As I explore the content of this course, some recurring questions come to mind. What makes music such a revealing, or intimate activity? Why do we feel embarrassed to sing with others? What can this say about our own self-confidence, and does this impact how we sing? The more I explore these questions, I begin to come up with new answers every time. Singing can be a reflection of the self, and it can be a lens through which we observe aspects such as our confidence, which I had chosen to observe. However, along the way, I have realized that through this lens we discover an intricate web of self-identity and expression and how that shows through our relationship with music and singing. 

I had become interested in the idea of exploring self-confidence through singing when we watched and discussed the Voices of Our City Choir, as well as through my own exploration of the Solo Singing and Autoethnography project. One of the members of the choir stated that after joining, they felt as if they were confident enough to achieve what it took to get their life back the way they wanted. The way singing with others had this impact intrigued me, but I really intended to focus on what parts of singing impact the way you view yourself. To do this, I interviewed Professor Jasper Sussman about her musical experiences relating to the self. As someone with a lot of experience in performing, as well as teaching about singing, it would be helpful to gain some insight into her own relationship with confidence and how singing may impact that. 

Firstly, I inquired about the differences in viewing yourself when you are singing alone, versus with others. Professor Sussman noted that when you are singing with other people, it can be uplifting to have support, but it also enables you to blend within the crowd, making it easier to perform and come off as confident. However, singing alone can be a true test of your confidence, because you become the center of attention and your singular voice is being revealed to the audience. I asked her to recall a time when she felt nervous, and describe the physical and mental sensations that come along with it. When performing a solo within a choir performance, she recalled having feelings of anxiety, despite being well-practiced in her part and not typically being one to get pre-show nerves. Some of the sensations included shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and unfocused breathing. However, once she began to sing, it became innate, and her voice was able to take over and ignore the feelings that were bothering her, and they soon faded away. This raised my curiosity, because it is fascinating how these feelings quite commonly appear even among those who perform all the time. I began to think about why singing might have this power to inflict anxiety and discomfort, and thought of how on many occasions, singing is a reason for embarrassment.

Growing up, I recall my voice slowly being turned into a weapon used against me. I loved to sing, and would do it wherever and whenever I wanted. I never felt ashamed, because no one had given me a reason to. Eventually, my family would start to record me, or I would even record myself. This seemed harmless, but as I grew older, the videos would occasionally resurface, but come with a feeling of discomfort. Instead of a fond memory, it is something that was played to make fun of my younger self. This became more common, and I slowly became afraid of my voice being heard; I began to associate singing with embarrassment. I explored this concept with Professor Sussman as well, examining why singing may be embarrassing from the perspective of the listeners. What makes singing vulnerable is that it is a different form of communicating, one that can be very intimate, and exposes someone’s true feelings, desires, or even physical and mental state. Even perceiving someone’s voice in an entirely new way reveals something about them that you may have not previously been aware of, and that gives way for discomfort. It occurred to me that your feelings of nervousness and embarrassment when it comes to singing can be described as a projection of others’ discomfort with your vulnerability.

We can see more examples of this in our classroom, where everyone is hesitant to show their voice, despite it being a class about singing. I wanted to gain an insight into Professor Sussman’s personal experience getting to teach people about singing, and how being a leader for such a vulnerable topic can be challenging to one’s confidence. Being a teacher can help you understand something better from an explanatory perspective, but it can also mean you are really sensitive to students’ body language and behavior, and how they are interacting with the content. As someone who teaches about singing, she states that it is very important to become a model for the students, and that you can expect them to be super open about a topic that people are normally close to in their daily lives. It can be difficult and even draining to be the only voice in the classroom, but she prefers to meet students at their own level of comfort, and continue to motivate them through her own singing until they feel like they can share their own voices as well. 

Ultimately, I have discovered that singing can be a big insight into the self not only because you are expressing yourself in a very specific way, but the way you approach and react to it is a culmination of factors such as your inner feelings and the culture built around sharing your voice. Of course, each person has their own experiences with it, that may be affected due to things like race and gender within their respective cultures. However, a generalization can be made that singing is one of the most vulnerable activities we can engage in. I believe that in order to foster better communication and establish closeness, we should unlearn these ideas of embarrassment and appearing invulnerable and share ourselves through the music that brings us together.