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I Can’t Sing and Other Such Nonsense

I Can’t Sing; and Other Such Nonsense

The Fallacy

“I’d like my child to sing, because I can’t”

“I’m not musical, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket”

“I have no sense of rhythm and two left feet. I hate to dance/sing but my child is showing an interest in it”

or worse yet

“I’d like my 7 year old (10 year old, 12 year old, even 3 year old!) to take singing lessons because she loves to sing but she’s completely tone deaf, much like me”.

These phrases are common, and perhaps it is because I’ve spent my whole life singing that I am able to stand objectively in the face of this comment and those like it.

It’s nonsense.

For a variety of reasons.

The Opinion

There is this odd sense that because we are all born with a voice that we should somehow know how to use it in every way and be able to make beautiful sounds right off the bat. To me this would be the equivalent of asking anyone to just pick up a violin and know how to play it; a ludicrous expectation. And if we can’t play the violin or the piano most of us don’t take this as a personal criticism. We understand that we haven’t undergone the necessary training required to play an instrument. And if we sat down at a piano and banged away for awhile knowing we didn’t know how to play it, but had fun none the less, I’m sure those nearby would think “Please, stop”, but they would have to arrive at the similar conclusion that this person doesn’t have the training to elegantly align the keys in a melodic or harmonious way that the general public would appreciate; they are not a “bad person” nor is it a “bad instrument”.

But if we “can’t” sing?

It is safe to say we judge our voices against other’s voices the way we judge our bodies. We develop “voice image issues” the same way we develop “body image issues”. The voice is the most vulnerable instrument. If we can’t play the piano or the violin there is a separation, it resides outside of who we are. It is something that can be taken or left as we choose, unlike a voice which is carried with us all the time. Our voice is a substantial part of who we are. We are not the piano we sit down at, but we are the voice that speaks into the world. It’s personal, it’s exposing, it’s scary.

The Fear

We’re vulnerable. The voice is the only instrument that provides direct communication from our souls to the audience, without being translated through a man made tool. This isn’t to say that we are not moved by other instrumental interpretations, or that they are lesser than, but in my opinion the voice is the only instrument that provides immediate, uninterrupted communication. We literally have to open a part of our body, as opposed to creating a tight emboucher around a mouth piece. We do not have a physical object to put between us and those around us. We open our mouths to make sound and are suddenly aware that the act of letting this sound out, lets other’s in in a way that feels too close, too soon. Most of us are afraid to use our voices to speak in front of a group, never mind sing! Our voice reveals more about us than we care to share, whether speaking or singing.

Words are short, we clip the vowels, we invent words like “totes” further cutting away syllables and increasing our efficiency (arguable). We string words together to form long sentences, but words themselves are short. We can speak with our lips barely parting, in an octave range (not even, more like 3-5 tones) that we likely locked into in early adulthood, and we can safely communicate our thoughts adding emotion when needing, but stifling it when we feel we should. We might speak softly so as to avoid offense, so as to only be heard by a few people standing near by, only raising our voices when necessary and usually in times of heightened emotion, positive or negative.

Singing? Singing is long. Vowels are lengthened, our voice rings in our own ears, our thoughts linger in the world for a longer time leaving them hanging there with more time to be scrutinized. Our mouths have to open wider, we have to expose a greater space in our being. We have octave ranges that we almost never touch, we worry about offending the ears with our warbling, and with that worry in mind still have to project the sound to the back of the house. We emote in an incredibly poignant way, the vibrato of our tone shaking open darker corners of our souls, and perhaps dusting off the same corners of other people’s inner worlds, in someway way exposing them as well.

Such is the power of the human voice.

The Reality

Let me start with some reassurance…you’re not alone. More often than not people will criticize their musical, theatrical, or other artistic skill before they say anything kind, or even neutral about it. This is why it comes as a shock to many parents in my classes that they are encouraged (read: expected) to sing in their baby and toddler’s music class. How can I ask these strangers (at first) to sing openly in a group of other strangers? On the first day?! (Okay, so I don’t push it on the first day and strive to work with parents the same way I work with my students, at their own pace but with constant encouragement and reminders 🙂

If you are born with the physical make up to produce a vocal sound you can sing. Can you sing well? Maybe not in your opinion, maybe not in the opinion of others. But yes you CAN sing.

And believe it or not there was a time when you thought this also. Maybe it stopped at age 3, or 7, or 12, but there was a glorious time when you actually didn’t think one way or the other about your singing, it was just there.

But then, something changed. Maybe you don’t remember when or where or who, but somehow you developed a discomfort with your singing voice. Perhaps it was being shushed too many times, perhaps it was a flippant comment from someone, or perhaps it was because you were raised in a house where your parents “couldn’t sing”, so they didn’t; and without saying as much, singing became something that only those who were “good” at could and should enjoy.

Your child’s relationship with their voice, and your relationship with yours, has very little to do with an ability to sing well. Encouraging a healthy relationship between your child and their voice starts early on, and singing is an incredibly useful activity to promote this. Not because your child will grow up to be a professional musician, but because your child has a right to be heard in this world.

Patsy Rodenburg, in her book “The Right to Speak” (one of the most powerful and influential books I’ve ever read on the subject was introduced to me by Dr. Bruce Kirkley at the University of the Fraser Valley and to him I am forever grateful) opens her book with “The right to breathe, the right to be physically unashamed, to fully vocalize, to need, choose and make contact with a word, to release a word into space – the right to speak”, a declaration to all that you, the sound you create, has a right to be heard in this world.

What a powerful message to instill in a child. And what an incredible injustice to take such a message away from a child, without even realizing you’re doing so.

The Hope

Your child’s relationship with their voice starts at home. It starts with a household that places no value judgement on the quality of one’s sound. It starts with an environment that enjoys and plays with the sound of music, instruments, voices, singing, laughter.

If you cannot speak highly of your own talent, do not speak of it at all. Or, at least speak neutrally about it. Do not model for your child the blanket idea of “I can’t sing”, because as we’ve already discovered, yes you can. And the more they hear that you can’t, the more they will believe that THEY can’t.

And NEVER, let them hear you comment negatively about THEIR musical talents, and imply that they require some kind of intervention before they should ever be allowed to have their voice heard by others. Perhaps their voice is uncontrolled, maybe it’s out of tune and unrefined, but it’s never “bad”…and they CAN sing.

Never a truer statement made than “Sing like no one is listening”. You may never like to sing, and that’s okay; but I would encourage you to try it whenever you get the chance. Practicing the vulnerability will perhaps awaken you to new understandings about yourself. It may also give you the patience when you’ve heard “Let it Go” belted from the backseat for the eight thousandth time. When possible, let them sing. Let them practice sending their sounds into the universe. The world will try to silence us throughout our lives, in one way or another, let’s raise a generation that has the strength to know its voice matters enough to be heard.

Free Trial Classes – January 10

We will be holding free trials of all our classes on January 10, 2016. These trials will be for classes starting in January.

Music & Movement

  • Baby Music Discoverers | 0-18 Months | 9:30am – 10:15am (FULL)
  • Toddler Music Explorers | 16-35 Months | 10:45am-11:30am (FULL)
  • Preschool Music Adventurer | 3-5 Years | 12:00am-12:45pm
  • Primary Music Trailblazers | 5-7 Years | 1:15-2:00pm

Dance Classes

  • Ballet/Tap | 3-5 Years | 10:45am – 11:30am

These usually fill up quickly, so reserve your spot now.

 

Jazz Dance

We are so thrilled to be offering our Junior Musical Theatre program that we’re adding additional programming to support a well rounded musical theatre experience. We are offering a new Jazz class for a one time only introductory price. We’re not only extending huge savings to our Junior Musical Theatre students, but also to anyone interested in trying out this 10 week program. We only have 10 spots available so register now on our website.

Click here for more information.

We’re Hiring!

Update: Position has been filled.
The Stage is looking for a passionate enthusiastic dance teacher to teach our children’s dance classes at our New Westminster studio beginning September 2015. The Stage prides itself on offering the highest quality programming for children ages 0-18. We dedicate ourselves to upholding a whole child development philosophy in all of our classes. A professional atmosphere but completely student focused, and a seriously fun cast of educators. Join us!

Ideal candidates

  • Love working with kids ages 3-10 (not just kinda sorta like them)
  • Must, must, must have a passion for teaching
  • Are experienced in building curriculum or are interested in learning how to build curriculum
  • Interested in becoming part of our faculty family (we’re a bit nutty but a lot of fun) and have a willingness to participate in studio events to promote classes and fulfill our studio’s community service mandate
  • Have extensive training in their discipline
  • Have a resume outlining previous work experience and a performance resume
  • Will provide references
  • Experience organizing dance recitals, costume orders, festival applications an asset
  • CPR Certification an asset
  • Dance teaching certification an asset

The classes we are hoping to offer include:

  • Ballet
  • Jazz
  • Tap
  • Hip Hop

Ideal Availability (negotiable)

  • Sundays 9:30-10:30am; 11:00-12:00pm
  • Wednesdays 5:00-6:00; 6:15-7:15

Please email resumes to stefanie@thestagenewwest.ca.

Thank you for your interest, only those selected for an interview will be contacted.

The Magic of Childhood

“See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God’s sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves.” – Excerpt from Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon.

There are two events in my life that stand out as helping make me the father I am today. They guide how I am raising my son.

My mother passed away when I was twelve. The harsh reality that is cancer ripped her away from my brother and I.

Seven years later, when I was 19, I read a book. That book was Boy’s Life, by Robert McCammon.

I grew up in a small idyllic town and could not have asked for a better childhood. Every day was an new adventure filled with endless possibilities and the excitement of never knowing what could happen next. There were no limits to what I could do. I lived life to it’s fullest, like only a child can. And then it was gone. In a space of a few minutes, I became an adult. Needless to say, I was not equipped to deal with it, but I managed to get by.

On the surface, Boy’s Life is about a twelve year old boy who finds himself hot on the trail of a murderer in his small, southern US town, an idyllic childhood setting not unlike my own. However, even with such a mature and unusual plot, the author also brilliantly captures the magic of childhood. How it’s the only time in your life that dinosaurs can roam the streets…monsters can live in the depths of a river…you can meet a gunslinger named The Candystick Kid…and all of this surrounded by the best friends a kid could ever have.

When I read this book for the first time (I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read it), it brought back memories of the first twelve years of my life. It reminded me what it felt like to be a child…to live life with that innocence, wonder and joy. My dog might not have come back to life, and I didn’t have a friend that had a perfect throwing arm, but I built the biggest snow forts that the world has ever seen and I could control waves using the Force. And I did have a bike that could fly.

After reading this book, I decided that if I was lucky enough to become a parent, I would foster this magic in my child. That I would do everything in my power to make it last as long as possible, because I’m all too aware that this magical time is fleeting, and worse yet, it can be taken from you at anytime. For seven years after my mother died I was too busy surviving to keep it alive. Then I read this book, and something in me started burning again. And I made a pledge to myself. I was going to keep the magic alive, and pass it along if I could.

I’m now a Dad and thankfully my wife has joined me on this particular endeavour. One of the ways we’ve been helping him find the magic is to let him explore. Explore his neighbourhood of New Westminster until he knows all of his neighbours. Explore all possible sports until he settles on the one he loves. Explore all the arts until he finds what inspires him. But most of all, let him explore his imagination to its fullest.

My son is now five and a half. He believes he works close to the North Pole, with a bevy of worker friends. Two of them are named George; one is good and never makes mistakes; the other’s real name is Franken and he speaks in farts. He believes that Santa Claus is the boss of everything. He believes if the wind is strong enough, and he jumped really high, that he could fly. He believes that he’s the fastest kid alive. He’s looking forward to going to nerd school so that he can learn to make robots. And he believes he can talk to birds.

I don’t know how long he will believe the above. The world these days doesn’t really inspire such beliefs. Kids are expected to grow up faster and faster. Priority seems to be on making them ready for the future, less so on enjoying the precious years of their childhood. My wife and I have committed ourselves to keeping magic alive and we’ve tried to surround ourselves with people that believe in this gift. People that will help him remain young at heart, and keep those whirlwinds, forest fires and comets inside of him.

I don’t really remember much about my mother. I don’t know what she was like when not a parent. And I don’t know how much of her is in this kid, a kid that will never get to meet her. But she instilled this sense of wonder in me, and I believe she would be proud of me for trying to keep this flame alive, in me and in her grandson.

Fall Priority Registration

We’re excited to announce that Fall priority registration for returning parents is now open. We’re introducing a lot of changes this September, including new names for existing classes and brand new programs. We also have new registration software, which will make it easier than ever for parents to register and keep track of courses we’re offering.

To find out more about our current and new programs, follow this link: Programs.

If you’re a returning parent and would like to register for September 2015, follow this link: Registration ( a $50 non-refundable deposit is required to reserve your spot at this time and an invoice will be emailed to you promptly after your registration is received)

Priority registration for returning families will end on June 7.

If you have any questions or issues with our new registration software, please don’t hesitate to email Martin at martin@thestagenewwest.ca.

If you have any questions about classes or registration options please email stefanie@thestagenewwest.ca