I took a temporary vow of silence recently. It was only for a day and it was for therapeutic reasons.
My voice has been ravaged by all the nasty things that go on in your throat during a ‘flu that’s lingered around for the past few weeks.
The strangled squeaks that emerged from my head quickly made it clear that I wasn’t ready to return to singing lessons last week. My teacher ordered total voice rest for 24 hours so that we could assess what was going on.
As a musical director and coach to countless performers in Australian music theatre and cabaret, it’s the sort of thing he prescribes to help professional singers preserve their voice when the show simply must go on.
As he put it to me quite bluntly: “your voice sounds like you’ve been doing two shows a day.”
Yes, it’s called the coughing show. It’s live (just), it’s acoustic and it’s not very entertaining.
So there are no singing shows to explain my mangled voice. However, as an amateur singer learning to deal with stage nerves, I’m still chuffed about experiences in Cambodia last month.
As well as enjoying a great night of bonding over karaoke with the local Khmer staff from work, I did a couple of songs with the house band at a new friend in Phnom Penh’s restaurant.
Back in Melbourne when my teacher imposed silence, it all sounded quite straightforward but then I got home and the phone started ringing. What would we have done before text messages made it possible to arrange rainchecks on those conversations without speaking?
The fascinating thing I discovered is just how much I use my voice, even when I’m on my own.
I know sing a lot – virtually anywhere, anytime, anything.
That was until this enforced muteness, when I found that time after time a few lyrics would slip out before I caught myself. Then back to silence.
For me, singing everyday is a joyful part of life. It’s right up there with laughing, which was also banned for the day.
Potentially more disturbing was my other big realisation: I talk out loud to myself, quite a bit.
They’re not whole conversations, just little snippets:
• Sometimes it’s instructions: “Right, time to…”
• It can be questions pondered: “Shall I…?”
• When I’m running, it’s pep talks to keep me motivated or celebrate a milestone: “Well done… you can do it…”
• Or when I’m writing, it’s often testing words and sentences out loud to hear how they sound.
Is this something you do? Perhaps like me, you do it without thinking about it?
Of course you may not be in a rush to admit it, given talking to yourself has been described as the first sign of madness.
However, if you look around online – as I did after I started thinking about all of this – it seems there’s research that suggests it’s actually good for you. Apparently it strengthens things like self-control, willpower, decision-making and contributes to self esteem.
So here’s a challenge: try a period of silence for a day and see what you learn about yourself.
Not sure you have the staying power? First tell yourself you can do it… out loud.