“Our voices have been silenced. And it’s not doing us any good.”

A brilliant and moving TEDx talk by Australian singer and social entrepreneur, Tania de Jong AM on how voice makes us healthier, happier, and connects us as a community.

This is a perfect video to watch today, which is World Voice Day! Tania says,

The neuroscience of singing shows that when we sing, our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways. firing up the right temporal lobe of our brain, releasing endorphins, that make us smarter, healthier, happier, and more creative. And you know what’s really great about this? When we do this with other people, the effects are amplified.

See guys, this is what voice coaches have known for ages. When you sing or speak, free of judgment, you feel good. You feel connected to others and alive and empowered.

Last week, a friend called me on Skype. She’s been going through some tough stuff lately, and it all seemed to be catching up with her in an intense way. I listened. There wasn’t a lot of constructive advice for me to give, really. She just needed to be heard. She told me that she did some yelling and screaming in anger, which is a really good release, but I thought, perhaps she’ll feel better if we sing together. So we did, via Skype, sitting on two very different continents. She felt better, I felt better. We did something beyond rationalizing or neurotic analyzing. We just breathed and vibrated.

As an adoptee living in Seoul and working in social justice, I believe this type of work can heal trauma but also be just as radical and effective as a type of activism as protests or petitions (watch the video in full to see how singing together has enabled and affected concrete social change). There is space for all these types of activism and they all serve unique and vital functions. As Tania says, we need to step out of all our boxes. And that includes oppressive identity boxes as well. We need to breathe and resonate together and enjoy the time we can be in our bodies with others in safe and creative spaces.

I will be teaching my first voice and empowerment workshop specifically for Korean adoptees here in Seoul in May and my first workshop for women in NYC in June (details to come!). This is the way I am choosing to engage and enrich the lives of others. This is the way I choose to use my gifts and teaching and time to be an activist. And it is amazing.

Happy World Voice Day, everyone. I am so happy and grateful to be doing what I’m doing and to be supporting others in finding their voices onstage and off, in our classrooms, in our society, for ourselves.

 

“What the pill provides is an opportunity…”

This NPR story caught my attention for obvious reasons – I’m a voice teacher and of course I’m interested in the idea of learning perfect pitch as an adult. I’m also a bit paranoid after the person I happen to live with keeps talking about how robots will be taking all of our jobs. I see things like this and I’m worried that even voice teaching will be left to the Cylons in our near future.

But as usual, this sort of thing is deliciously complicated. The drug discussed is Valproic Acid, which is used as a mood stabilizing drug. This study, led by Takao Hensch, was investigating its effects on the plasticity of the human brain. It seems as if the subjects were able to learn perfect, or absolute pitch, which opens up a lot of possibility for all types of skill acquisition, particularly language learning. Perfect pitch is generally a skill thought to only be learned quite early in life.

The part that was most intriguing though was Hensch’s caveat in terms of our learned and performed identity:

I should caution that critical periods have evolved for a reason. And it is a process that one probably would not want to tamper with carelessly … If we’ve shaped our identities through development, through a critical period, and have matched our brain to the environment in which we were raised —acquiring language, culture, identity — then if we were to erase that by reopening the critical period, we run quite a risk as well.

It is fascinating to reflect on the idea of how and why we have shaped our identities through our development and environment and how the brain loses plasticity, a view of ourselves become much more fixed. I’ve noticed recently how many people like to cling to absolute narratives about themselves using words like “always,” “can’t” and “never” (ie: “I was never into singing” or “I always avoid confrontation”) and I wonder where and how do things become fixed in our sense of who we are. Culturally, this has interesting implications for those of us who grew up as part of diaspora or those who simply moved around a lot as children. What would happen to our identity and sense of who we are if we changed the plasticity of our brain in a different cultural context during adulthood?