Finding the essence of your work as an artist or teacher

Today, I want to share with you something that happened in a lesson I taught exactly 1 year ago. This event made me reflect on the very essence of my work as a teacher, coach and artist. I shared it on my Instagram back then, but wanted to share it with you now here on my blog too, since even a year after it happened, the takeaways from this event were so profound that they ended up shaping my own work towards a new direction. Here’s the whole story in its original form:

Something happened in a lesson I was teaching today. Something that has never happened before:

I started crying.

I’ve cried some tears in voice lessons before, but that was when I was in the role of the singer. Not in the role of the teacher and coach.

Yes, I’ve been touched by performances I’ve seen, by singers I’ve heard in the lessons I teach. But I’ve never burst into tears in a lesson from being so touched.

So here’s what happened:

I was working with a professional singer, who has been working on allowing her power to come out. Sound-wise, and technically speaking, it translates to things like accessing an even wider palette of dynamic and sound color possibilities. This singer can actually access powerful dynamics quite ‘easily’. The thing is, she told me, she’s been “keeping it down”, because other people had told her to do so.

But here’s the thing about “keeping it down”. (I’ll quote Marianne Williamson for this, because she writes about this so to the point in her book  “A Return to Love”) – 

“Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”

This singer is ready to not keep it down anymore. Something new is emerging. …or is it ‘new’? Perhaps it’s just her voice in its full glory. 🙂

In today’s lesson I asked her as usual, what she wanted to work on. “Well, I thought we could practice some things in some songs that my students used to sing.” I had her sing for me, and asked what specifically she wanted to work on. “Finding more texture in the softer parts” was her reply. We had a little talk about what the word “texture” meant to her, so that we could connect it to something tangible. And so we started the technique workout. We got the soft palate lifting, the mouth opening, the support fine-tuned. The singer said: “It feels like the opposite of what I’ve always done. But it feels good. And it sounds better.”

I said, “Ok, great, now let’s do one more run-through of the second chorus and the bridge”.

And then, as we did that, and she was a couple of phrases into her singing, I suddenly burst out in tears right there behind the piano. It completely caught me off guard.

It wasn’t the song that made me cry. With all due respect to John Legend, “Ordinary People” is not the type of song that would normally make me cry (or at least I thought so) 😉

What came out was so connected, open and powerful, that in that moment, even hearing “Mary Had A Little Lamb” would have made me emotional.

It wasn’t just “power” as in “a powerful sound”, “volume”, or all that other technical stuff. It was raw, pure, connected emotion flowing out. And it filled the whole room. It’s even hard to describe in words what I exactly felt in that moment… It was as if that singer’s whole being was connected in the sound that came out, and that was so powerful that it touched me on a soul-level.

Actually it caught the singer off guard too. We were both crying.

It was such a powerful and beautiful moment.

And then we dried our tears and did another technical workout – because the Buddha might have been enlightened, but he for sure spent many hours training in order to reach that state 😉

I wanted to share this with you, because this experience reminded me of two important things:

Firstly, “all we did” in that voice lesson today, was working on some technical things. But what came out as a result of that was far from technical.

So for all of you singers who are scared that working on vocal technique might “make you sound too technical”… there’s no need to be scared. See, we can get to the essence of things, to the soul, to “the magic”, through many routes. The technical is really not excluding “the magical”. In fact, the technical can help the magic to appear.

Photo by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash

Secondly, this experience reminded me of my big WHY.

You see, vocal technique doesn’t really matter to me that much.

“Hang on! What?!?!? How can you say that Katja, you’re a vocal technique teacher and all!”

Yes, so let me explain. Vocal technique is fascinating. It can be eye-opening. Liberating, even. It can help us create some magic. But vocal technique is not my WHY.

It’s not the essence of my work. I’m going to go as far as to say that singing is not the essence of my work either. Neither is music, writing, speaking, teaching, or any of the other things that I do. Those are all just tools.

The essence of my work is helping you find the connection to your own true voice, and to remove any obstacles that are holding you back from shining your light on other people.

As a voice geek, I should stay away from terms like “true voice”. Because it sounds too esoteric, it’s too subjective, and it’s not something we can scientifically measure anyway. But in all its unscientificness, it makes total sense to me.

I don’t mean “true voice” as in “You’re a soprano or an alto, you’re a jazz singer or a rock singer.” I mean “true voice” as you in all your light, not holding back any of your power or unique talents, but using those to spread more light. (And make vocal coaches burst out in tears from having been touched at a soul-level).

Speaking of “true voice”, here’s a confession about how I kept my own true voice silenced for many years:

I used to stay away from talking about the voice in “non-scientific, intangible terms”. I didn’t allow that part of me, the “spiritual side”, to exist in public. At least not in voice circles, where people talk about larynxes and muscles and subglottal air pressure, and look at things on spectrograms. Don’t get me wrong, all those things are extremely fascinating to the voice geek part of me.

But there’s also the philosophical part of me, the part that is fascinated by metaphysics. And the part of me that is intuitive, that works with and talks about intangible things like energy. The part of me that knows everything is connected: the voice, the body, the mind, the spirit, all living beings on this planet – everything is connected to each other and to the creative source.

For years, I tried to keep those parts separate from each other. But what I was doing, was in essence what this singer had been doing with “keeping it down”. I kept certain parts of me down, because I was afraid it would be “too much” for people, or because I thought “those things didn’t mix with the voice geek stuff”. (Although deep inside I knew they totally do).

The circle is completing now. All those parts of me are starting to work together, completing each other. All parts working together, in my teaching and in my art. Ten years ago I never thought I’d write this about my work, but I have come to learn that the essence of what I do is to connect, inspire, empower and heal❤

What’s your WHY?

If you’re ready to fully connect to your voice & artistry, and learn ways to tap the source, stretch your storytelling, embody your vocal technique and sustain in your creative work, here are some ways to get started:

  1. Join my community for lifelong learners who love everything about singing.
  2. Join the waitlist for Sing From The Source, my mentorship program for advanced singer-songwriters & performers.
  3. Interested in One-on-One coaching & mentoring? Schedule a call to discuss your dreams, goals, current obstacles & coaching needs.

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