You know the story. Some teacher or music director tells a young person that they can’t sing, and the young singer is so hurt by this judgment that she fears or rejects singing forever after.
Adults in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond report these incidents to me in detail and still feel the pain as if it happened just yesterday.
And no matter how many times I tell people that anyone can learn to sing, or that teachers just don’t have the patience or skill to deal with underdeveloped singers, they still INSIST with all their might that THEY CAN’T SING, even if they wanted to. They defend this belief to the death. They defend the nasty teacher’s judgment as if it were the Eternal Law.
No one feels this level of emotion with regard to the skills of plumbing or accounting or tax law. Then again, no teacher has ever had THIS conversation with a kid, have they?
“Put that wrench down. You don’t have the ability to use that tool; you’re actually a mono-tool. Here, have this ball-point pen. You shouldn’t do plumbing; only if you’re naturally gifted.”
Yeah, if we heard a teacher say that, we’d be thinking, “What a twunt.”
But this conversation happens with regard to singing all the time. No wonder we take it personally. Musical ability, and especially singing, is so personal that for many people, an underdeveloped singing voice means there’s something wrong with them.
Why do we still tolerate this belief? Why??
Good question. So let me ask all those people who have been unfairly criticized, silenced, and labeled monotone at some point in the past:
What made that teacher “right”?
Was it the truth?
Did you really believe it then?
Do you still believe it now?
As children, we think teachers know best, or if they don’t know best, they at least have the power to override our objections (which is scarier).
Then we grow up. And a huge part of growing up is finding out that adults are NOT invincible, all-knowing, or all that caring. They are flawed, just as we are. The wisdom to see this and accept it is the mark of an adult mind.
But why do we so often fail to employ our adult mind when haunted by memories of a Nasty Teacher From the Past telling us we can’t sing? Because the child mind sticks around and keeps busy with those old thoughts. Just because we gain an adult mind doesn’t mean we lose the child mind.
So one thing we can do is have Adult Mind have a little soul-talk with Child Mind:
“Come here and have a hug and a cookie. You know what, I know it hurts. That was a very hurtful thing she said, and she just didn’t realize how hurtful it was to you. She didn’t understand. She didn’t know you. She didn’t understand that you were just young and only at the beginning of your development. Whatever she believes about singing is not the Law or the Truth. You don’t have to believe anything she said. There’s nothing wrong with you. You don’t have to let her words keep you from singing. They can’t hurt you anymore.”
That’s a good start.
But there’s further to go.
The Adult Mind has to do more than just reassure Child Mind that the past doesn’t have to keep hurting us in the present. Adult and Child Mind have to realize that they’re the same mind.
“Kiddo, the reason I know you’re going to be okay is because I’m going to be okay. We’re the same person. I am you, just all grown up! You can look forward to being this awesome, and totally free from whatever nastiness you’re facing now. Because, look at me – you survived. So you can just tell that teacher to piss off, because you get to be me now.”
In other words, if the past can affect the present, why can’t the present affect the past?
We let the past creep in all the time, as if the past had its own power that we can’t control – like it’s some kind of being. For many of us, it holds us prisoner. But who does my past belong to? Me. No one else. I own it. If I ever feel like it owns me, I get to turn the tables on that monster and give it what for – I make it look hard and long at this person in the present who’s stronger, wiser, and transformed…and the monster backs down.
If a teacher can make my young self believe that I can’t sing, and that my incompetence is innate…then why can’t I make myself believe that my inner strength is just as innate? That strength was always there. Why? Because Adult and Child are one person. Child survived the past, and that alone is proof of her strength as an adult.
So give yourself this little visualization – picture your adult self sitting down with your child self. (And it has to be your own adult self – not your therapist, parent, spirit guide, or anyone else but grown-up YOU.) Your present gets to tell your past that even though the past stuff hurts, we get to live in the present and choose what we believe about ourselves and our abilities.
Because that’s where our power is – the now. That’s where we have choice. Why live in a place where we have no choice? Why let your Child self live there? Let her join you. Let her see who she really is.