Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I'm Not Good Enough to Sing

"Culturally we've been scared away from our creativity by what my dear friend Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist's Way, calls creativity monsters--the voices from the past and present who criticize, attack, ridicule, and judge us, and who banish us from owning and expressing our creativity with joy and abandon....  They're the people who imply that creativity must be "good" in order to be valuable, who subject your work to public appraisal before you're allowed to join the club...
One of the problems that distances so many of us from our creative Spirit is the notion that being creative is synonymous with being a professional or an aspiring artist.  It's not.  It simply means making something new out of something that presently exists."
The Answer is Simple...Love Yourself, Live your Spirit!   Sonia Choquette

One of my older adult students often comments about singing – how she would love to sing, how she admires others who sing, but she herself does not have that gift.  Having heard her singing a bit in piano lessons I wondered why she was so hard on herself.  She sings on pitch and it’s a unique voice. 

In another lesson a first grader noticed the microphone sitting to the side of the piano and spoke about it for the first time.  I asked her if she would like to sing and she said that she’s uncomfortable singing.  She didn’t think she was any good.

A young adult has sung for weddings and in choirs, but admits in a small voice that her voice” wasn’t that good.”

I marvel at how three different students and ages six, twenty-three, and forty-two could have the same thoughts about themselves.  How they all have an innate yearning to sing, to express their own voice, not just allow someone else to speak for them.  And yet, they look around to see if anyone is looking who will not like it.  The sing with one eye open to the critic bound to appear.  And eventually, that critic becomes the voice in their own head.

Our culture of criticism regarding creative expression saddens me.  Judges of this, that, and the other believe they know where true beauty and art lie.  I always chuckle to myself.  If I go to a music college I will receive one answer and if I go to a pop recording studio I will receive another.  In a certain church I am a piano genius while in another, merely an amateur.   If we don’t naturally fit in these boxes we give up.  We figure the critics are right.  Why expose ourselves to more hurt?  The more we try to make our creative gifts fit into a box that has been built by someone else, either the less we will sing or the more we continue to sound like someone else.  I’m tired of acting, thinking, and trying to look like someone else in my own life.  I don’t want my son to feel he must be someone else to earn my love and approval.  In turn, my students need not sound like me, their church singers, or someone on the radio for me to love and be genuinely moved by their talents.

I consider myself, on occasion, a bit of a music snob.  It takes a lot for someone’s singing or playing to move me.  I can appreciate technical abilities, yes, but I’ve heard so many good players and singers that I tend to turn a deaf ear to a “good sound.”   It never ceases to amaze me the moments that catch me by surprise and I am moved.  A young student, about twelve or thirteen year old, was living house to house each week as a result of her parents divorce.  I saw a lot of stress in her life and did my best to help her enjoy singing.  She would take a deep breathe to sing and this tiny voice would flutter its way into the air and putter out.  She was defeated in her heart and it showed in her voice, literally.  One day I told her, as I’ve told so many students since then, “Everything you sing gives voice to where you have been, where you are, and where you are going.  No one has your life therefore no one has your voice.  It doesn’t matter the words you are singing in this moment, it matter that you embrace who you are.”  And so she sang and I was moved to tears.  I don’t remember what she sang or how good or bad the rhythm was.  I just remember that I heard, and maybe she did too, her.  It was the real her, the part of her that has so much to teach me and everyone in ear shot if they are willing to listen. 

I shared with my older student, afraid and convinced she could not sing the story of the first grader.  She covered her mouth with a gasp and tears filled her eyes.  She understood that she and the first grader had much in common.

We are told from an early age by people or society in general, that creativity is only good if it translates to popularity and success.  It is worth doing only when it is done correctly from beginning to end, otherwise, why bother?   Why be creative for your own pleasure?  Our culture pushes down the need of using creativity to move closer to God and our life purpose and instead, deems only valid those things which bring us trophies, material successes, and popularity.  As stated so eloquently here by Parker J. Palmer in his book Let Your Life Speak, “The difficulty is compounded by the fact that from our first days in school, we are taught to listen to everything and everyone but ourselves, to take all our clues about living from the people and powers around us.”

The more we “chase” those things that fill our soul and give it natural expression, the more we send ourselves the powerful message that what we have to offer the world is of value, even if no one else sees it.  Chances are if a student is stifling their creativity with music lessons, they are doing it other places as well.    I’m reminding of the Bible verse “Seek first the Kingdom of God…”  Yes, seek first to give voice to the spirit of God that resides in all of us.  Give it words, colors, or movement.  Let it sing.  You might be surprised how much you have been wanting and needing to say.  It may also amaze you how it can bless others.

It is rare to find that student who seems to have no self-criticism to block their inner flow of music.  I had a student once, and the best way to explain her gift was to say that I wasn’t teaching her anything.  I was only asking her to remember what she already knew.  It was as if she had been playing before because her brain and her body just knew what to do after I showed her once.  She was open to learning, I never saw her hang her head in shame or say “I’m sorry” for a mistake made while learning.  What a wonderful gift this student was to my life.   Being prideful and full of self-condemnation are two sides of the same coin.  That is the coin of blockage.  Both keep us from allowing our inner spirit to shine through.  Let us be so tender with ourselves and our children.  We never know in what moment their soul will choose to express itself.  When a person knows they are loved and safe, it is amazing what will bloom.

The next time you feel prompted to sing, write, or play – anything creative – take that moment and do it.  There is something inside of you that needs to come out.  Don’t judge it or try to make it perfect, just let it come out.  I will be cheering.


  1. "the coin of blockage"....so SO good
    and true
    and beautifully said!
    Love this.
    Bravo, brave you:)

  2. Thank you for stopping by Jennifer. I'm glad you loved it.

  3. Love this! I think it's a great metaphor for the music {passions, desires} we all have inside us. We tend to feel sheepish about sharing our voices if they're not "superstar" quality - thanks for encouraging us all to sing our songs out loud!

    1. Thanks for coming by, Liv. Sing! :-)

  4. Truly great post, Stephanie. I often feel judgmental of other singers too (not that I'm all that great) but when I sing, I sing from the heart and it's a form of prayer almost. It IS the feeling that matters most.

    1. Hi Naomi, I could not agree more! And when we listen with out hearts, not our judgement we share the beauty.

  5. Love this post, it speaks right to me. I have a huge issue with criticizing my work. I am going to come back and visit whenever I get into bad habits.

    1. Thank you MrsIngie, beautiful self-awareness. You are welcome here anytime!