Happy Wednesday lovely people – its story time again!
Todays story is really wonderful. It’s from someone I’ve known from the very first pilot choir we set up with Sing & Inspire and it’s just so amazing to see how this lovely woman has progressed in confidence (and ability) since I first met her.
Jayne, (or Sammi-Jayne as lots of folk know her on line) is an amazing single mum to her son Rowan who has just started high school. She and I both shared single parentdom for some while before I remarried and I know just how hard it is to keep all the plates spinning. Jayne is one of the most diligent people I know. Jayne manages to juggle working for the Admiral insurance group, works on her open university degree, looks after her son single handedly, cares for two cats and still finds time to be in two of our choirs, is a great section leader in her business Inspire choir, makes a point of always learning harmonies and lyrics and is also a great baker of cakes!
Jayne also suffers from a stammer………… which she’s actually had a middle page spread in the local newspaper following the success of the film ‘The Kings Speech’
You can read the article here http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/health/when-speech-is-a-struggle-1853637
Although the picture I’ve painted of Jayne above is that she does an amazing impression of superwoman I wouldn’t be describing Jayne accurately, If I hadn’t mentioned her stammer. Its so interesting how our voice and our voice characteristics define us as people – primarily because they are unique to us, and therefore special. I really love how Jayne talks about her voice in her story – she’s got a wonderful way with words and she’s so down to earth. Jayne and I have talked over the years about confidence and how that impacts on how we produce sound and specifically when it comes to speech impediments, I think that Jayne is so accurate in expressing how it feels to have people ‘try’ and ‘help’ when they actually can’t and is remiss for them to presume they can. I’ve experienced Jayne talking about something she’s really passionate about clearly and stammer free, and I also know she’s a fab singer and again is stammer free…..there’s something to be learnt from our mind and heart process to our voice process, which as a voice expert I’m absolutely fascinated by. Perhaps I’ll ask Jayne if she wants to help me research part of my other book ‘Unlocking the Voice’ (working title)
So now you know a bit more about Jayne…….
and her voice……………
so here’s her story
I have something of a love/hate relationship with my voice.
I’ve had a speech impediment for the vast majority of my life. No-one knows what, if anything, triggered it (though my late grandfather had a theory, which my parents didn’t agree with) and the family doctor believed I would grow out of it. Because of this ‘expert opinion’, I didn’t get any speech therapy until I was sixteen, by which time I had quite deep-seated emotional issues tied in with my difficulty speaking. Teasing from other kids, and even ‘advice’ from well-meaning adults, can do an awful lot of damage to a person’s self-esteem. Even now I find myself having to almost justify my speech difficulty to other people, sometimes with rather humiliating consequences; just recently I burst into tears during an important meeting, when somebody thought it would be helpful to offer empathy regarding my stammer, thinking it would ‘help’ me to calm down and talk more fluently.
I think the reason why I love to sing so much is because it’s one of the few times I don’t have to battle with my stammer (I frequently quip that I’m a less-talented Gareth Gates…). The same is also true when I’m attempting to speak a different language, and to a lesser extent when I’m reading something aloud (though I do still trip over my tongue a little). I guess this might be because I’m using the language centre of my brain differently in these scenarios, whereas normal speech is a lot more of an unconscious thing. Having said that, putting greater conscious effort into speaking – and in theory trying to act like I’m speaking a foreign language – does not fix the problem. Trust me on this. It’s also exhausting.
So, singing is enjoyable for me because my voice actually does what it’s told. Most of the time, anyway. I’ve been singing probably as long as I’ve been speaking; I grew up singing along to theme songs, commercial jingles, songs on the radio, you name it. If there’s a song playing within hearing distance of me, you can almost guarantee I’ll be singing along. I have a habit – probably very rude, but I have trouble resisting – of singing along to the radio in the car, even while having a conversation. Thankfully the people I tend to get lifts from know me well enough to not take offence. I will also break out into song at random moments, especially when a conversation reminds me of particular lyrics, much to the annoyance of friends and family! I blame that one on Rod, Jane and Freddie from the ‘Rainbow’ children’s tv programme, and their “We know a song about that!” schtick.
I didn’t grow up believing I had any real skill; in junior school I messed around with recording myself on cassette, though my parents were never very positive about the results, and my older sister frequently told me “If you can’t sing, don’t!” This never ultimately stopped me, and I sang in choirs right the way through school, but it made it hard to accept if people gave me compliments. Mind you, positive feedback has always been difficult for me to accept. My online friends have been working on that though, and have gotten me to the point where something like “Did you lose some weight?” gets the cheerful response of “Oh, I wish! But thank you all the same!” rather than a straight denial that leaves both parties at an awkward dead end.
Once I left high school, I didn’t really sing at all – except for personal enjoyment around the house, and that one time I got up the nerve to sign up for karaoke at a staff party – for close to fifteen years. Then one Christmas I heard about a group at work who were meeting up to rehearse carols, with the intention of singing them in the lobby of our office building. I couldn’t resist joining in, despite the fact that Christmas songs are probably some of my least favourite. I did this for a couple of years, and I noticed that my voice started off kind of shaky at the start but got much stronger by the time the season was over. I already knew that the voice was an instrument that needed to be used regularly – evidenced by how much easier it became to read my son a bedtime story the older he got, since even ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’ left me with a sore throat at first – and it felt like my voice was withering away from neglect. So when the opportunity arose to join a choir being formed within my workplace, that would rehearse all year round, I absolutely had to sign up.
I’d looked vaguely at choirs in the classified for several years, wanting the opportunity to sing again, but nothing ever caught my eye that wasn’t some significant travelling distance away from home – a factor for me, since I don’t drive. Later on there was the added complication of childcare, so getting to rehearse at the office, during the lunch period, was perfect and I haven’t looked back. I’ve taken the rehearsal schedule into consideration when I’ve needed to adjust my shifts, gone into the office during vacation time, and even continued going into work when I’ve not felt a hundred percent well just to avoid missing practice. My attendance record has been practically perfect for the last couple of years!
Membership in the choir has had a significant impact on my confidence, though that still has a lot of highs and lows. My section does not always enjoy a vast number of members, plus I’m quite short, so I often found myself having to stand in the front row, which is something I do not enjoy. Initially even being there during rehearsals made me anxious! Even now I prefer to be somewhere in the middle of the group, but I think the more comfortable I am with the people around me the easier it is. The company I work for has quite a lot of staff, most of whom you will likely never meet under normal circumstances, so it took a while to get to know my fellow choristers but now we’re a pretty tight knit bunch. I’ve been with a second choir for just over a year now – not directly connected to my workplace, but there are several of us in both choirs – and this has given me the opportunity to meet even more new people who also share my love of singing. It’s a much bigger choir than the one at work, and there’s often new members; I try to do my best to be friendly to everyone I come into direct contact with, and help anyone struggling with the harmonies, but I feel a lot more like a small fish in a big pond there. This has a knock-on effect on my confidence, and I find myself fading to the back row a lot. However, I know that if I need to be in the front for a performance I can do it – I just don’t like subjecting anyone to my pathetic attempts at movement!
I remember bursting into tears during a rehearsal at work, about two years in, because I just could not get that phrase right and Andrea was right in front of me paying attention! I was so embarrassed, she had to take me outside for a momentary pep talk. Fast forward to a few years later, and I’m one of just five volunteers in a tiny recording booth, participating in a project for work and trying to learn two parts of an original, custom-written song on the fly – and not freaking out when I get it wrong! I’d found enough confidence in my abilities to think to myself “You know what? You only heard this for the first time ten minutes ago, and there’s not enough headphones for all of us. Just do your best!” The finished product was pretty good, even if I do say so myself!
I’m not sure how, but I somehow managed to build a reputation amongst my fellow choristers as the one to listen to when learning the harmonies. I do have a habit of practising my lines pretty thoroughly; probably because singing is something of an obsession for me, and a new song provides me with fresh focus for that obsession. Maybe I take it a little more seriously than is required, but knowing my part with confidence – and therefore being a useful member of the team – is a matter of pride. I don’t beat myself up anymore if it takes a couple of weeks before I get the hang of a song in rehearsals, since it’s a very different learning environment in comparison to listening to MP3s in your kitchen, but I do aim to get it right and be lyric sheet free as soon as possible.
Practising so regularly has had a positive impact on my voice, and it has gotten much stronger over the years, but I still feel I have so much more to learn and improve on. I made up my mind that I wanted proper vocal training, and found an online vocal coach through his free lessons on YouTube. After a while I signed up for some of his proper vocal training, which he delivers through video files and MP3s; lessons on breathing techniques, exercises to strengthen the range, and a selection of vocal warm-ups. I love what he produces, and his teaching style is very accessible. He is also twice as likely as I am to break into song at random! I must have used my playlist of his warm-ups almost every day for a year or two – especially when a performance was coming up – but ultimately I don’t tend to do all that well with self-learning courses. I managed to save up for one of his one-on-one lessons over Skype in 2011, and I was stunned by how much better he got me to sound during that hour, convincing me that I needed actual, traditional singing lessons. It’s taken me a while, but I have now gotten up the nerve to approach a local vocal coach and she’s been working with me every few weeks for the last few months. The first few sessions of my lessons were exclusively vocal exercises, designed to fix the issues and improve my voice as a whole. The first time I had to actually sing, though, was a very weird experience; it wasn’t my best performance, as I was getting the words a little mangled, I was singing along with a different arrangement than the one I regularly practise with, and I think nerves were obvious. About halfway through the song, I got all emotional and started crying – and I didn’t even understand why! I wasn’t particularly upset about anything, as far as I knew. My coach was fine with it – I don’t think it’s anything especially unusual in her line of work. I think perhaps part of it was the fact that I haven’t really sung a solo for anyone – other than karaoke with my colleagues, and that doesn’t count – since I was a child. Even my one ‘spotlight’ moment in choir years ago was a duet, and we only performed it once before that part got cut from the song. Singing alone for someone who is specifically there to provide feedback makes you vulnerable in a way I usually try to avoid. It’s still early days, but I have seen a difference in the way I approach singing as well as the sound I produce; I need to work on my breath control – my coach refers to my breathing as a ‘tsunami of air’! – and lowering my larynx so that my sound is less nasal, but we’re getting there!
Joining the choir at work was the first step of an ongoing journey, that I will never, ever regret. I’ve gotten to know wonderful people, performed at a wide variety of venues – including the Royal Albert Hall, where we actually shared the stage with Bryan Adams! – and basically had a blast doing something I love. Wednesday evenings and Thursday lunchtimes are now essential to my sanity, and even missing a single rehearsal makes me feel lost, somehow. I don’t know what I would do if I ever lost such an important part of my life.
Here’s a picture of Jayne so you can relate even more to her, although she writes so well that I bet you already feel like you know her a little already.
and here s another picture of Jayne that I found on our website at Sing & Inspire – she’s the one in red giving it the Jazz hands!
If any of you can relate to Jayne’s story in a way that you feel would benefit others I’d love you to comment below and/or share this story. I think everyone has had their confidence affected by their voice at some point or another. What I love is how Jayne has actually used her voice to help repair her self esteem.
So here’s my relevant #voicequote for todays story.
And here’s a lovely quote to leave you with……
When do you sing like no ones listening? I’d love to know
….. I think it’s a great idea to do a little singing like no ones listening often, because remember, it really is “all about the voice,” and when you use your voice more, you encourage presence, increase your confidence and feel great!
until next time my lovely bloggees…..