Pulling the Cork Out of the Bottle

I recently went out on a really great first date (ish-- I insisted on mostly paying my own way, since we were trying to go really slowly). As we were getting more comfortable with each other, we started talking about how hard it is to change. I can't remember how we got there, but at one point my date said to me admiringly, "Yeah, but with your experiment, you're changing who you are. I mean, who DOES that?" I felt genuinely complimented (which is rare-- usually I dismiss compliments), but it stopped me in my tracks because it has never occurred to me to think about this in terms of changing who I am.

That's because I haven't, really. I've just made the real me more apparent on the outside, and maybe I've changed my perspective on some things. But who I am at my core-- someone who tries to live authentically-- is what allowed me to do this in the first place.

It's like singing. I sang opera professionally for a few years in high school; I had an amazing voice teacher up in Chicago, a woman who really knew her stuff. She got me to a really polished place, and I was only 15, her youngest student. But when I moved down to Florida, I got a new voice teacher who was male, and he didn't quite know what to do with my voice. His slogan was, "Singing is thinking"-- placement (where you resonate your sound), breath support, posture, etc. The emphasis was on thinking about the "right" technique, and if you were thinking right when you sang you'd sound good.

He was a really great guy, but gradually my technique worsened; the more strained my voice became, the more he leaned on the "singing is thinking" precept (not in a mean way-- he just didn't know how to coach me except to try the same things, only harder). Soon I lost my comfort with my upper register (and I was most comfortable between E and A above the staff), and my voice was tired after almost every time I sang. The harder I tried, the worse I sounded. I stopped even trying for the high notes in chorus. Instead of feeling talented, I felt like every time I opened my mouth I was doing the wrong thing.

Additionally, as someone who grew up with the notion that who I was and what I felt wasn't good enough, I developed a habit of trying to sound like other people. My teacher didn't notice it, and between trying to imitate technique and trying to imitate sound, my singing became almost difficult to listen to. It was so inorganic, and part of the reason that I didn't take my singing career very seriously was that I didn't connect to the music. The whole endeavor had become another exercise in trying to be someone else-- a shame, because I had a lot of talent.

I remember the first time I really fell in love with my own voice. I was home alone, maybe 11 or 12. There's that line that Tuptim's  (The King and I) lover sings, "Alone in our secret/ Together we sigh/ For one smiling day, to be free..." I sang that line over and over again because I liked how it sounded in my voice, and gradually I felt something shift on the "free." My placement changed because of the way that vowel resonates, and as I repeated the line I was shocked by the way I sounded-- like a Disney princess (before they were Disney Princesses). I sounded the way I had always wanted to sound, and for a little girl to sound like Ariel to herself... well, that was a big deal.

I climbed the stairs, which served as my favorite resonating chamber, and sang it over and over again. "Alone in our secret... together we sigh, for one smiling day, to be freeeeeeee..." I couldn't stop. It was so beautiful, and so much fun.

Years later, as I watched The King and I last week, I thought to myself, "Where did I lose that love of my own voice? Where did my voice become something detached from me, a way of pretending to be someone else?"

It was this thought that occupied me on Tuesday, when I walked around my apartment, assumed no one coud hear (though I'm sure they could-- when I sing out, it's loud), and sang an entire song while reminding myself, "This is just like speaking, in your own voice. This is YOUR voice, that YOU'RE communicating with. Don't think, just sing, just for the love of singing."

I sounded better than I have since I was 16.

I wandered around the apartment singing "Taylor, the Latte Boy." I had thought my voice had been ruined forever. As it turns out, it was there under all the layers of disguise I had learned to pile over it. I sang all evening, and my voice was never tired. I repeated lines that sounded and felt particularly good, relieved beyond description that my original instrument was still intact, even after all those years of poor conditioning. When I felt myself begin to tense up (in my throat, for all you non-singers), I bent over and petted the cats, or looked at my email, still singing. I had thought my voice was gone forever. Turns out, I never lost it-- I just forgot how to love using it.

Singing isn't thinking. It's NOT thinking. My first voice teacher used to make her students do all kinds of crazy choreograpy if they were singing a difficult piece, and I never understood why. Now I do: if you're not thinking about singing, then you're free to actually sing. A Facebook friend called it, "Pulling the cork out of the bottle."

Isn't it funny that we need lessons to learn how to do what comes naturally?

That's all I'm doing here: pulling the cork out of the bottle. How I think about myself has changed because of this experiment, but it's just a process of learning how to do what comes naturally to me. I'm becoming more my original self, clearing away all the notions about who I should look like ("not me") and what will make me likeable ("if I become more like everyone else").

I hear this is what happens as one grows older. If so, thank God for aging!


  1. Loved this post, Lauren--I got a great feeling for what singing means to you (which I didn't know before!) and a sense of how this whole project feels. One question (tongue firmly in cheek): is having a man (or any other party, for that matter) pay your way the definition of a date? You decide ;)
    Glad to have (finally) found my way to your blog!

  2. :D Yay for Leah commenting! Why didn't I see this before? I don't think I get email notifications when peeps comment... I need to change that.

  3. I had a similar experience with vocal coaching. People wanting me to sound more "broadway" or more "classical" or whatever. The day someone overheard me singing(offhand, to myself) and told me that my voice was one of the most pure, sweet sounds he'd ever heard...AFTER I'd given up on a singing/theater career...well, it was a revelation. Now I pretty much only sing for me, and I love the sound I make. When I try to be something I am not, that's when things go awry.