There are many facets of getting older that are a bit rubbish, especially if you’re a woman:
Middle aged spread.
Greying hair and wrinkling eyes.
But there’s something gloriously liberating about letting go of caring about what people think.
Last night I overcame a lifelong fear of singing in front of strangers.
I sang a Joan Jett cover as part of a rock band, taking cues from the drummer and guitarist and having an absolute hoot.
My fear stems from a rather cruel rejection from the school choir at age 9 or thereabouts, in front of an assembly hall full of parents and children.
I was told to sing Sound of Silence but the key was totally wrong and I knew I gave a poor performance.
When I asked if I could do it again ‘a bit higher’ the music teacher laughed and said ‘I don’t think it’ll make much difference dear, just accept that the choir isn’t for you’.
So I’ve carried that rejection around as a belief that I can’t sing for almost 50 years.
Grasping the Opportunities
In September last year my son, Ben, brought his new business, The Rock Project, to South Lincolnshire and the surrounding areas.
Rock Project is an extra-curricular music school for 7-18 year olds which focuses on a combination of small group music tuition followed by a session in which each of the instruments (drums, guitar, bass and vocals) come together to perform the song they’ve been learning as part of a band, complete with amps and mics – the whole nine yards.
The kids absolutely love it. It doesn’t just teach them to play an instrument; it teaches them respect for others, teamwork, discipline, observation and communication skills and ultimately improves their confidence.
So what has all this got to do with me getting up there to sing since I’m most definitely not within the 7-18 age bracket?
Well, alongside the children’s sessions, Rock Project run what they call ‘Encore’ sessions. These sessions are designed for the grown-up kids who want to enjoy playing music together while learning or honing new skills.
I’ve been helping Ben to get the business set up and running with a bit of admin as well as acting as ‘door operative’ (or whatever the PC version of doorman is!) for the end of term ‘Encore Gig’.
The Encore Gig is where all the adults come together from each of the 4 weekly Encore sessions, to put on a rock concert for their family and friends. For many it’s their first experience of playing in public and for some it’s the realisation of a long-standing ambition to perform on stage.
Watching these guys showcasing the work they’d done over the previous 3 months was so inspiring. I kept thinking ‘I wish I had the courage to do that’.
But of course, the nagging words of my primary school music teacher began shouting in my head – BUT YOU CAN’T SING!!!!!!
Over the Christmas and New Year break my son and his girlfriend Deanna (who runs the Rock Project Berkshire sessions and is an AMMAAAAZING singer) gave me the inspiration to give it a go. Telling me that my singing voice was fine, and just as good as the other vocalists at Rock Project.
Obviously I didn’t believe them, but I caved in and promised I’d give it a try. After all I spend my life helping other women to overcome their limiting beliefs so I should at least be willing to take a spoonful of my own medicine.
I also reassured myself that my own son surely wouldn’t let me make a complete and utter fool of myself. Especially since he’d be there to witness my embarrassment and would have to endure the shame of admitting that that was his mum wailing like a banshee – you know how well parents can make their kids cringe!!
So, armed with the knowledge that this was at least a safe place to face my fears, I signed up for a free taster session.
The first sessions is always free then, if you like it, you can join for the term. Most do. But I just wanted to prove to myself I could fight the fear and sing in front of strangers and I had no intention of putting myself through that pain more than once!
I had the perfect opportunity to test my courage in a safe environment. And, since I couldn’t actually come up with enough good reasons to bail, last night I pitched up for my taster session.
Overcoming the Fear
I have to say right from the very moment I entered the main entrance of the school I felt at ease. Ellie, the vocal tutor, along with Jack and Wayne, the guitar tutors whom I’d met a couple of times before, were there to greet me with a relaxed smile and a warm welcome.
I’d planned not to let on that I was Ben’s mum, but that went out of the window as he came bounding down the corridor, all 6 feet 3 inches of him, shouting ‘yay, mum, you came!!’.
Next I met Nikki, the only other vocal student. I’d seen Nikki perform at the Encore Gig, and if I’m honest, she was a major factor in me being here. She’s around about my age, bubbly and friendly and I felt immediately at ease.
Ellie took Nikki and I off to a classroom where we did some warm-up exercises (nothing is more likely to overcome any inhibitions than blowing weird raspberries up and down the musical scales!). Then we started to learn the song that the Encore students had democratically voted to be one of 6 that they would learn over the next 12 weeks.
To say I was nervous would be a massive understatement. I could literally feel my knees trembling as Ellie got us to sing the first few opening lines of ‘I Hate Myself for Loving You’ by Joan Jett.
I’d only heard the song for the first time that morning and had spent my lunch hour trying to learn the tune.
But the most surprising thing happened as the sounds left my mouth….
I didn’t think I sounded too bad!
In fact, neither Ellie or Nikki winced, or laughed or even joked about how out of tune I was.
Even more shocking was when Ellie said my pitching was spot on.
Of course, I immediately heard the little voice in my head say ‘ah but they’re only being nice’.
Despite the inner voice, I carried on. I learned about where in the head the different sounds come from. How to move the voice around so that it takes pressure off the vocal cords. How to move the voice backwards and forwards, and how to breath from the diaphragm and not the chest.
The 45 minute lesson flew by and before I quite knew what was happening Wayne was at the door gesturing for us to go through to the main hall where the other students had gathered with their instruments.
This was the big moment. It was one thing singing with Nikki and Ellie to a karaoke track on a laptop – but now I was expected to sing into a microphone while watching the drummer, Ben, cue us in and then watching the lead guitarist who would let us know when to come back in after his guitar solo.
For some reason I assumed we (the singers) would be facing away from the band – as you would expect on a stage. But instead we were all facing inwards so we could see each other. This meant I was staring straight at Ben and the other drummer, another new lady called Hilary.
There was a monitor in front of Nikki and I, basically a speaker that pointed back at us so that we could hear ourselves over the din of the drums and electric guitars.
As Ben got me to speak into the mic the full realisation that I was about to sing in front of a room full of strangers, and not only that, my voice was going to be amplified and blasted around the hall for everyone to hear.
After a few minutes Ben’s voice cut through the din of noise, letting everyone know he was going to count us in.
One, two, ah one, two three four….
And there I was.
Singing my heart out and suddenly not really caring that anyone could hear me. The only sign of nerves was my hand vibrating violently as I tried to read the printed lyrics.
I messed up a couple of the lyrics (there’s a lot of words to get into a very small gap in that song!).
I’m fairly sure my pitching was off at times.
But no one seemed to notice or even care.
At the end of the song Ellie told me I was completely in tune and she couldn’t believe I was as scared as I was.
We went through the song 3 more times and with each one I felt my confidence growing.
What last night showed me was that actually I’m not that bad (I know I’m no Adele, but hey, not that bad is good enough for me!!).
It also taught me that it’s not about being good, it’s about enjoying the process, learning and having fun.
No one judged me.
No one laughed.
And no one told me that singing isn’t for me.
Embarrassingly, I had a bit of a cry.
But Ellie was amazing.
She said singing in front of people is like baring your soul.
You feel vulnerable.
The wonderful Brenee Brown says you can’t have courage without being vulnerable.
Last night I felt very vulnerable.
All my years of self-doubt and fear were exposed.
But I feel incredibly proud that I found the courage to lean into my vulnerability and give it a go.
I drove home on a bit of an adrenaline fuelled high belting out ‘I hate myself for loving you’ as loud as my lungs would let me.
As a coach and a recently qualified NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) Practitioner I know all too well how often we let limiting beliefs and fear get in the way of what we want to achieve.
Fear is just a word.
Most of the time it’s not real. It’s just a feeling to which we give our own meaning.
Physically our body reacts to both fear and excitement in exactly the same way.
But depending on the source of the feeling that created the physical response, we either give it a meaning of scary or exhilarating.
I chose to go with exhilarating and oddly, it turned out to be just that.
NLP not only helps us to understand how our mind may be holding us back but provides tools and techniques to help us change our thinking and overturn some of our limiting beliefs into more resourceful and empowering ones.
So I wonder, what are you avoiding that you’d love to do, but limiting beliefs and fear are stopping you?
Whatever it is, just go and do it. Be vulnerable and find your courage.
I’ll leave you with this Brenee Brown quote…
“What’s the greater risk?
Letting go of what people think – or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?”
The Rock Project Lincs meet in Stamford, Corby, Wisbech and Spalding on Monday to Thursday respectively.
If you’re outside of the Rock Project Lincs catchment, visit http://www.therockproject.com/ to find out if there’s a Rock Project in your area.