In a smart-phone savvy, hi-def world, most of us are enculturated to watch and listen to extraordinary artistic and vocal talent. Whether through broadcast music or national singing competitions, public ears are trained to judge and choose the very best. We may find ourselves continually awed and emotionally moved by the latest viral video of a contest winner on YouTube, some even more remarkable by their very young age. And rightly so. Great talent deserves to be recognized.

One positive result of this interest is the benefit it brings to those inclined towards singing, and to refining their singing skills, and for that matter, all forms of artistic expression. This means incentive to excel, opportunities to develop skills, and more impetus to compete and perform.

However, a consequence of the media spotlight on great talent is the often un-reported counter-effect upon those whose talent is not so obvious. In living rooms across the world, program viewers watch and listen to legends of musical prowess do their best, yet view these star performers from a distance, in silence. While these viewers may thoroughly enjoy the show, they may also believe and feel they have no right or qualification to musically or creatively express themselves- without the likely potential for major embarrassment and harsh criticism.

The occurrence of ‘Silenced Song’ is not isolated, but multiplied by epidemic proportions across the western world, a consequence of our equating the primary goal of our natural creative and artistic expression as producing a finished result, or a rave performance.

From interviews conducted across North America and Europe while creating a documentary over the course of a ten-year exploration, a pattern emerged which clearly indicates a widespread diminishing of singing expression. In tracing the roots of this phenomenon, it is remarkable how many adults were told as children that they couldn’t sing, shouldn’t sing, or were simply better off staying quiet.

Some quotes from participants in the film, Beyond the Fear of Singing:

USA: We were very happy, joyous children. And then when we tried out for choir, neither one of us made it. And it was amazing how quickly that stifled our voice. (Tom Barr, Musician, California).

USA: I wasn’t able to sing very well when I was a kid. When I was five years old I was asked to be in a Christmas play. When we got to the practice, our teacher came up to me and said: “Jerry, when we’re all singing, what you need to do is just ‘mouth’ the words, but don’t sing”. (Jerry Jampolsky, Author)

Germany: The leader of the choir said to me: “O Nadine, you are too loud. Your voice is too loud. You have to sing, uh, softer or more quiet”. And so, as she said these words, I was cut off from my voice somehow. (Nadine Diederich)

Germany: When this teacher came to me and said: ‘No, you can’t sing, you have to now leave our rehearsal”. For me, the world totally collapsed, and at that time I really wanted to die. (Michael Prechtl, Overtone Singer)

Switzerland: In school my teacher quite often told me everyone can sing now except me. (Max Herlitschka, Photographer)

Estonia: When I was at school, we had singing lesson, and I sang to the teacher. She said I “do not sing to the note”, so I have been living all my life with the idea that I can’t sing. (Viveka Vool, Tour Guide)

In our next report, we will explore the process of emerging from ‘the cave’ of hiding our voices, in order to re-discover our SongLife.