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Oct 15, 2018

Outside My Comfort Zone

Claude Stein

For years I’ve seen The Natural Singer course offered at Kripalu, Omega and The Open Center in NYC. For years I’ve thought, maybe another time. On Saturday, another time arrived. I signed up for the one day session here in my backyard.

The course promises: Find your true, authentic voice. Whether you chant, sing, or always wished you could have a better voice, this program can change your life. The results are stunning, even if you’ve never been able to carry a tune!

That’s me–a no-tune-carrier. I have a vivid memory of participating in a talent show in elementary school, belting out a song I’d learned at sleepaway camp: Lollipop. When you got to the end of the song, you inserted your finger into your puffed up cheeks and pressed together lips and made a popping sound. I thought the audience at Ridgeway Elementary School would be awed by my performance. Instead, my memory is of some adult suggesting that I not sing again in front of others. Now, decades later, I decided it was time to overcome that barrier.

I was excited to be in a roomful of other non-singers looking to finally express themselves vocally. There were 25 of us, men and women ages late 20’s to nearly 80 from all over the east coast. Claude Stein, the master teacher who has been offering this for years, demonstrated how to unite a couple dozen disparate souls in minutes. Much of the value I got from the day was watching the techniques and exercises he used for creating safety and bonding a group for this vulnerable work.

After about an hour of warm-up exercises he conducted from his bench at the grand piano in the room, he explained the assignment. For the rest of the day, each of us would get in front of the others, individually, and sing. The audience was instructed to respond as though they were seeing their favorite rockstar with hoots, hollers and loud ovations. He offered instruction to each participant as they faced the audience, and asked additionally for positive, loving feedback from three people per performer to further bolster the experience.

Part of the work was to “drop the mask of self-consciousness” to find our inner and outer voice. “We’re the warriors!” he reminded us asking that we tolerate a moderate level of discomfort. (It probably didn’t help that I had seen A Star is Born the day before.) He forbade us from telling our stories (like my grade school experience) before we began. “Go right to the light,” he advised. “Skip the shadow.” He didn’t want us to give any weight to what the problem(s) had been.

He also mentioned that had he asked in the course description for students to bring in our sheet music to sing with, attendance would have been zero. I, for sure, would have thought it beyond my level.

Fully expecting everyone else to be in my boat, I was quite surprised at the quality of the voices coming from the classmates who went before me. Fortunately, Claude selected the order of appearance. I was among the first six to go before we broke for lunch. I was so glad I’d gotten it over with. With no exaggeration and tons of humility I have to say, I was the WORST in the class. For my song I chose “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”

We’d had to write down what we hoped to get out of the class. I recorded: to be able to sing without feeling shame. Claude’s sweet feedback to me was that someone who had shame would not have gone on as long as I did. Althought I thought he’d interrupt me along the way, I continued through the chorus, “Dinah won’t you blow?”

There was rousing applause and broad smiles from the group. The piece of feedback I most remember was, “I loved your courage.”

I’m not going to take this singing thing any further. I feel great that I did it. That I don’t have to look with regret at that course offering any more. I will sing out loud at home more often. It feels good to sing, and I’ve deprived myself of that joy.

The best thing that came out of the class was recognizing one of the people in the circle early in the day. We caught eyes and smiled, but I couldn’t remember where we’d met. She came over to me before the class began. “We took Ann Randolph’s writing class at Kripalu,” she said. “I can’t remember how many years ago that was.”

“I remember exactly,” I told her, immediately recalling her being in that group. “It was 2014. It was the class that sparked my memoir journey,” I said and told her about my imminent publication date.

“I remembered your stories and really enjoyed your writing,” she added. “I’ve been reading your blog and look forward to getting your memoir when it comes out.”

That was the best take-away from the class.

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  1. Nancy M

    Great, Jane! I always wanted to try singing. Have you seen A Star is Born? Actor Bradley Cooper sang in the movie, had a coach….inspiring. Love, Nancy

    • Jane Pollak

      @Nancy M Hah! Nice comparison! It’s not something I’m looking to do, but it did close a long open loop of embarrassment and shame around the quality of my voice. Just standing up and singing in front of that group was empowering. No need to take it even a stanza further. Mwah!!

  2. Suzanne Ste.Therese

    Yes, congratulations for your courage – singing as a break through is a good metaphor to try, try, try so many things we may be afraid of yet strengthen when “performed.” One of my favorite blogs you’ve shared. Thank you.

    • Jane Pollak

      @Suzanne Thank you!

  3. Isaiah D. Cooper

    I am glad to hear that you did this! So many people believe they are tone deaf, when they just need to practice using their voices. Musical ability is distributed on a bell-curve basis. While I may be near the right side of the curve, you are almost certainly in the middle. However, because of your elementary school experience, you have not used or exercised your voice in about 50 years. Ironically, my brother is the more-talented musician than I am. However, he does not sing. I sing all of the time and as a result my voice has improved as has my self-confidence as a singer. When I was in college, I gave ear-training lessons to a woman in her 60s who claimed to be tone deaf. After about six months of lessons, she still had trouble carrying a tune, but she recognized the difference between major and minor mode and between duple and triple meter. She always loved music and now she was enjoying it even more.
    Love and blessings,

    • Jane Pollak

      @Isaiah Wow! What a great response to my post! What a gift you are to music lovers and would-be performers! Thank you for writing!

  4. Anne Garland

    Jane I love this ! I too had a similar story when in elementary chorus belting out “Betty Botter Bought Some Butter….”. I was asked to mouth the words as if I was singing. Alas my singing career was cut short too.

    Thank you fro sharing your story – it was brave of you to participate and even more brave to share it with all of us. I also enjoyed Isaiah’s comments above ….maybe some day. Blessings

    • Jane Pollak

      @Anne I didn’t know this about you and find it so amusing giving who you birthed!!! We can form our own ‘mouthers club’ and commiserate. Thank you for commenting.


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