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Episode 2: I Want to Save You Some Time

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I Want to Save You Some Time

I want to save you some time. I want to tell you three things that when I learned them, it was like the heavens opened up. Like, “What? Why didn’t anybody ever tell me that?!”

I hope you’ll listen to the episode, but if you’re in a hurry, 1) your lungs are not in your shoulders; 2) using your voice is a physical activity; 3) the floor isn’t going anywhere.

You can subscribe to Can’t Wait to Hear You wherever you get podcasts.  If you have a question about your voice or how you’re using it, please email letters@mvmusik.com.

Our music is thanks to Katya and Ada.
The show is edited by K.O. Myers at Particulate Media.

TRANSCRIPT

Your voice is unique to you. It grows as you grow. It changes as you change. If you’re curious about the relationship between your voice and your body, your heart and your mind, welcome. My name is Michèle Voillequé and I can’t wait to hear you. 

I want to save you some time. I want to tell you three things that when I learned them, it was like the heavens opened up. It was like massive revelation. Like, “What? Why didn’t anybody ever tell me that?!”

Maybe it’ll save you time, maybe it won’t. Maybe these things, I’ll say them and you’ll be like, “I’ve known that for years.” But when I learned them, it was a big deal. It was a game changer.

So I’ve said elsewhere on the podcast that I didn’t start singing seriously until I was in my late teens, early twenties, I guess it was my second voice teacher. I guess I was 24 and, I was in a lesson at her home and, uh, she just very gently put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Your lungs are not in your shoulders, Michèle.”

And I had never thought about that before. And at that time in my life, I had no idea how to take a deep breath without raising my shoulders. My shoulders were doing all of the breathing. 

And I suppose if I had stepped back from it and thought about it for a second, like, you know, thought about the skeleton hanging up in the corner of the biology classroom, right? I would be able to see that my lungs and my shoulders had nothing to do with one another. 

My physical experience of my body, my learned experience, how I had used my body to that point for the preceding two and a half decades, everything about how I used my body told me that my shoulders had something to do with breathing and the thought that they didn’t or that they didn’t have to was just mind blowing to me.

I don’t have to think about that anymore, but the exploration that that sent me on, it was years unraveling that – figuring out how: how was it that my brain had connected my shoulders and my lungs, and how do we disconnect that thought? Blew my mind. 

Okay, so it’s true for you too, your lungs are not in your shoulders. When you take a good breath, when you take a breath that expands the center of your body, which is the kind of breath you want if you’re about to sing, or if you’re speaking at any volume, louder than just across the kitchen table, say. 

When you take a breath that expands the center of your body, your shoulders don’t have to move at all. And maybe just as you’re sitting, if you’re sitting, wherever you are right now, try that on. Take a breath that expands the center of your body, and just notice your shoulders. 

Do they think they have to move? If you’re like me, they might. And from me to you, they don’t have to.

Okay, the second thing that blew my mind, was the revelation that singing, and using one’s voice generally (although I learned this in the context of a singing voice lesson, it applies again to speaking, too) – using your voice is a physical activity. 

That sounds so simple, but the first time I heard it, again, it blew my mind because I had been thinking of using my voice as a mental thing, as something that’s going on in my head, not even necessarily in my neck, where I know my vocal folds are located and I can feel the vibration in my neck. 

I mean, I know that my neck has something to do with my voice, right? But it always felt more like a mental thing. 

Like if I had the right thought about the phrase that I was trying to sing or if I had the right, um, had memorized the right words in the right order for the speech I was trying to give or the lines I was trying to deliver in a play or monologue, you know, whatever –

If I just got it right, if I got it right between my ears, then it was going to sound great coming out my mouth. And while it is important to have things right between your ears, how the sound sounds is a physical activity. 

Breath comes up from the lungs, blows the vocal folds apart, setting them into vibration, creating a sound wave that reverberates through your body, and comes out, and other people hear it.

The sound is air that’s coming from your lungs, not your head. Looking at vocalizing as a physical activity and not something that was about how smart I was or clever or intellectually prepared, artistically sensitive, whatever, but it was a physical activity – it gave me a whole new thing to work on. 

Because when, when using your voice is a physical activity, you can attend to how you’re seated, how you’re standing, how does your body feel underneath you? Are your hips balanced over your feet? Are your ribs over your hips? Is your head on the top of your spine?

All of that plays an enormous role in the quality of the sound that other people hear, to say nothing of how much tension there is in your jaw or in your tongue, how open your mouth is, how open or collapsed your trunk is. Are you slouching? Are you caving your shoulders forward and pressing on your lungs from the front?

Are you doing, making a superhero posture where your shoulders are super broad and your chest is so puffed out that you’re squeezing your lungs from behind? 

Learning that vocalizing was a physical activity opened up, again, a whole new world for me. And that allowed me to just make amazing progress in how I sounded and how I felt as I was making sounds.

And I guess the third thing… So, I’ve said elsewhere on the podcast, um, that my fifth grade teacher told me to mouth the words and that that was a deeply shaming, humiliating event in my life. 

And I carried that for a very long time, and I had this feeling through, like, the first decade of voice lessons, actually, this feeling of being at a lesson and knowing that if I made a really big sound, if I just, yeah, it was about making a big sound, like about taking up space in the world.

If I was brave enough to take up space, I just knew that the floor would open and I would get swallowed down to the seventh level of Hell. You could call it performance anxiety, but I would like call it existence anxiety. 

It was a lot. It was heavy and it was real and you can imagine it made it really hard to make progress in the singing, in the being, in the, living fully, embracing all parts of myself, stepping into my fullness as an adult person on the planet.

It’s hard to do when you’re pretty sure you’re going to die as soon as you try. This was always going on in the background. And then I, I changed voice teachers and I was having lessons in a new location. And you know, the thought is still there, but then one day in, in my lesson, I make a sound that I had never heard my body make before.

And it was like so new, like I couldn’t even judge it. I couldn’t even really have an opinion about it except to be like, “Whoa, what was that? That’s never happened before.” I remember that feeling of “whoa,” and I looked down at the floor, and I saw the carpet, and I saw the cork flooring, and I thought, “You know, I don’t think that floor is going to open up.

“I don’t think I’m going to get swallowed whole. I think this floor is going to stay exactly the way it is.” And I tried to make the sound again. And I have no memory of whether that second attempt was as good as the first. I can’t even remember what exactly the sound was, or what, were we working on a particular song, or was it just an exercise?

I can’t remember if it was a vowel. I don’t remember any of the specifics, just that I realized that the floor wasn’t going anywhere. And after that, I no longer worried about dying if I tried to live fully.

It doesn’t mean that it’s not a challenge for me to live fully, to be, um, what I’ve come to call my right size. To allow myself to be as big as I’m capable of being. Not to make other people small, but to just simply be myself rather than going through life shrinking, you know? 

So if I could save you time, I want you to know your lungs are not in your shoulders. Using your voice is a physical activity, not just a mental one, and the floor isn’t going anywhere. You get to be as big as you dare to be. At least in my company.

Thanks so much for listening.

If you enjoyed today’s episode, please rate and review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new people find the show. Subscribing ensures you’ll learn about new episodes as soon as they come out. If you have a question about singing or speaking or being, please send me an email at letters@mvmusik.com.

That’s letters at, M as in Mary, V as in Victor, M U S I K.com. Transcripts and show notes are available on my website. You can subscribe to my newsletter there too. Can’t Wait To Hear You is produced in conjunction with Particulate Media. I’m your host, Michèle Voillequé. I can’t wait to hear you.

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