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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