Awakening Your True Voice
By Jean McClelland
A baby cries and we are riveted by its urgency. Children play and laugh and we stand in awe at their spontaneity and the richness of their imaginations. We resonate with their joy and yearn for when we, too, experienced such openness. Even a young child’s gibberish is filled with inflection and color which communicates eloquently.
What has happened to make so many of us self-conscious about creative self-expression and embarrassed by the sound of our own voice? Why is it a baby can bellow for hours and never get hoarse, but we feel strain and vocal fatigue after a few hours of teaching or even after a long chat? Why is it our voices tend to disappear when we have to express ourselves in a meeting or in front of a group? Perhaps the real answer lies in understanding what has disconnected our voice from who we really are.
When a baby cries or a child laughs, their bodies are totally involved. Emotion flows through their muscles and is reflected on their faces. This exquisite mind/body coordination is the result of perfectly timed communication from the brain and spinal cord to nerve endings in the muscles responsible for breathing and sound. This process is fueled by “impulse” (chi) which physiologically can be described as a powerful but mostly unconscious desire to express. We hear impulse in the roar of a lion, the cry of a dog for its master, and we experience it in the raging of King Lear.
Bringing impulse into our consciousness is part of our journey in finding our authentic voice. Another part is recognizing when we push our voices to make sound and letting go of that, and still another part is understanding how our body was designed to breathe. Voice is produced when a steady flow of breath—fueled by impulse—vibrates the vocal cords. Remember our little baby? What makes its cry so robust is its perfect coordination between the deep abdominal muscles and the respiratory muscles. Most of us tend to lose this coordination by the time we are three or four, but we can regain it.
The search for one’s true voice is a deeply intuitive process of rediscovery. Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to let go of preconceptions about how our true voice should sound and just allow it to emerge. To free our voice from life’s constraints may make us feel somewhat vulnerable, though at the same time it can be liberating. We must approach our work with a sense of curiosity and discovery and Zen-like patience. Then this wonderful freeing process will cease to be a mystery and never be lost.
Jean McClelland is on the faculty of the Graduate Program in Acting at Columbia University and a guest lecturer in the music department at William Paterson University. She is an AmSAT certified senior teacher of the Alexander Technique and studied with Carl Stough at his Institute for Breathing Coordination. She is one of fewer than a dozen people worldwide personally selected by Stough to teach his work. In addition, she has performed extensively in musical theater and is a member of Actors’ Equity Association. She teaches in-person and virtual private lessons and group classes. For more information, visit JeanMcClellandVoice.com.