becoming a self in history, becoming a self in my street

Maria Mountain

I have always loved to sing. When I was young I used to play records of my favourite singers and sing along with great gusto and feeling. Later I went to university to study psychology. I wanted to learn about people – myself, and others, and to learn how we could live together in a more mutually helpful way. One day I heard the university choir sing some hauntingly beautiful contemporary classical music. It so moved me that I changed my BA to vocal music. Unfortunately for me the course did not go well. I did not have enough life experience to know that it would have been better for me to stop and find something more suited to my needs. I just thought that I was not good enough. The course was focused on producing opera or classical singers who could become well-known and give the music faculty more and more glory. I was just a very little cog in a big wheel. I was made the responsibility of the newest singing teacher in the faculty. She had only just started teaching and all the ‘weaker’ singers were grouped with her. She resented this and our relationship was never easy.  

I passed my four year course but I completely lost my natural singing voice. My voice actually became hoarse whenever I tried to sing for more than a few minutes. Another source of pain was that I was on the edge of the close-knit music faculty, and yet I never could find a way to belong. I found all this meant I had little self respect.

I spent the following twenty years blocked; my life was full yet something was missing. Five years ago I went to a singing workshop. We spent a few days singing rounds, gospel, African, and other world music, as well as talking. We all told each other our stories. I found to my amazement that I wasn’t alone – there were a lot of damaged singers struggling to find their voice again! At the end of those few days, just before my friend and I were due to leave, I found myself unexpectedly in floods of tears. The relief I experienced in those days of being together and singing lovely music felt like opening a dam in my soul; I felt a river of communication flowing between my soul and my voice. I had reconnected with what had been missing for so long.

This was an important glimpse into a world that I longed to re-inhabit, but I was still too ‘messed up’ for my struggles to be resolved through that one experience. I continued to try and find my way musically despite the shadow of inadequacy undermining my efforts.

One day, after all this effort and struggle, the gods found the right moment to get through to me. I was driving in my car, somewhere quite unrelated to music in any way, thinking of nothing in particular. I found myself thinking, ‘I don’t have to like classical music to be a genuine singer; I am allowed to love other types of music instead, and this doesn’t mean that I have failed!’ As simple as it was, this thought unlocked my capacity to find myself musically after years of judging myself with the values of my college. I was freed by this moment and I set out on a journey to becoming ever more vocally rich. Joy in song is mine again after twenty five years of struggle and self doubt.