I was driving to my first voice lesson in over a decade…

…listening to Adam Carolla give an interview on a podcast about his time as one of the hosts of LOVELINE. He was the comedic foil to the sex therapist and general piece of styrofoam Dr. Drew. Adam was saying that after ten years of doing this show, it got to be that he could tell within the first 20 seconds, by the sound of the person’s voice, what their problem was going to be. Not because of anything in the content of what they had said, but by the sound of their voice he said he could tell if they had been molested or were having relationship problems or if they had a fetish that they wanted to see if it was normal. He didn’t profess to be able to tell this about people that he met in person. It was a skill he acquired from years of hearing the things that people’s voices betray.

Austin model and singer Kade Sheldon

I have had a torturous romance with singing. When I was a kid, trying to be an actor in Wichita, Kansas, the most readily available opportunities were with Wichita Music Theater and I did not have confidence in my voice. I wanted it desperately, but without training, auditions were fraught and brief and defeating. That kind of singing was about being really, really heard and my family life was one that pushed me well into the background. I learned that the way to stay safe was to stay quiet. If I spoke up, it was in survival, not in the assertion of myself or the confidence of developing the words that represent a human being. I developed a way to move through life, even thrive, but not how to “be”.

My voice varies wildly. I tend to mumble. Especially in the studio when I am at my most creative, I sound like Mushmouth from Fat Albert. I disappear so deeply into my subconscious that it’s almost like the dentist chair, numbed-lip hum of someone under hypnosis. When I am drunk, I am emphatic and heard. I easily use my voice to incite and challenge and cause adventure.

When I lived in NY, shortly before Trey McIntyre Project became my entire life, I worked with a voice teacher because I wanted to finally learn. I was re-discovering myself as a performer and building the blocks as an adult to be on the path that I wanted to be. We made real progress. I discovered that my voice was big and resonant…and it felt good to me to sing from that place. The lessons made my teacher excited and we seemed to be headed somewhere.

And then Trey McIntyre Project happened and all of that went into the background, though there were many telling moments I had with my voice during the decade of that company. One in particular came toward the end of the company. One of our dancers was an ambassador for Pride Foundation and the organization was holding an event at our headquarters. I was proud of this collaboration and wanted to be there as a showing of support. I was surprised when one of the leaders of Pride Foundation introduced me and asked me to speak about the company. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I would be asked to do this. As I rose up and as I stood there looking out at this group of people, I literally had nothing to say. I couldn’t say with any certainty at all what it was that TMP did. There were bizarre echoes bouncing around in my skull that sounded like looped sound-bites, but they were attached to other people. I did not feel nervous. I wasn’t in a panic, in fact I felt an intense emptiness. I wasn’t trying to be difficult, I literally could not make the words come out of my mouth that I was supposed to say. And so I excused myself and walked out of the building. I mostly had other people speak on my behalf during the course of that company and my voice found ways to take a backseat.

me and Donna Menthol

So now a few years have passed and I have tied up most of the loose ends of TMP and there is the air to get back to where I was headed before. I found a voice teacher who I knew from our first meeting would meet me right where I was coming from. She goes by Donna Menthol and is not caught up in a clinical, academic progression that makes a person into a singer. She likes to get in there with me and explore the symbology that is contained within a voice. She is interested in all of the demons that hide inside my vocal chords so that I can relax and let them go away.

There have been so many metaphors that live right there in the voice. So many things where problems are symptomatic of my way of experiencing the world. On day one we were doing a panting breathing exercise where she called my attention to the fact that I was expending more air than I was taking in and then she used the analogy of putting on your own oxygen mask before you help other people. And in that one behavior is drawn the person who can run a company for ten years with my name even on the door and sublimate my own need for oxygen the entire time. As a result, I have otherworldly lung capacity…but eventually…you have to take a breath or you are going to die.

She keeps using the analogy that even a hair’s difference can get you from the place you want to be. Singing is the greatest Zen practice I have ever had the opportunity to experience. It’s not this forcing and grabbing control, it’s the masterful driving of one’s most subtle resources to make something that is perfect. Today it felt like making an object spin like a top in the air using telepathy. It occurred to me in a completeness: I am the person with the full power to make that happen. Anything that is going to happen with my voice, it will happen absolutely by my decision and my action alone. The power was tremendous and like flying. The self-assuredness that came from losing any inkling that another person had any greater power to make me sing was revelatory.

Every day I discover a habit that I have used to hide behind and not allow my natural voice to thrive. It is ironic that, as a protection, to appear strong, I have hidden that voice, a voice that is inherently powerful at its most natural. It is thrilling to allow myself to lay those things bare and to sound bad on the path to sound good. I trust it, I trust my teacher, and I trust myself.

So I know the day will come where I take all of this and enter into the world with it. I don’t want to give myself the out of starting another dance company (don’t threaten me. I’ll do it) so today I am going to make a commitment: at some point over the course of the next 12 months, I am going to post a recording of myself singing. I don’t expect that you need to listen to it, but no matter if the pieces of my voice have been assembled into a pleasing whole yet, I’m going to put it out there and let you listen and judge. If anyone is keeping score, I welcome you to throw tomatoes at me in a year if nothing is posted.

4 Comments

  1. Truth. I am planning to write about the experience I’ve had over the last two years with my voice and how my journey of forgiveness with my father and embracing my Black identity and then all the activism of Black Lives Matter has all contributed to this awakening in my voice. I’m singing like I never have before, it’s incredible.

    1. Thank you so much for this Leta! Identity is so represented in our voices, isn’t it? I can’t wait to hear you sing…and also read what you write.

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