Tuesday, September 20, 2011
The Artist's Voice
No voice is more important than an Artist's voice. A political voice is full of lies, a religious voice is sprinkled with uncertainty, and a student's voice is concerned with winning approval. The Artistic voice is the voice that is brave enough to express itself with complete and unapologetic confidence. The Artist's voice can do this because it doesn't claim to have all of the answers, it only projects the feelings of the one carrying the voice. The Artist expresses what he feels and observes. He doesn't pass it off as fact. He sends it off into the world as an idea based on his experience, and he does it in a way that hits the listener in their emotional center.
I grew up nestled in a little arts community smack dab in the middle of a religiously oppressive city in the Bible Belt. Every form of artistic expression was like sticking our middle fingers up at the leaders of our town. You want to speak out against gays in the military? (Which is what happens when you mix military town with Southern Baptist run government) We will study the play "Angel's in America." You want to host a Promise Keepers conference, a sexist organization of men who vow to become the dominant rulers of the household? We will produce "The Vagina Monologues." You think Jews are less than Christians? Let's cancel an entire day of classes to watch "Schindler's List" and then have a panel discussion about it (yes, that really happened). Got a problem with the rising equality of blacks and whites? We will make every high school student read as many African-American authors as possible within the time frame of a school year. Why don't we learn to sing a few African-American spirituals while we're at it?
The lesson I learned is that Art is powerful. A strong Artistic voice belongs to someone who gets very quiet, goes deep within, and confidently shares what she finds. She doesn't care if you agree with her or not, and this is the secret to why Artists are the coolest people on Earth. My friend, Brett Anderson, who I can only describe as professional bad-ass and lead singer of "The Donnas," said to me the other day that "the only thing that makes you truly cool is when you stop giving a shit about what anyone else thinks of you." That is how an Artist thinks.
Some people will shiver at the idea of expressing yourself unashamedly, worried they will offend someone. The Artist knows without a doubt that it is impossible to never offend anyone. This cannot be done! So why waste your energy censoring your voice in the hopes of making everyone like you? Katie, my singing teacher, was critiquing me on my stage fright the other day. She told me that 99% of the population doesn't have the guts to get on stage and sing so I need to remember that what I do is special. That was powerful to hear and I wanted to extend the thought out to all kinds of Artists. I would stretch it out further by saying that 99% of the population doesn't have the courage to express themselves confidently and say what they really think, so remember that using your Artistic voice makes you special.
The 10th anniversary of 9-11 made me think about expression and censorship. Do you remember what it was like before 9-11 and then the day after? All of a sudden, critics were shunned. It was a terrible time to be an Artist. No dissenting opinion was allowed. Comedy was terrible because the only comics allowed on TV were the ones who cheered on that asshole in the White House. Music was either sentimental or emotionally bland and not at all challenging. TV stayed the same and writers were too scared to really say anything. Art just stopped and fear took over. This is one of the most devastating memories of our modern history. Don't you think it's time to get over the fear? I know I am tired of worrying about what other people will think of me if I open my mouth and show you how much emotion comes out of me when I sing. If you can't handle it, you can listen to something else. It won't bother me. There are plenty of other people in this world who still truly appreciate an Artist's voice and still work every day to cultivate their own. Those are the people I want to be around and those are the people I work for. When I stand in my rehearsal space and work through all the kinks in my voice, and I humble myself enough to cry through a song, I'm doing it for the ones who still care about real honest expression. I'm doing it out of respect for this sacred communication tool I call the Artist's voice.