I Found My Voice

by Jo Anne Nelson on September 15, 2011

As some of you may recall, I was an athlete. Diving, gymnastics, soccer, track and field. I loved sports and the competition that came with them.

But I loved singing even more.

In choirs and on my own, I sang almost all the time. Then, a new choir teacher came to lead the choral program at my school. Unfortunately, he did not like my voice.

Because I loved to sing so much, I chose to endure his disapproval and studied with him for five years. Over those years, I was never given a solo and received very little feedback. Essentially, I found myself being treated as if I was invisible.

My athletics were on the upswing, while little joy remained in singing. Bit by bit my resolve and commitment to vocal expression withered away.

Not long ago, I realized that I rarely sang at all anymore. Good night lullabies for my daughter were about it. I rationalized that singing had simply lost its importance and my passion for it had logically dissipated.

How profoundly a teacher can change a life!

This summer, while looking for a vacation rental in France, my husband found an interesting farm house in Normandy that seemed to be a good fit for the restful vacation we envisioned. He wrote the owner and learned that she divided her time between New York and Paris and would meet with us in New York to explore the possibility of our taking the property in late August.

During a wonderful lunch near Columbus Circle in early July, we learned that the owner, Karen Nimereala, is an opera singer and voice coach to top performers on both sides of the Atlantic—Sting and broadway stars for instance. Karen is a Julliard graduate who, interestingly enough, had an experience similar to mine with a voice teacher in school. Fortunately, she overcame her related loss of confidence to build a very successful career.

Sandy, my husband and business partner, ended our lunch with Karen by asking her if she would not only be willing to lease us her house in the Perche region of France, but also give me a voice lesson. Remarkably, she was happy to do so.

But, remembering my childhood teacher’s disdain for my voice and feeling incredible discomfort with the idea of subjecting myself to the scrutiny of such a prestigious teacher, I was not taken with the idea. In fact, the thought of taking the risk of singing for a professional of Karen’s stature was more than a little terrifying!

Yet, at the end of the day, Sandy’s belief in my potential and Karen’s enthusiastic encouragement persuaded me to take the risk.

Now, just back from three fabulous weeks in France and two very exciting and wonderfully encouraging lessons with Karen, I can report with tremendous excitement that I have found my voice!

According to Karen, I have a good, big voice capable of hitting very high notes. A stunning revelation! Having battled my inner critic—that persistent voice inside me that has assured me for so long that I can’t sing well—I am now rediscovering the incredible joy in singing I once had.

Most importantly, I think of all the years I went about life within the context of such a limiting story that led to the abandonment of something that I loved so much. Looking back, I now see that my journey away from singing began when I accepted my high school teacher’s opinion about my voice as fact. In reality, his assessment of my voice was only one person’s opinion.

Stories shape our lives and how we interact with the world. We create stories from events we’ve experienced, our interactions with others, and most importantly, from the assessments or opinions of authority figures in our lives—parents, teachers, siblings, leaders in our places of work and worship.

Some of these stories serve us well. They open possibilities. Others, like the one I subconsciously wrote about my voice in response to my music teacher’s assessments, are not only ungrounded, but severely limiting.

What stories do you carry with you from authority figures in your life? Do they open possibilities or close them?

If, like mine about singing, they close possibilities, how can you re-interpret or rewrite your story to overcome self-imposed limitations and open new possibilities?

The doorway to adventure is open. Your job is to step through.

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