I’ve always loved to sing. As a matter of fact, I’ve been a vocalist most all my life… not the best mind you, but I’ve never needed to be the best. All I ever wanted was for the music to flow from my heart… in tune. I figured I could take it from there.
I’m telling you, I’ve had my moments over the years when the spirit takes over and the music flows effortlessly… and in those moments… man-oh man, how sweet it is!
A few years ago, I developed a throat issue involving large polyps on my thyroid, the biggest one located right in the center on the Isthmus. It was the weirdest thing… when I swallowed, it looked as if I had two Adams Apples, one in line with the other. When I first noticed it, it scared the bejeezus out of me. The good news is, I had it removed, and all is well… with the exception of one itty bitty, teeny weeny thing. I found it almost impossible to sing on pitch.
As strange as it sounds, singers make pitch from muscle memory. It’s the same reflex a pitcher relies on when throwing a consistent strike, a kicker kicking the winning field goal, a golfer driving the money shot, or a guitarist playing his signature lick. It’s how targeted muscles respond automatically from countless hours of repetitive practice… and once these memories are made, they’re never forgotten.
I believe the surgery which healed me, also altered this memory ever so slightly. The scar tissue, left from the incision, responds a little differently to voice stimuli than do the adjoining muscles surrounding my larynx… leaving me a bit flat.
Matching pitch is now like trying to drive a car uphill on a solid sheet of ice; the harder I try, the worse it gets. Talk about a Twilight Zone feeling!
After about a year or so struggling through, trying to adjust and fix things myself to no avail, I finally decided to hire a vocal coach to figure this thing out.
The six months which followed were eye opening to say the least. It turns out that what I learned reconnected me as much or more than it did my vocal cords. Don’t you just love it when you set out in search of a glimmer of hope, and instead, stumble over a pot of gold? Welcome to my world.
First of all, I found out my pitch problem was more a symptom of poor technique than anything else; it was just exacerbated by the surgery… the first golden nugget.
Simple fix, right? Wrong! You see… it’s one thing to learn something new, but to unlearn something ingrained in your being for better than 40 years… hell, that’s like recoding a portion of your DNA. I believe this falls under the umbrella… “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” We’ll see.
Well… after months of struggling through vocal exercises, youtube demonstrations, in-depth discussions of chest voice, mixed voice, head voice, passaggio release, and everything else under the sun… I was beginning to believe this “old dog” thing had some validity.
Then, one day it happened. During a voice lesson, Justin, my instructor, said to me as he had countless times before, “Bill, just trust your voice… relax, let go and sing.” Here comes the second golden nugget.
This time was different; this time there were angels in the distance singing ever so softly, “Aaaah”… and what a wonderful rendition it was. I finally got it! It was as if this force field surrounding my throat suddenly melted away… talk about an epiphany! Allelujah!
From that moment on, I began replacing my white knuckle grip with a cleansing breath of just letting go.
All this time, my approach was completely wrong. I was trying to make pitch by bearing down and pushing the sound up through my chest, rather than thinning out, releasing, and letting it flow. Can you believe I’m just learning this for the first time? Wow… I suppose I’ve just been too busy raising kids. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Now, the more I relax, the sweeter the sound. Ah… music to my ears… thank you Jesus.
The following week’s practice was all about singing relaxed, and completely without tension. The moment I sensed the slightest bit of strain, I stopped, took a breath, and began again. I’m telling you… this one technique alone tied all the others together in a perfect bow.
Believe me, I still have much work to do, but the music is coming back, which brings joy and promise. Hmmm… joy and promise… what more does a man need?
You know, I’ve been thinking lately… if merely trusting, relaxing, and letting go brings back the music in my songs, it stands to reason the same technique may very well apply to the music in my life as well. I figure music is music; it’s the universal language you know. Don’t get me wrong… my life is full of wonderful music… more than I deserve, but I’d be crazy to throw away this last golden nugget I just found.
All my life, I’ve believed intense passion was the surest pathway to excellence, a discipline I have tried to instill, not only in myself, but also in my kids. I now see the potential problem I may have overlooked in choosing this adjective.
You see… intense is a mere half-step shy of strain…. and that one stinking half step, if taken, has the polarizing power of transforming, what would have otherwise been, success… to failure, joy… to pain, release… to tension, and of course, melodic… to flat.
I have always believed this personality trait of mine had served me pretty well over the years in pursuing my passions, but now… I’m not so sure. I shudder to think of how many times, in pushing beyond that proverbial half step, I may have overlooked opened windows, while pounding through locked doors.
So be it. The good thing is… I’m feeling the breeze now.
As I now watch my adult kids passionately pursuing their own dreams, I can see I may have rubbed off on them, just a smidgen. But their saving grace is that they have also inherited their mother’s intelligence and intuition which keeps things in balance.
So kids… here’s an addendum to your old man’s teachings, which I would love for you all to consider as you’re making things happen in your life. As far as intensity goes… use it, but do so wisely… maybe more like a seasoning rather than the main course. Don’t allow it to flatten those beautiful melodies you’re trying so diligently to orchestrate.
Please, when you feel your intensity morphing to strain…STOP! Take a moment to push back, breathe, relax, and most importantly… trust and let go a little. Soon you’ll begin feeling, hearing, and enjoying that wonderful music ringing through once again. How sweet it is!
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