I had the pleasure of attending Sunday’s Muse’s voice workshop over the weekend, and she gave us the opportunity to write the story of our voices. Three words from her writing prompt started an outflow.

The silent cry.

It wasn’t there in the beginning. I’m ten years old and I’m running through the park singing “Climb Every Mountain”. I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain, I have confidence that spring will come again, and the hills are alive with the sound of music. My mom and dad and brothers and family friends are saying, “You’ve got a beautiful big voice. You’re going to be a star one day. Can I be your agent? You’ve got the world by the tail! I can’t wait to see what you do with your life. The world is your oyster!”

Who knew that I would CLAM up? That when I got to the Colorado State Singing competition at the age of sixteen, my voice would crack. That I would make a complete fool of myself in a room crammed with a hundred people and twelve judges sitting in the front row with clipboards on their laps? The only thing more painful than having your voice break when singing a happy little aria (“When Love is Kind”) is having to sit in the audience knowing there are three more songs to go!

It was a disaster. Me in my short A-line turquoise dress standing up there after all the buxom songbirds have had their thunderous ovations. My voice, like the emperor’s nightingale, flew out the window. Let the artificial nightingale have the stage. The emperor in the fairy tale likes him better anyway. He sings the same song perfectly, always on pitch. My voice wasn’t reliable. I couldn’t depend on it to be there when I needed to perform. The nightingale hid in the night forest, which in my life translated to plunking my guitar in my bedroom, and singing mournful songs like, “If I were a carpenter and you were a lady, would you marry me anyway, would you have my baby?”

In a high, tinny voice.

High Tinny Voice stayed in the closet for years. Let the writer do the living. Let the writer speak on paper, safe paper. Let the writer get the education, land the jobs, lock in a dependable career. It would have worked just fine if the voice hadn’t been required for presentations. I suffered terrible stage-fright. My shrinking violet voice became the enemy, waiting to ambush an otherwise unblemished performance. On paper.

Then I discovered storytelling. Voice freed in a story, unselfconscious. Attention not on the performer but on the story. The voice became the enchanter, and oh, how it blossomed. I told the fairy tales; loved those enchantments, heard the haunting ancient voices welling up through the landscapes and running down hillsides. Voices of the wells flooding back, voices that had once been heard but were lost long ago. The trauma was recorded in Celtic legend. A king named Amangon rode into the sacred wells. He and his men seized the maidens, raped them, and carried them away. The waters of the wells dried up and the voices were heard no more. Gone were the nymphs at the wells of inspiration, the songs that mended hearts and minds, the light that broke through from the blessed isle on the other side.

The returning voice is the returning soul, water in the wasteland, the song of the land. “The time for singing has come,” sang the great king Solomon.

“Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away,
for lo, the winter has passed.
The rain is over and gone,
and the flowers appear on the earth.
The time for singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove’s heard on the land.”

I sing the poems I love. I sing as the waters in my soul rise and the land greens. The world changes when the people start to sing. Revolutions happen. They’re happening now.

The cry is the first song.


Featured image: Flora, goddess of flowers and spring, from an ancient fresco, Pompeii, 1st century.

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