My voice. My story. Me.

My curiosity about voice started a long time ago.

I was in my first or second year of high-school and I was part of an informal  after-school singing activity. Nothing fancy; just our extremely humorous music teacher and his 'oud' (luth). Although this hadn't really turned into an actual hobby for me, I was always curious about what it would feel like to sing on stage or to speak to a large audience. Once, my father came to pick me up from school and had heard me sing while he was waiting outside for me. Back home, I overheard him whisper to my mother that "I sang well"... Or perhaps it was my memory playing tricks on me and fabricating a story around what I actually wanted to 'believe' about my voice. [giggling]

Well, no matter what the story was (or 'is'), what made me feel so excited and so alive was not how promising my singing skill may have been, but that impact I would have on people, the impression I would leave on the listener, all the possibilities of recognition, the magic I would create, and, most importantly, the intoxicating presence I would feel when I bear myself, my vulnerability, my soul, my truth, and my AUTHENTICITY.

Let's fast-forward about 20 years.  This time, I am on the other side of the classroom. I am working as a teacher. I am responsible for allowing hundreds of young female students to start finding their voice. Exam hall. Mic. Large room. A couple hundred students hanging on my every word. I announce the beginning of the exam and I try to be as soothing as possible. I wish them luck as I hear the sound of my voice resonate from the back of the large assembly hall. It sounded rich, warm and comforting. I liked it. I was on a high. As I walk down from the stage into the two-hour silent, mundane event, my colleague whispers to me: "you have a beautiful voice Sonia". I still feel validated.

Another 10 years. Julian Treasure. I am given the responsibility of team-leading and recreating an Academic Spoken Communication course. I am overjoyed! I had been asking to teach that course for several semesters before I was finally assigned to the team. I had never thought about the reasons for that obsession... Little did I know... This course became the catalyst for my own journey  with vocal empowerment; for myself and others. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, Julian Treasure. It was thanks to a colleague of mine who had found Treasure's TED Talk and had created a lesson around it. What a powerful message delivered so powerfully! Treasure's message has obviously struck a chord [pun intended] not only with me but with millions of people putting him in the top 30 TED Talks of all time. I will let you watch and see for yourself!

The culmination of this journey was last weekend. Dubai. Finding Your Powerful Voice workshop. Divine timing. Let's sift through all the technical stuff and operatic jargon even though it is also empowering. That stuff helped me understand my instrument better and hence use it more effectively and make it work FOR my message and not against it.  Falsettos. Diaphragm. Voice box. Intercostal muscles. Jaws. Warm-ups. Tree pose. Cadenza. Words. Intent. Emotions. Tongue. Resonator. Panacea. Pregnant pauses. Opening. Movement. Dreams. Commitment. Are you curious yet? Well, you should really seek out, nay, create any opportunity to get clarity into how best to relay your message and how best to speak your own truth with power.

Let me not forget the amazing privilege of being trained by a soprano/vocal teacher and a CTI top coach and consultant. The workshop was full of revelations, silliness, learning, listening, silence, healing, sharing and pure fun! I highly recommend it.

Of course, my journey with voice hasn't been all roses. When we talk about self-expression, we also have to recognize being silenced. It is, unfortunately, a rite of passage; as soon as a child starts speaking, and formulating her/his emotions into concrete utterances,  s/he starts receiving negative feedback that stifles her/his creativity and self-expression. "Don't say that". "That is embarrassing". "Shut up". "Be quiet". Silencing continues beyond childhood. By socialization. By culture. By traditions. By the powerful. And the powerless. And primarily by fear.  Revisiting those times was painful but necessary. I still remember those moments of sheer exhaustion at the beginning of my teaching career; I was a nervous wreck. I wanted to take control, and I thought that 'raising my voice' would allow me to sound like I was in charge, to get respect. I still hear many people - teachers included- who lose their voices quickly after their start their first lessons. It is so painful when that happens. Everything becomes compromised; especially our health. The message and content get lost while we are struggling to 'force' someone else to listen to us. It is a foggy, dark and lonely place. Isn't there a better way? It was at those lowest classroom moments that I had decided that a higher volume does not equal a more powerful voice and that I needed to discover another way.

 So, what do I gather from these milestones along my journey with voice?

Breathing of course. It is, indeed, underrated.  Breathing is calming and free!! Claim it. Take long deep breaths when you inhale, and make your exhales even longer; unless, of course, you are giving birth. [joke] Speaking of jokes, laughter is such a relaxing, liberating and expanding exercise for our bodies, breathing and voices, and, we always leave in a great mood. See my earlier post about Laughter Yoga:

When we think beyond breathing and vocal warm-ups and anatomy and posture and all of that jazz [or lyrical], one important revelation remains: such a journey did not allow me to find or discover something outside of myself, something foreign to me, something physically detached from me, this work hasn't allowed me to 'embellish' or 'improve' my voice; it has, instead, EVOKED my true and authentic voice with its full power, for I am authentic. I am my voice. I am my story. I am complete. You are too.

As I write this piece, I realize how therapeutic it is to express all of this. So go ahead; exhale, feel, be, awaken, speak, write, sing, but whatever you do, don't hold your breath and 'never' apologize for speaking your own truth!

Thank you for listening.

Voice workshop was hosted by and facilitated by Meghan McCall and Leonid Frolov.

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​© Copyright 2020. Sonia Elhaj Coaching. The Certified Modern Womanhood Coach © Sonia Elhaj, MA. CPCC. CELTA.

Trained and certified by the ICF-accredited Co-Active Training Institute: CTI

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