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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 life purpose.”

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 singer!!”

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 minister.

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?
(repeat chorus)

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
(repeat chorus)

By Scott Kalechstein Grace
1993 Copyright ScottSongs  

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Copyright 2005 Scott Kalechstein Grace, All Rights Reserved