I’ve known what I wanted to do with my life since before I was born.
I cannot recall a single moment in this lifetime when I was without the knowledge that I came here to be a singer.
My mother tells the same cliché stories that all parents of performers tell—stories of singing melodies to me in my crib, only to hear me echo those melodies back to her long before I could speak.
My mother was a fine singer in her own right. She sang in the choirs of our local mega-church in suburban Chicago, which boasted a congregation of more than ten thousand.
When I was nine years old, I started taking vocal lessons with my mother’s teacher at church, who was quite taken with my talent. As the result, I was blessed with all kinds of musical opportunities. As a fourth grader, I sang for an audience of thousands, auditioned for Star Search in downtown Chicago, and performed the not-so-age-appropriate role of Lady Macbeth. (Don’t worry, some of the more gruesome lines were edited out. But I did get to exclaim, “Out, damned spot!” several times over again).
My world was turned upside down when my family decided to move to my dad’s hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. There was no clear reason why this decision was made. To this day, the only explanation I’ve been able to get out of my parents is that they just didn’t like Chicago.
Needless to say, the culture in Tulsa was quite different from what I was used to. There was no mega-church to sing at and no bustling city to explore. As my mother has often remarked:
“In Tulsa, all the moms showed up at school drop-off in full hair and make-up. Their ten-year-old daughters went shopping by themselves and got spray tans so they could compete on their extra-curricular cheerleading teams!”
I knew immediately that Tulsa would never be home.
So, what’s a child performer to do in Tulsa, Oklahoma? Community theatre, of course!
I performed in my first musical at a local theatre and was hooked. Little did I know that my world was about to be turned upside down twice over again. That summer, six months after moving to Tulsa, I spent four weeks at Interlochen Arts Camp, away from my parents for the first time.
About a month after I came home, my family decided to move again: this time to Portland, Oregon. The decision was a hasty one. We flew to Portland three days before school started, left all of our belongings in Tulsa, and started the school year from a hotel room.
My reign as a child prima donna was over. I had just turned eleven, and I no longer looked like a kid. As far as my parents were concerned, any life that we had lived prior to moving to Portland was ancient history. My youngest sister was starting first grade, and our parents decided that her life would drive the family’s narrative from that point forward.
In addition, I had another problem on my hands: I couldn’t sing anymore.
Well, that might be a slight exaggeration. By anyone’s standards, I could still sing better than the average person. But as a singer, I had experienced my own version of the descent into duality represented by the parable of Adam & Eve.
To illustrate this principle, I must tell you a little bit about how the voice works. The voice is built in two registers: the upper register is where the gentleness comes from, and the lower register is where the strength comes from.
When I was a child, I had no awareness of vocal registers. I just opened my mouth and sang like an angel. It was a light, pure, soprano kind of a sound, perfectly in tune and in time: a younger version of the sound my mother sang.
As a 39-year-old young mother of three, my mother was just as unaware of vocal registers as I was. She learned about these registers from her voice teacher in Chicago, who passed the lesson on to me when I started taking lessons with him at the age of nine.
All of a sudden, I had a decision to make every time I opened my mouth. I could either sing using my normal voice – the light, gentle, upper-register-soprano type of sound – or I could sing a gutsier, brattier sound in my lower register – kind of like the Broadway belters.
As long as my family lived in Chicago, I could make both of these sounds successfully. I would belt out Disney princess songs, and then I’d go sing solos for choir in my soprano register.
Once my family started moving, and I started singing in musical theatre, there was no demand on me to sing in my normal soprano voice. And by the time we got to Portland, I had been so many degrees removed from the sounds I had made as a child that I wasn’t even sure how to make them anymore.
And just like Adam, Eve, and all the rest of us, my vocal memory was fading by the day. I couldn’t even remember what it had been like to sing without having to make a decision about which register I would use.
Luckily for me, when I was sixteen years old, I met the master in the form of my voice teacher, Thomas R. Blaylock.
I identified him immediately as the one who had been through every challenge I had been through and had overcome them all against seemingly insurmountable odds.
For the first time since childhood, I started to believe in the possibility that there could be a way back—provided that I could stay the course.
These days, I’m a voice teacher myself, and I’m learning every day that teaching voice is about so much more than just singing.
We use our voices to tell the stories of our lives. Whether we express our voices through music, medicine, art, drama or—you guessed it—writing – is immaterial.
What story will tell you with your life? And how will you tell it?
Consider it for a moment. Then, capture it on paper, and don’t let anybody tell you it isn’t possible. For once it is written, it’s as good as done!
May your life and writing always be an expression of your voice!
Lindsey Marie Wells
Member of the Mercury Writers’ Guild