“Frogs were the first in the evolving animal world to develop a true voice. Pushing air into their pouches, across vocal cords, frogs produce a variety of sounds, from trills and whistles to grunts and chuckles, depending on the species. Each species actually sings its own unique tune, which has now become an important mechanism for identification. All of us have our own songs to sing, in the celebration of life.” -Linda Jade Fong
I get to hear the frogs for most of the year. They live on the river banks of the Upper Iowa River, or in the rain garden on the north end of a campus. I happen to live in a college town. It’s a small town and a small private college, but the presence of the school nonetheless enriches the lives of the citizens in the community. At various times of the year, we have opportunities to hear national speakers on current topics, watch athletic events, attend classes, observe whatever is current in the lives of students, attend plays, or enjoy concerts. Of course, we don’t have to partake in any of these activities, but it’s certainly a nice benefit to have the choice to do so. And, of course, we have the frogs.
The college is Luther College. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful campus settings in the entire country, further adding to its value to the community. And Luther College boasts (appropriately, I think) one of the most accomplished music programs in the country, as well. Its 600+ member combination of orchestra and vocal choirs annually stages a musical performance that is, by any measure, exquisitely professional. The crystalline sounds of the voices from each of the six ensemble choirs is an emotional experience worthy of the distances that audiences often travel in order to be swept away to yet another place altogether.
Of course, development of exquisite sounds requires great determination, practice, exceptional teaching and exhaustive coaching. Members of the choirs work one-on-one with voice coaches to cultivate and extract the very best from themselves, to discover the ranges and tones and expressions that will wring tears of sheer joy from those who have the good fortune to hear them. A voice coach can “reach inside” of the student to bring forth the unique character of sound residing within. The result is nothing short of astonishing.
I have thought about the remarkable role that voice coaches play. When students first arrive on campus, they are, for the most part, only full of potential. But raw talent requires forming and nurturing, confidence and a calling, a shaping capable of creating not just beautiful expression, but reflecting an essence of life. Through voice, we have the privilege to glimpse the soul, and to know its most basic self. In many ways, that peek into the spirit is a great gift.
By truly hearing the voice of another, we are gifted with the opportunity to respond to it, with our own precision and perfection, to that individual’s deepest need. We are given the chance to fully hear and know that which could confer a greater well-being, a connection between us, a promise of mutual strength. There may be few gifts so important or precious as those which meet the deepmost needs of another.
It’s a rare skill, this voice-coaching. To enable others in the full scope of their expression requires more patience and selflessness than most of us possess. Encouraging others to venture out beyond the boundaries of comfort and reticence calls for the full valuation of one’s own voice. Only then can there exist a belief in the intrinsic value of others’ voices and an elevation of their self-esteem, sufficient to enable confidence of articulation. Voice coaches bring vision to sounds. We need the tonic of their inspiration.
Among our own varied, daily aspirations, being a voice coach should rank somewhere near the top of our lists. Coaxing others in the practice of their own voice makes us more equal. It’s enabling. Voices together, like those which have been coached in ensemble choirs, are more powerful than solos, and capable of achieving more than any one alone. Not incidentally, releasing the power of voice is one of the coaching jobs most important to WPF in Nicaragua.
We each deserve the release of our own voice. It’s a little like those frogs I mentioned above. It’s the music of life and fulfillment, the integral piece of the sound that is full humanity. And I am especially energized at the realization that we can be, each of us, voice coaches to others. Just listen, sometime, to the frogs….