Elan Vitae

magazine

  • Heather Doyle Fraser

I AM NOT ALONE


My voice reminds me that I am not alone. And as I write and coach and sing, it reminds my readers, my clients, and my audience that they are not alone either. I believe there is such power in the voice and often it is underestimated. How many times have you heard someone say that they are unsure if anyone is ever listening, if what they have to say is important or worth someone else’s time? I happen to hear these things quite often as a coach who works with writers. (And, oh, yes, sometimes I hear that voice in my own head.) There is a deep fear in so many of us -- even those who write for a living -- that what we have to say isn’t original or worthy. That maybe this book has already been written.


In my view, very few ideas are completely original; often the topics and ideas we are most passionate about sharing have their roots in universal truths. As such, the basis for the ideas are not overly original, but the delivery, the lens, and the voice are completely unique based on each person. I didn’t just stumble upon this knowing. Growing up, I sang my way through my childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood. My mother was a singer/songwriter and made her living at it, gigging four to five nights a week for at least 30 years. She brought my sister and I into the spotlight before we even knew what the spotlight was. We would come to the restaurant where she had her weekly show and sing a few songs at the beginning of her set on a weekend night and then be whisked home afterwards by my father to be tucked in bed before 10pm.


While I have many memories of singing with my mother and my sister, I really don’t remember not singing. I don’t remember that first moment of learning to sing because I think it happened as a part of every day from the time I was born. I do remember the early days of performing in front of people and feeling extreme anxiety, but you know how people say that the more you do something the easier it becomes? They say that for a reason. When you do something like performing in front of an audience over and over, eventually, you still may feel the butterflies, but you start to associate those physical feelings with excitement versus anxiety. Excitement, because the moment of singing and seeing the faces of the people listening allows you to connect simultaneously with yourself -- your voice -- the song, and the people around you.


When we first started performing with my mother, she taught us old songs that her father had taught her. Sentimental Journey, written in 1944, is the first song I remember learning together. We sang in three-part harmony and it seemed to be a novelty to have such young children holding their center in three parts and on their own. My mother wrote her own songs, but most often sang covers because that’s what the people wanted to hear, and so that’s what we sang with her as well. Just because we sang covers though, didn’t mean that the songs sounded exactly the same as the recording. That’s not what my mom’s fans were coming for. They didn’t need to hear a copy of an Anne Murray song, they wanted Hilda and her girls to sing their version of Anne Murray’s song. So our voices resonated with the audience in a way that the original song did not. Our voices were different, our interpretation was different, and our delivery was completely unique.


Fast forward many years and even though I am a coach and a writer now, I am also still a singer. My voice is front and center in all of my endeavors. And, my mother, Hilda, and sister, Stephanie, and I are still making music together. We have a band, The Ladies of Longford, and play contemporary Celtic music. We are a high-energy, all women band (bringing our dear friend Elizabeth Blickenstaff on board as our fiddle player) and we play nationally and locally at Celtic festivals, concert series, and at pubs. We do some original tunes, but mostly we put our spin on traditional Celtic music, bringing contemporary instruments and sounds to old stories.


All of Celtic music is based in story. Stories of loss, of family, of love, of war, of work and of poverty. I think this is why it resonates so much with people, even those who aren’t steeped in Celtic history. These themes connect to our common humanity and our suffering, but also our unity and our hope for a changed future. As I sing these songs, I am acutely aware of this unity especially. At any given time it’s almost as if we have a chorus of “voices” coming through in the song -- our voices (often still in three-part harmony), the voice of the story, the voice of the past and the present, and the voices of the instruments we play that add newness and nuance. For instance, the fiddle hauntingly echoes the emotion of love lost in story and the djembe that I play (an African drum) brings the sense of the human heart beating in a rhythm that is undying even as the song speaks to the tragedy unfolding in the world. In other songs, the fiddle brings exuberance and joy, just as the drum and the bass and guitar bring the layered sounds of triumph, movement, and freedom.


These rich story songs remind me that while the world changes, people always yearn for the voice and the story that resonates. The one that speaks to our humanity and our unity. The story that speaks to our hearts. My heart is in it for the song of my life and so is my voice. I feel blessed to be able to call my voice friend and to use it in such varied ways that provide a catalyst, but also soothing, understanding, and wisdom. I use my voice to remind myself and others what love feels like -- to be seen and heard.