Finding My Own Voice

  “The only difference between try and triumph is just a little ‘umph’!” 
Words of wisdom from my 10-year-old student.

You know those kids you see on TV with amazing voices who make you think they clearly came out of the womb belting a resounding high C complete with vibrato? Well, I was definitely NOT one of those.

I was fortunate to have been born into a musical family (virtually every single one of my relatives on my mother’s AND father’s side can sing and play some kind of instrument well). I’m proud to say that my mother is a well-renowned legendary pop singer from the “Golden Era” in Hong Kong knoD'Topnotes Photo 1wn for being the lead vocalist and bassist in her family band D’Topnotes. My father, no less of a legend himself, became well known in Hong Kong first as a member of the band he formed with his brothers called Danny Diaz and The Checkmates, and then later as a musical composer, arranger and director of countless scores for films and TV commercials for Hong Kong and China.

Yes, you could say I had a lot to live up to and growing up I got used to the random strangers who would stop me in the street to recount their anecdotes of the good ol’ days when they would listen to my parents play every weekend, how amazing they sounded, and how awesome my mother’s legs were (they were pretty awesome). Then, of course, came the inevitable question, “You must be an amazing singer!” (Which, of course, isn’t Checkmates photo 2really a question, but more of a statement of what must clearly be fact given my parental history). It was at this point when I would find some way to politely excuse myself to avoid any need on my part to correct the kind stranger of his innocent presumption. In truth, the fact of the matter was something that I was not fully ready to face. Simply put, I was not born a good singer.

Of course, I participated in school musicals and choirs, performed extensively in professional gigs and functions alongside my parents, and even sang for a number of television commercial. But no matter how many times I went on stage or into the recording studio, I could never escape the glaringly obvious fact that, while I could carry a tune well enough, there was absolutely nothing remarkable about my voice.

Growing up, the best advice I ever got about singing was from my mother.  However, she believed in the value of training with different teachers and under more formal conditions. She encouraged me to learn from a variety of different voice instructors and while I will forever be grateful to all the teachers I studied under when I was a teenager, unfortunately, I was never able to feel like I could be comfortable with my voice.  By the time I went to college I abandoned all thoughts of entering the music business and studied Film and English instead.

For six years, the only significant amount of singing I did was at Karaoke parties over bottles of Grey Goose and Johnny Walker. I remember telling people I could not sing and convinced myself that I was OK with the path I had chosen; a path that was moving further and further away from music. It was not until I had moved back to Hong Kong and became re-immersed into the musical world of my parents that I realised how badly I missed singing.

My career in the film production industry was not what I was looking for and I was becoming disillusioned by the day. My mother had already been running a successful vocal training studio for several years and when she suggested that I start assisting her as a voice teacher, I literally laughed out loud. How could I possibly go back into singing after having given up on it for so many years?  Moreover, how could I possibly feel remotely qualified enough to teach someone how to sing when I myself had so little confidence in my voice? No, this was a dead end suggestion

And yet, something about the idea had peaked my curiosity and interest. I decided to ‘test the waters’ and got myself involved in a few local amateur musical theatre productions as a way of taking a step back into singing. Having not trained properly for six years clearly had made a difference and I was so disappointed in myself for having given up on singing for so long. I became more determined than ever to get my voice in shape and decided that I owed it to myself to give the music world one last shot. Those who know me well will know that once I commit myself to something, I see it through to the end, and the moment I decided to re-train my voice and begin my training as a voice teacher was the start of one of the most challenging, yet rewarding experiences of my life.

I quit my full-time job and began voice training with my mother on a daily basis. I also shadowed her classes and soon began assistant teaching for her as well. At the same time, I enrolled into the world-renowned Speech Level Singing teacher certification program and, through that institution and the conferences and workshops I attended in different countries, I continued to work on my vocal development and teaching skills. It was like my eyes had been opened for the first time. I was seeing my voice from a completely new perspective because I now had a new motivation. When I sang in the past,  I would simply see all the things I did not like about my voice. Now, however, my focus had changed and I was working to improve my voice because I wanted to become the best voice teacher I could be and, to do that, I knew I would need my voice to be in the best possible shape.

I gave myself one year to achieve the goals I had set for myself and was thankful that I had my family’s full support. Re-training my voice was like hitting the gym for the first time and knowing I had to lose 10 lbs in one week. I had to face head on all the vocal issues that I had been avoiding all those years and push all self-doubt from my mind. For months I would train for hours on a daily basis and focused on learning as much as I could about vocal technique. I knew I had a lot of catching up to do. I will forever be indebted to all those teachers, my mother especially, who taught, encouraged and challenged me and turned me from someone who had once given up on herself, into a person who was determined to succeed. When I finally got to a point where I felt ready enough to teach classes of my own, I sought out friends who said they wanted to learn how to sing and taught them for free. The day I passed all my teaching tests and received the first level of certification from the Speech Level Singing organisation was a moment that I will never forget. I knew I still had a long way to go, but I also knew that I had taken a big step forward and, moreover, that I would never look back.

Kaleidoscope Showcase Nov 2012It’s hard to believe that I had once thought that I could live without music playing a significant role in my life. And yet, perhaps that time away from music was something that I needed. Perhaps my return to the music world and my dedication to re-training my voice were choices I had to independently make on my own. When I look at my life now, I can’t imagine doing anything else and that’s how I know I had made the right decision. Seeing my students overcome challenges that took me years to face never ceases to amaze me and I am thankful and feel blessed that I can do what I do on a daily basis. I have had so many rewarding experiences and have met so many wonderful, inspiring individuals who have enriched my life and constantly motivate me to be a better teacher and singer.  I firmly believe that a person can never stop learning and I still train on a regular basis bothKaleidoscope Showcase Nov 2012_2 as a vocalist and as a teacher.  The path has certainly not always been easy, but choosing to walk it has been one of the best decisions of my life. I hope my story inspires whoever is reading this to make choices in their lives that are meaningful and that fill you with hope and excitement for wherever the road ahead takes you.

Let the journey continue…

Thank you for reading!

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