Different stages in life have their own times, and so do different kinds of abilities. Athletes peak young. Dancers peak young. Models peak young.
Singers peak old.
In the classical world, a “young singer” is any singer under the age of 40. A woman’s singing voice doesn’t even finish developing until she’s about 35, and a man’s develops a little earlier, but still in the late 20’s/early 30’s range.** So the 30’s aren’t even the peak — they’re just the beginning of the peak.
Being a singer is like this: let’s say you have an instrument, and you play it all the time. But every once in a while they take it away, raise the bridge, and put different gauge strings on it. Or you drop it, they fix it, and when they give it back, now it’s painted blue. And if you’re sick, or you’re in a bad mood, or you’ve stayed up too late, your instrument now plays only in E flat for the next week.
After you’ve been playing your instrument for years, you find that all these tiny incremental changes have made a big change overall. All of these adjustments — all of this living — have put more power, more strength, and more soul into your instrument than you ever dreamed of.
And maybe you find that, all this time, you thought you were playing a violin, but your instrument seems to have become a sitar. Or a trombone. Or whatever.
And, coincidentally, that thing it became? Secretly, that is the instrument you always wanted all along.
I believe that it takes 30-plus years for our bodies to begin to find our voices because that’s how long it takes our hearts to begin to resonate and sing at their true frequencies. For most of us, we spend years wandering in the dark, saying things we don’t believe, giving and taking disrespect, and trying to figure out who we really are and what we really want to say. It is not until well into adulthood (if then) that the dross begins to fall away to reveal hints of the gold underneath. Why then should our singing be any different?
The song makes the singer just as much as the singer makes the song.
Story: A few years ago, after years of singing with a beautiful, clear, church-choir soprano, I came out with a blues-mama belt straight from my gut. I was 32 years old, I had been singing regularly for decades — and I had never heard this voice come out of me before. The song came out when my heart was ready, and my voice came out to welcome the song.
Story: Several years ago, when I was having vocal problems, I found that if I said something I didn’t really mean (like “yes” instead of “no”), my throat tightened up and my problems got worse. For the sake of my singing voice, I had to truly think about my speech. I had to make sure that my voice was aligned with my heart.
Story: Around about the same time, I noticed that I could only sing without discomfort in Spanish! And then I realized that losing my ‘voice’ was not a new experience: when I was 4, my family moved from Spain to the U.S., and the other children teased me so much that I forgot Spanish. Losing my first language was my original sin, learning it again was my journey, and singing in it now — is redemption.
So: good luck to everyone. May you all make friends with yourself on the continuing journey to your heart’s true voice.