Where’s your voice?

When I was young, I used to take singing lessons. I had a romantic dream of singing in musicals, especially ones like West Side Story. In my fantasies, I would, of course, play the role of Maria, the star-crossed teenager, styled after Shakespeare’s Juliet. If I couldn’t be Maria in West Side Story, I would have accepted my close second fantasy, and play the role of Maria in The Sound of Music. (Yes, perhaps it was only a fascination with characters named Maria.) Although my voice lessons progressed well and I participated in many local Kiwanis musical competitions, and sang in choirs well into my university years, I wasn’t gifted with an exceptional voice that would lead to a career as a vocal star.

silver colored microphone
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Nevertheless, I was gifted with a vocal teacher who believed anyone can sing. And I suppose, at some level, that is true. Or rather, she believed anyone can be taught to sing, even if that means just learning enough to be able to hold a tune. Never having had to teach someone how to sing, I can’t speak to how challenging that task might be, but one thing I know is that my vocal teacher based her teaching philosophy on the fact that everyone has a voice.

Every single student who walked through my vocal teacher’s studio doors came with their own voice. Some were good, some bad, some excellent, and some perhaps in-between. But we each came in with our own unique voice, abilities, limitations — with our selves.

When I think about writing, I think about how this idea of voice is so important. For instance, in their book, The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry, Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux write that voice is “an unmistakable something that becomes the mark of a writer, a way of saying things that is the writer’s own.” (p. 115) They discuss how beginning writers have to learn to find their own voice, and how this process happens through a great deal of reading and writing of (in this case) poetry.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my own voice as a writer, and how that voice is shaped by my early musical training, both in piano and singing. I’m realizing that my connection to music runs deeper than I had previously realized. And as I explore this connection, I find my writing style strengthened as I seem to be coming into my own voice.

And, like my singing teacher, Addonizio and Laux acknowledge that in fact, all writers, at all levels “have a voice already” (p. 115). In other words, it’s possible that as writers, we don’t really need to find our voices because we already have them. Instead, perhaps we just need to stretch our voices, nurture them, nourish them in the same way we might if we wanted to become professional singers.

So as I explore my own connections to music and how they shape me as a writer, do I need to “find” my voice? I don’t think so. I already have one, as do you. Now all that’s left for us to do as writers is to use them.