The courage in song

It’s never too late to be­gin play­ing and shar­ing our voices, and there is al­ways deeper ex­plo­ration.

Living Now - - Con­tents - by Michelle Mor­gan

It’s never too late to be­gin play­ing and shar­ing our voices, and there is al­ways deeper ex­plo­ration.

We sit in a cir­cle, the lights are low and our eyes are closed. A quiet voice speaks, of­fer­ing the theme of ‘courage.’ A singing bowl cre­ates a steady tone and one by one, we of­fer our voices into the space. In the deep lis­ten­ing each of us brings, sound rises ef­fort­lessly, in­ter­weav­ing in shift­ing har­mony. There is an ex­quis­ite qual­ity in the room tonight. It evokes spa­cious­ness, ex­pan­sion, won­der. I am trans­ported. My ear­lier heav­i­ness dis­solves and dis­si­pates in this sa­cred space, invit­ing grat­i­tude in its place.

I’ve been a part of choirs and sa­cred song cir­cles for many years. There are of­ten gor­geous mo­ments when the songs lift my heart and trans­port me to a new real­ity. Science demon­strates that singing, in it­self, has pos­i­tive ben­e­fits for health. But I find there is some­thing ex­tra spe­cial about sa­cred song and ton­ing. Some­times, I turn up heavy and ex­hausted, and leave buoyed with light­ness. It is a trans­for­ma­tive prac­tice.

In my life, cre­ative prac­tice is a ne­ces­sity. Whether it is singing, paint­ing, draw­ing, song writ­ing, or danc­ing, it is a way to bring pres­ence to life, to self-soothe, sort through, find clar­ity, and heal. When I cre­ate, I am con­nected with the di­vine within me and open to the uni­verse. Through cre­ative prac­tice, I learn how to fol­low my­self, trust my im­pulse, and sit in the mys­tery, pa­tiently wait­ing for the next step to arise.

I have learned that the key is to be more in­ter­ested in the process than the out­come. If, in my mak­ing, I am too aware of the end prod­uct, the in­ner critic is ac­ti­vated and my flow is sti­fled. If I am able to at­tend to my process, notic­ing, “How is it to use this paint­brush?” “How does my body feel as I move in this way?”, “What feel­ing does this chord evoke?”, then the prac­tice be­comes a med­i­ta­tion.

Singing in im­pro­vi­sa­tional con­texts, like ton­ing cir­cles, in­vites this cre­ative process in such a pure way. In singing, we cre­ate some­thing from noth­ing. Singing, like move­ment, is of the body; we don’t need any tools. The gifts of singing alone, and with oth­ers, are many. When we im­pro­vise with oth­ers, we cul­ti­vate the skill of lis­ten­ing deeply to one an­other, trust­ing our own voices, and hav­ing the courage to step into the spa­ces that wait for us. We sup­port oth­ers by join­ing their phrase in uni­son, or cre­at­ing a har­mony with it. We fol­low the whole, notic­ing the shifts in en­ergy. For in­stance, a light and floaty sound might find ground through the in­tro­duc­tion of a rhyth­mic bass line. Or, a quiet and timid piece might swell in vol­ume and power. It seems like magic, but is born of the pres­ence, lis­ten­ing, trust, and courage of those in the cir­cle.

Singing does not come eas­ily to all peo­ple, and many of us carry old wounds in­flicted through the care­less com­ments of teach­ers, friends or fam­ily

mem­bers. Our cul­ture is one that of­fers an elite model of mu­sic mak­ing, where only a se­lect few are cel­e­brated. Many of us have in­ner work to do to be­gin to open and share our voices and re­mem­ber that we can all sing. As an adage re­minds us; “If you can talk, you can sing!” We can all learn to lis­ten more deeply, and to find our voice through play­ful ap­proaches. I in­vite you to try some of the fol­low­ing sim­ple ways that may help you to en­joy your voice more and more:

1 Cre­ate an at­mos­phere of cu­rios­ity and play­ful­ness as you be­gin to ex­plore your voice.

2 Stretch, shake, and jig­gle your body to warm up. Let out some sighs, moans and groans. There is no right or wrong way to do this!

3 Hum up and down slowly and gently, feel­ing the vi­bra­tion in your body. What notes res­onate in the belly? The chest? The head? Are there any places in your body that are call­ing for lov­ing at­ten­tion? If so, bring the hum there. 4 Use a drone in­stru­ment (like a singing bowl or shruti box) or down­load a track as a foun­da­tion. This helps to cre­ate safety and an­chors the sound. Lis­ten to the drone, make a vowel sound (ahhh, ehhh, iiii, ohhh, ooooo) that matches the note, and then be­gin to slide your voice up and down. Find the notes that feel good in your body and res­o­nant for your ears.

5 In­vite some friends to tone with you. Be­gin with a drone in­stru­ment then make long vowel sounds. Even­tu­ally peo­ple might bring in repet­i­tive phrases. The em­pha­sis is on lis­ten­ing to each other. Keep play­ing!

6 Play with invit­ing in­ten­tions into the space. How is it to sing a sun­rise? How is it to sing love? What might it be like to sing sor­row, a for­est, to­geth­er­ness, or ex­pan­sion?

7 If the in­ner critic turns up, just tell it that this is a play­ful space and it’s not wel­come right now. Cel­e­brate your courage and the ef­fort you are mak­ing in try­ing some­thing new. Keep singing! 8 No­tice how you feel be­fore and af­ter your singing. Have there been shifts? What do you no­tice in your body? What is your state of mind? What feel­ings are present?

9 Find sup­port­ive spa­ces where you can ex­plore more of your voice with oth­ers. Singing and shar­ing songs has been a real gift in my life and I am con­fi­dent it can be a jour­ney of trans­for­ma­tion for you as well. It’s never too late to be­gin play­ing and shar­ing our voices to­gether and there is al­ways deeper ex­plo­ration. The ben­e­fits to our lives and com­mu­nity are truly price­less. Let’s cre­ate a cul­ture where all of us sing with courage, weav­ing new re­al­i­ties with our voices and hearts. n

A singing bowl cre­ates a steady tone and one by one, we of­fer our voices into the space.

Michelle Mor­gan is a com­mu­nity singing leader, kir­tanist, song­writer, artist, and author of “A Guide to Com­mu­nity Singing Lead­er­ship”. She is pas­sion­ate about en­gag­ing in, and sup­port­ing, cre­ative prac­tice.

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