcery.
This was a fascinating study that sent my young mind soaring with ideas
to ponder. Basically, under the guise of anthropology, we were learning
about the power of beliefs to create reality. We learned about how
refugees from Haiti were mysteriously dying in Florida hospitals.
Doctors could not find anything wrong with them and were unable to
help. Then someone summoned a Haitian witch doctor who diagnosed the
remaining patients as the recipients of a spell. He recited some
incantations over the sick people, and color instantly came back to
their skin. They walked out of the hospital within hours, much to the
amazement of their doctors!
We also learned about an indigenous tribe in Africa that did not
believe that getting pregnant had anything to do with having sex. These
people had no concept of or need for birth control. The women in the
tribe would freely have intercourse for years without getting pregnant.
One day they would receive a vision. In an altered state they would
experience being impregnated by Spirit. Their experience of conception
was completely non-sexual!
The course opened my eyes to the relative nature of reality. At the
conclusion, the professor recommended a few books to those of us who
were interested in further study. One of those books was Illusions, by Richard Bach. Illusions became my Bible, and I carried it around everywhere. Through that book and others like it, Life was saying to me, “Scott,
you can do anything you truly want to do. That’s what life is
for. All limitations are illusions held in place by your worship of the
word ‘impossible’. Take away that word, and the whole game changes.”
What does this have to do with singing? Lots! Although I adored music,
I had successfully convinced myself that I was not and never could be
good enough to pursue it as a career. Talk about casting a spell! When
I left college and moved to Manhattan, music was just a hobby. I had
written a few songs, but I didn’t sing to others. I had no
confidence in my musical talents, although secretly I fantasized about
becoming a singer. I was very surprised when a teacher of a workshop I
was taking said to me, “Scott, when I look into your eyes, I see
music. My sense is that music will become a very important part of your
Her prophecy was exciting to my soul, and threatening to my mind.
Although I could feel a kettle of songs brewing inside of me, I was
convinced that becoming a singer was a fantasy not worth indulging. But
the stove was lit and the teapot was starting to whistle. My secret
dream was reaching the boiling point.
One day I was listening to a barbershop quartet singing a cappella on a
street corner in Greenwich Village. Singing along under my breath (as
usual), I felt enchanted, swept away by the beautiful harmonies. Then
one of the singers in the circle asked his buddies, “Hey, does
anyone know the lead to that new Billy Joel song on the radio, The Longest Time?”
Everybody lit up, knowing it was a perfect song for their style of
singing, but no one knew the lyrics all the way through. They were
about to drop it and start on another song, when a hand went up from
somewhere within the audience. I noticed it was attached to my arm.
Then a voice piped up, coming from the vicinity of my throat! “I
know the song!” I exclaimed, in a tone of authority I must have
borrowed from the gods.
The quartet, slightly surprised that someone outside their circle was
inviting himself to lead a song, allowed me in. I moved into the
center. My knees were shaking, and I wasn’t imitating Elvis. I
was so scared I’m convinced my angelic cheerleaders were working
overtime to help me get through this. The quartet started the song with
the background ‘oohs’.
I opened my mouth and started singing. I noticed some vibrato in my
voice that I had never heard before. Maybe it was from my trembling!
When I was finished, the quartet and the audience applauded me and I
slipped into the crowd, aware that my life had suddenly turned a corner
and a new direction had opened up. I could no longer pretend to myself.
Music was not just a hobby - it was a passion, and I burned
to find out if there was a singing voice in there to discover. I
started taking lessons, but even more significant than that, I started
singing, in front of people, at any opportunity. I remember a deal I
made with God at that time.
“OK, God, you gave me
this love of music and song. I can’t think of anything in the
world I’d rather do than celebrate life through singing.
I’m going to bet that if you gave me the dream, then you will
guide me on the path of having my dream come true. I’m going to
take these lessons, God. I’m also going to sing, privately and
publicly, at any chance I get. I’m going to become a singing
fool. And I trust that with each song I sing, You are helping me to
develop a beautiful voice that I can use to spread joy on this planet.
God, here’s the deal. I’ll open my mouth. You, make me a
Well, I did follow through on my part of the deal. I sang in my
apartment. I sang for my friends. I sang on the sidewalks of Greenwich
Village. I even tried my craft at Folk City, a club where Simon and
Garfunkel, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell had started out. The club had
weekly open mikes where anyone could have some time on stage. For my
eight minutes I sang an original song and I performed some comedy,
which was a form of expression I felt much safer with. When I was done,
an old acquaintance who had been in the audience said to me,
“Great comedy, Scott. You should stick to just comedy,
though.” I felt crushed. His comment invalidated the part of my
performance that I was most hopeful and vulnerable about. Walking home,
I allowed my hurt to turn into determination. “I won’t let
him dampen my enthusiasm or arrest my development. I’m going to
keep on singing and get really good at this. One day I’ll make a
beautiful tape of my songs and mail it to him with a note: Never put a wet blanket on anyone’s dreams again!”
I stayed with the singing lessons, the voice exercises, and gradually
noticed improvement. With each lesson, there was a little more space in
my throat for more of my true voice to channel through. It was as if I
was building a vocal pipeline for the sweetness of my soul to find
expression. My friends noticed my progress and told me so. Their
encouragement was a valuable part of my confidence building.
I remember when I met Charley Thweatt. Charley is a globe trotting
singer/songwriter/troubadour that did and does exactly what I was
aspiring to do with music. Charley had a beautiful singing voice, and I
was instantly intimidated by his talent and success. I managed to put
those feelings aside long enough to spend some time with him socially.
We took out our guitars and jammed. After playing him some of my songs,
Charley looked into my eyes and projected a laser beam of love and
support my way. After a minute or two of penetrating eye contact, he
broke the silence with words that sailed into my heart like a shooting
star. “Scott, I think your music is meant to be heard and
appreciated by many, many people.” I felt in that moment that
Charley was speaking to (and from) a deep part of me, and I was being
called to my calling and summoned to my ministry by a fellow music
A moment later self-doubt and comparison began to make a joyless noise
in my head. I decided to share my painful thoughts with Charley.
“I’m nowhere near as good as you,” I whined.
“I’ll never be in your league!” His response was one
of the most helpful things anyone has ever said to me. Shrugging his
shoulders, he casually replied, “In my league? Who knows, and who
cares. Just have fun!”
Fun? Did he say fun? What
about comparing and judging and striving to be better, better, best?
What about being so good that everyone loves me and nobody rejects me?
I suddenly questioned the complex maze of ego motivations behind the
curtain. Was I singing to redeem myself from an imagined sense of
unworthiness? Was I hoping to use my talent to convince the world, my
parents and myself that I am worthwhile and lovable? Were these the
real hunger pangs of every starving artist, the pain of seeking love
through performance? The words ‘just have fun’
cut through all that red tape and put me right in touch with my
heart’s purpose for my musical expression. They became my
constant reply to the steady stream of ‘not good enough’
thoughts that passed through my brain on a daily basis. Thank you,
Charley, for baptizing me with a sacred mantra that has helped me break
the spell of disbelief in myself: Just Have Fun!
In those days I lived by a law: Never to miss an opportunity to play my
music for new ears. Wherever I went, my guitar went with me. Health
food stores became concert halls while I was shopping. Subway commuters
unwittingly became an audience. If you wanted to be in my life, you
were going to have to listen to my music. Friends would call me up and
ask how I was doing. My reply often was, “Great! Would you like
to hear my latest song?” Actually, it was more of a demand than a
question. I was in love, and, like all new lovers, I couldn’t
contain myself. My beloved had been locked in my throat for most of my
life. Now I was freeing my singing voice from years of self-judgment
and imprisonment. I guess I had some catching up to do!
As time went by I was asked a certain question more frequently, a question that was music to my ears: “Do you have a tape of your songs?” Eventually
I made my first tape. A year later I made another. Then another. In
fifteen years time I created nine recordings of my music. Each
experience in the recording studio I learned more about developing my
craft. Each time I noticed my voice was richer, fuller, more pleasing
to the ears. My singing voice was like a neglected kid that had been
given love, patience and lots of attention. It had grown, sprouted, and
blossomed. Often I feel like a proud parent who, in the face of the
popular medical opinions, had successfully taught their wheelchair
bound child to get up and walk.
How many dreams do we let lie in the closet, never challenging the spells of ‘not good enough’ and ‘impossible’?
How many neglected children live inside us, in the forms of secret
passions that are not being allowed to develop because we are afraid of
doing something poorly, and so we don’t do it at all?
I think back on all the years I had lived my life with my voice in the
closet. I reflect on how convinced I was that I was not a singer and
never would be. I’m so grateful I was wrong about my limitations.
Perhaps we all are wrong about our limitations.
Say Yes To Your Dreams
Twinkle, twinkle, little star
Do you know how great you are?
Have you been pretending not to know?
Fear has been your friend and guide
Telling you that you must hide
But now your heart is heeding a new call
And the sky is not the limit
If the stars are your desire
Just put your whole self in it
As you step out on the path of fire
Say yes to your dreams!
In your heart their lies a seed
And everything you truly need
Is given you to grow your vision higher
And the only thing that burns we find
Are the bridges that you leave behind
As you step out on the path and walk the fire
God has dreams for you
God sees all that you can be
And if God believes in you
Then who are you to disagree?
The mind says “you’re not ready for change”
And the heart says “follow me”
The choice before you is always the same
You can play it safe or you can choose to be free
By Scott Kalechstein Grace
1993 Copyright ScottSongs