FINDING MY VOICE
By Scott Kalechstein
I sing. I sing as part of my livelihood. I sing for my supper, and I am happy to say that I am not going hungry - although friends who watch me eat after a concert might disagree! I pay the rent, take care of bills on time, and go to movies, all with the money I earn from offering my musical gifts. People who hear me sing often assume that I've been a singer forever. The truth is that most of my life I did not sing, and finding my voice was quite an adventure for me.
I was one of those people who believed either you are born with a natural talent for singing or you are doomed to be a non singer all your life. This was a curious thought, because I had started from scratch with both the violin and guitar, and stumbled through learning to play them over time. When I took up guitar I knew that I would eventually, with the help of my weekly lessons, become a guitar player. Yet somehow it did not enter my mind that I could take singing lessons and learn how to sing.
Much to my delight I found out that the voice is just another instrument, and that it can be developed through exercises, practice and persistence. In a few years I went from playing my guitar without singing to making my own recordings and putting myself out in the world as a (gulp!) professional singer. What happened? How did I take such a leap? I'm glad you asked . . .
Please allow Me to explain. (You have no choice!) In my college years I took an anthropology course called Magic, Witchcraft and Sorcery. This was a fascinating course that sent my young mind soaring with ideas to ponder. Basically, under the guise of anthropology, we were learning about the power of beliefs to create reality. We learned about how refugees from Haiti were mysteriously dying in Florida hospitals. Doctors could not find anything wrong with them and were unable to help. Then someone summoned a Haitian witch doctor who diagnosed the remaining patients as the recipients of a spell. He recited some incantations over the sick people, and color instantly came back to their skin. They walked out of the hospital within hours!
We learned about a "primitive" culture in Africa that did not believe that having babies had anything to do with having sex. These people had no concept or need for birth control. The women in the tribe would freely have intercourse for years with no pregnancy. One day they would receive a vision. In an altered state they would experience being impregnated by Spirit. Their experience of conception was completely nonsexual!
The course opened my eyes to the relative nature of reality. At the conclusion, the professor recommended a few books to those of us who were interested in further study. One of those books was Illusions, by Richard Bach. Illusions became my Bible, and I carried it around everywhere. Through that book and others like it, Life was saying to me, "Scott, you can do anything you truly want to do. That's what life is for. All limitations are illusions held in place by your worship of the word impossible. Take away that word, and the whole game changes."
What does this have to do with singing? Lots! Although I adored music, I had successfully convinced myself that I was not and never could be good enough to pursue it as a career. Talk about casting a spell! When I left college and began my training to become a rebirther, music was just a hobby. I had written a few songs, but I didn't sing to others. I had no confidence in my musical talents, although secretly I fantasized about becoming a singer. I was very surprised when one of my rebirthing trainers said to me at the end of class, "Scott, I'm never wrong about these things. When I look into your eyes, I see music. My intuition is that music will become a very important part of your life purpose."
Her prophecy was exciting to my soul, and threatening to my mind. Although I could feel a kettle of songs brewing inside of me, I was convinced that becoming a singer was a fantasy not worth indulging. But the stove was lit and the teapot was starting to whistle. My secret dream was reaching the boiling point.
One day I was listening to a barber shop quartet singing a cappella on a street corner in Greenwich Village. Singing along, as usual, under my breath, I was feeling enchanted and swept away by the beautiful harmonies. Then one of the singers in the circle asked his buddies, "Hey, does anyone know the lead to that new Bill Joel song on the radio, "The Longest Time?" Everybody lit up, knowing it was a perfect song for their style of singing, but no one knew the lyrics all the way through.
They were about to drop it and start on another song, when a hand went up from somewhere within the audience. I noticed it was attached to my arm. Then a voice piped up, coming somewhere from the vicinity of my throat! "I know the song!" I exclaimed, in a tone of authority I must have borrowed from the gods for that moment. The quartet, slightly surprised that someone outside their circle was inviting himself to lead a song, allowed me in. I got into the center. My knees were shaking, and it wasn't because I was imitating Elvis. I was so scared I'm convinced my angelic cheerleaders were working overtime to help me get through this. The quartet started the song with the background oohs. I opened my mouth and started singing. I noticed some vibrato in my voice that I had never heard before. Maybe it was from my terror! When I was finished, the quartet applauded me and I slipped into the I crowd, aware that my life had suddenly turned a corner and a new direction had opened up. I could no longer pretend to myself. Music was not just a hobby it was a passion, and I burned to find out if there was a singing voice in there to discover. I started taking lessons, but even more significant than that, I started singing in front of people, at any opportunity.
I remember a deal I made with God at that time. "OK, God, you gave me this love of music and song. I can't think of anything in the world I'd rather do than celebrate life through singing. I'm going to bet that if you gave me the dream, then you will guide me on the path of having my dream come true. I'm going to take these lessons, God. I'm also going to sing privately and publicly, at any chance I get I'm going to become a singing fool, God. And I will trust that with each song I sing, You are helping me to develop a beautiful voice that I can use to spread joy on this planet. God, here's the deal. I'll open my mouth. You make me a singer!"
Well, I did follow through on my part of the deal. I sang in my apartment. I sang for my friends. I sang on the sidewalks of Greenwich Village. I even tried my craft at Folk City., a club where Simon and Garfunkle, James Taylor and Joannie Mitchell performed. The club had weekly open mikes where people like me could have eight minutes on stage. For my eight minutes I sang an original song and I performed some comedy, which was a form of expression. I felt much safer with. When I was done, an old friend who had been in the audience said to me "Great comedy Scott. You should stick to just comedy, though". I felt crushed. His comment invalidated the part of my performance that I was most hopeful and vulnerable about. Walking home, I allowed my hurt to turn into a delicious determination. "I won't let him dampen my enthusiasms!" I'm going to keep on singing and get really good at this. One day I'll make a beautiful tape of my songs and mail it to him with a note; "never put a wet blanket on somebody's dreams again!"
I stayed with the singing lessons, the voice exercises, and gradually noticed improvement. With each lesson, there was more of my true voice to channel through. It was as if I were building a vocal pipeline for the sweetness of my soul to find its expression. My friends noticed my progress and told me so. their encouragement was a valuable part of my confidence building.
I remember when I met Charlie Thweatt. Charlie is a bonafied New thought Minstrel man! He travels nationally and does exactly what I was aspiring to do. Charlie had a beautiful singing voice and I was instantly intimidated and jealous of his gifts and success. I managed to put those feelings aside long enough to spend some delightful, playful, connecting time with him. We took out our guitars and I shared some of my songs. When I was finished, Charlie looked into my eyes and projected a laser beam of love and support my way.
After a minute or two of soulful penetrating eye contact, he broke the silence with words that sailed into my heart like a shooting star. "Scott, I think your music is meant to be heard and appreciated by many, many people. "I felt in that moment Charlie was a voice for the universe, and I was being called to my calling, summoned to my ministry by a fellow music minister.
A few moments later, self doubt that old and worn out shoe, began its sermon in my head. I decided to share my thoughts with Charlie. "But I'm nowhere near as good as you, Charlie," I whined. "I'll never he equal to you!" His response was one of the most helpful things anyone has ever said to me. Shrugging his shoulders, he casually replied, "Equal? Who cares about being equal, just have fun!" Fun? Did he say fun? What about comparing and judging and striving to be better, better, best? What about being so good that everyone loves me and nobody rejects me?
I suddenly saw through my ego smokescreen, the complex maze of self protecting motivations. Was I singing to redeem myself from an imagined sense of unworthiness? Was I hoping to use my talent to convince the world, my parents and myself that I was lovable? Were these the real hunger pangs of every starving artist, the pain of seeking love through performance? The words just have fun cut through all that red tape and put me right in touch with my heart's purpose for my musical expression. They became my constant reply to the steady diet of "not good enough" thoughts that passed through my brain on a daily basis. Thank you, Charlie, for your encouragement, for your love, and for baptizing me with a sacred mantra that has helped me break the spell of disbelief in myself: just Have Fun!
A law that I lived by in those days was never to miss an opportunity to play my music for new ears. Wherever I went, my guitar went with me. Health food stores became concert halls while I was shopping. Subway commuters unwittingly became an audience. If you wanted to be in my life, you were going to have to listen to my music. Friends would call me up and ask how I was doing. My reply often was, "Great! Would you like to hear my latest song?" Actually, it was more of a demand than a question. I was in love, and like all new lovers, I couldn't contain myself! My beloved had been locked in my throat for most of my life. Now I was freeing my singing voice from years of self judgment and imprisonment. I guess I had some catching up to do!
As time went by I was asked a certain question more frequently, a question that thrilled me to no end. "Do you have a tape?" You might say it was music to my ears! Eventually I made my first tape. A year later I knew my gifts had matured, so l made another. Then another in the next eight years. I went on to create nine recordings of my music. Each time in the recording studio I learned more about developing my craft. Each time I noticed my voice was richer, fuller, more pleasing to the ears. My singing voice was like a neglected kid that had been given some love and attention. It had sprouted, grown and blossomed over time. Often I feel like a proud parent who, in the face of popular medical opinions, had successfully taught their wheelchair bound child to get up and walk.
How many dreams do we toss in the closet, never challenging the spells of not good enough and impossible? How many neglected children live inside us, in the forms of secret passions that are not being allowed to develop because we are afraid of doing something poorly, and so we don't do it at all?
I think back on all the years I had lived my life with my voice in the closet. I reflect on how convinced I was that I was not a singer and never would be. Thank God I was wrong about my limitations. Thank God we are all wrong about our limitations!
Scott Kalechstein is an author, inspirational speaker, recording artist and performer who resides in Encinitas. California "Finding Your Voice" is an excerpt from his soon to be published book. for concert dates, or to order books or tapes, please call (619) 492-8726
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