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How I Cracked My Voice Wide Open

November 15, 2013 8 Comments
Meredith Monk - Tablet

WATCH “Tablet” (Live, 1981) with Meredith Monk, Andrea Goodman, Naaz Hosseini:

I was immersed in music from the time I was conceived. My parents were opera singers and my father also played oboe, while my mother played piano. As an embryo, I floated in a sound womb, music weaving my very being.

I popped out singing, or close to it. My father loved to tell the story of giving me my nightly bath at the age of two, and practically dropping me in the water when I sang, note for note and word for word, the Mozart aria he had been practicing for his role in “Figaro” at the New York City Opera. And, to top it off, I was perfectly in tune.

Singing and using my voice were first nature to me. I made up song stories throughout my very early years and danced them around the carpets.

I was completely confident, tuned in and free-flowing.

But like many girls, as I approached puberty, that confidence and out-loudness began to disintegrate. I became more and more shy about singing or speaking out. And in eighth grade, I clearly remember my very brusk science teacher who consistently called on the boys and disregarded the girls. I loved science and one brave day, I raised my hand, determined to tackle his difficult open-ended question. As I thought through the problem out loud, he impatiently dismissed my attempt and turned to the boy next to me. I never raised my hand in that class again.

After that, I was extremely guarded about sticking my neck out verbally. Even though I was a very good student and did more than what was expected of me, I was very hesitant about expressing an idea or asking a question. I became unwilling to reveal any amount of not knowing or not understanding.

There are many more parts to this story, but I’m going to jump ahead to the most pivotal moment of reclaiming my voice. And, it’s no wonder that that happened through singing rather than speaking, given my beginnings.

I had moved to New York City after college to train as a modern dancer with Viola Farber whose movements were amazingly lyrical and sharp at the same time. And perfectly musical. I was comfortable expressing my creativity non-verbally as a dancer and as a musician. I stayed away from verbal expression, words, that could incriminate or trap me.

I started my professional career as a singer and dancer with the Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians. How that came about is a story in itself, but you can take a look at her amazing piece called “Song” that I danced and sang in.

A few years later, I received a call from Meredith Monk asking me if I would be interested in joining her Vocal Ensemble. Absolutely! A visiting choreographer at my college had told me I should work with both Laura Dean and Meredith Monk when I got to New York City.

So, I found myself at my first rehearsal with Meredith. There were just three of us, Meredith, Andrea Goodman and me. I was about to learn Meredith’s vocal trio, “Tablet”.

I don’t think I knew quite what I was getting into.

I had been classically trained as a violinist. I had had no voice lessons, just a lifetime (minus a decade) of singing. And, as I stood at the piano, Meredith demonstrated the first phrase she wanted me to learn. You can hear it on the video at 13:14.

Meredith Monk  – “Tablet” (1981)

It sounded like a wild interplanetary bird screeching its territorial rights.

I think every system in my body froze for an instant as I hit a dead panic. And then my mind raced. “I can’t do this.” “I’m not going to make that sound.” “That’s crazy.” “Are you kidding me?” “What have I gotten myself into?” And so on, as my thoughts scrambled about in my brain.

But there I was, standing at the piano with two faces turned expectantly in my direction. And I mustered all my inner warriors and all the breath I could capture and let it rip. In that moment, my circumscribed, classical shell got one big crack right down the middle. And my freedom began to emerge.

As I continued to work (for nine years) with Meredith, who pioneered “extended vocal technique”, I soon became free to make any sound – I mean ANY sound, no matter how wild, unfamiliar, or surprising – publicly.

I later needed to find my own voice, but that’s also another story.

I hope you enjoy the video. If you’re familiar with Meredith’s amazing and continuing body of work, you’ll get a kick out of this piece of history. And, if you’ve never heard of Meredith Monk before, here’s a glimpse into her early, not her earliest, pioneering work that has been largely inter-disciplinary and always cutting edge.

If your voice is a bird locked in a cage, I hope this story will inspire you to look for the key.

I would love to hear from you. Please add your voice to the comments below.

© 2013 Naaz Hosseini. All Rights Reserved. Copying or reposting this content without written permission is strictly prohibited

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About the Author:

Naaz Hosseini

Naaz Hosseini is a communication coach and voice empowerment coach. She developed Powerful Presence™ coaching to help corporate and entrepreneurial women step into their vocal power to command the attention and respect they deserve. As a NYS Licensed Psychoanalyst and Qualified Gestalt Therapist, she supervises and trains mental health counselors at Teachers College Columbia University and therapists at the Gestalt Center for Psychotherapy and Training. She served as visiting faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education Project Zero Summer Institute for ten years where Howard Gardner has said, “With enthusiasm, I recommend Naaz Hosseini, a pioneer in using the voice and the body for understanding.”

Comments (8)

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  1. Caroline says:

    I love your story, Naaz. This is my story, too, so I thank you for putting it in words. I don’t sing, but I have ideas, and my entire life has been devoted to keeping quiet. I’m still stepping into my fullness after years of strangling self expression to the verge of extinction (terrible marriage, cancer, brushes with death). You write beautifully. Your voice is beautiful in every way.

    • Caroline,
      Thank you so much for reading my story and letting me know how it touched you. I am glad to hear that you are moving into your fullness. Let me know if I can help you in any way. Wishing you all that you are.
      Naaz

  2. Nathaniel Winship says:

    Who knew? Like many of our college classmates, our heritage and talents were hidden, and our futures unimagined. Despite all that, I cherish the memories of you that have survived for these 40 years, from Wesleyan to Paris, from Providence to hearing you accompany the wind on your violin here in NH. Cheers!

    • Nathaniel, what a treat to hear from you and to take a poetic glide back over the memories. I remember so vividly being in those New Hampshire woods, violin in hand, surrounded by trees as far as the eye could see, and stroking sounds that seemed to travel endlessly into the distance… and the future. Thanks for reading my post and being in touch. Naaz

  3. Peter Blum says:

    Wow – a very young Naaz – 32 years ago! Holy cow. You are so lucky to have this footage. And to have found a teacher like Meredith who would push your right out of your envelope… 1981 I was just finishing my 3 years of intense study of N. Indian classical music on sitar. The strange twists and bends that we all took to get us to where we are now, which of course, is not where we will be in the future. Let’s talk soon – I might be able to do Jan. 17 in Nyack… it’s just possible if things go well.

    • It sure is amazing, Peter. I am very grateful to be pushed out of that envelope and to have crossed paths with you to enter another realm of sound innovation. I am so glad that we will be doing our SoundBath in Nyack on January 17. Cracking open the sound barriers… opening the heart and soul. I will post it on this site soon!

  4. Kit says:

    Great story, Naaz! I love to sing, but unlike you, have no talent for it. I sing anyway (if you can’t sing well, sing loudly…)

    I think your experience with the science teacher is a common one for our generation. Interestingly, girls seem to out-number the boys in a STEM program my husband works with as an engineering mentor. Those kids are truly impressive.

    Maybe our struggles have made things easy for the next generation…I hope so.

    • Thank you for your response, Kit. It’s great to hear that your husband is an engineering mentor encountering girls interested in engineering. It’s wise to remember that the transitional years – and struggles – laid the groundwork for some exciting changes that are emerging NOW!

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