Raise Your Voice By Richard Lawton


Most adults learn to shrink their voice to the size of a suburban living room, then forget where they’ve put what some parents call the ‘outside’ voice.

Many of us spend most of our day sitting down, perhaps in front of a screen, with our lungs semi-collapsed, and our legs and feet tucked away under, and slowly but surely, the dust gathers around our vocal capacity. Notice that when it’s time to speak up, people often have to clear their throat of ‘stuck’ energy that’s collected in the form of mucus sitting on what it is they want to say.

Your voice speaks your identity, you per-sona, (from the Latin; ‘through sound.’)

Your voice is how you broadcast yourself to the world. How many successful people have unpleasant voices? (Julia Gillard being the exception that proves the rule.)

A confident commanding voice can make the difference between being heard and being ignored. A vocally powerful person has a remarkable ability to connect us with our emotions and draw us into their vision.

To come out with a truly powerful voice you need your feet on the ground; a strong base. Calling and hollering engages the thigh muscles. It activates the core strength in the same way as Pilates does. People often think that to get louder they have to do something with their throat, but in fact they need those same core strength muscles around the waistband and down to the groin, (these are the ones that control the diaphragm and the lungs,) these muscles are the ones that kick in whenever we successfully raise our voice and make ourselves heard.

In sessions I often see people try to achieve that result by sticking out the chin or tensing the shoulder muscles like a weightlifter, and yet all this achieves is resistance and ultimately, strain.

By coincidence, the center of gravity in the human body, when its upright, and in alignment, is found a hand’s width below the navel, and as far again inside the bowl of the pelvis. The act of making the sound from center pulls the focus down from the head in an act of centering and grounding, subverting the regime of the monkey mind. The chest cavity resonators, (the lungs,) massage the heart, which in turn responds with feelings of strength and warmth; hence “getting it off your chest,” and meanwhile, each phrase that’s spoken or sung needs a fresh lungful of air, more repeated oxygen hits, and oxygen, of course, enlivens us. This strong powerful sounding brings positive changes to our life; vitality, confidence and a positive outlook.  

I like to put this into an exercise called ‘Stand and Deliver.’ This involves the participant standing tall and strong and making definitive statements about their aims and outlook. Often, the first few attempts show up the opposite of what’s being said,  and this exposure is so useful when it comes to weeding out unconscious habits in our belief systems.

And now, something for women

IN 1983 I started teaching voice in Sydney in Black Wattle Bay studio. After 4 yrs. of living in Holland where space is at a premium, the upstairs floor of this old warehouse was vast.  To communicate from one corner to it’s opposite was far enough to need a shout, and back then I had one main tool available- how to trick people into a powerful, projecting, calling voice, and I used the technique successfully for weeks till one day, a woman named Gina was hollering across the studio, when she suddenly stopped, closed her mouth, stepped back and denied she’d done it. There was such a strong disconnect between what she was saying and what she’d actually done, that I had to find out why.

The act of standing up and hollering makes a strong statement: “stop what you’re doing and listen to me…” This implies boldness, High status, and a fearless cry that says, “I’m now top dog!”

For years, in sessions I studied body language, and subsequently the kind of body armouring that showed up, when the stakes were high. It put me in mind of reliving a battle cry, and I realised that for women, throughout history, a battle cry usually meant suffering and subjection. Half the world was, (and in some places still is) in slavery, be that as an Asian farmworker or a woman with a mink. She must behave, be submissive. If she’s forthright and speaks out, historically, she will be burnt at the stake, or more recently may be accused of being “shrill” or a ball-busting bitch, when perhaps the same actions from a man might be called “assertive.”

My mother’s generation didn’t have a voice. If ever you saw a woman in Business, Media or government, she was probably making the tea or taking shorthand. In the 60’s and 70’s the pill, the single mother’s pension, plus the Baby Boomer’s lust for freedom were amongst the roots of Feminism. Germaine Greer wrote “the Female Eunuch,” and singer/ songwriters like Carole King and Joni Mitchell, took hold of the microphone, and let the world know a woman’s point of view on sex, love and what it was like for her the morning after a one-night-stand.  The journey of self-discovery and self-disclosure had begun. In the 80’s women picked up a guitar or cashed in their grade 5 piano lessons and followed their example. Some women, like my early client, Gina, who weren’t ready to step into the spotlight, joined choirs and found camaraderie and collusion to break centuries of a conspiracy of silence.

It’s perhaps a little alarming that a lot of contemporary undergraduates regard feminism as a thing of the past, no longer needed. The padded shoulder feminism of the 80’s, declared every woman could have it all, and by the 90’s, career women felt the pressure to be Superwoman; to have the baby and the career, and still come out of it looking like some variation on a supermodel, and yes, feminism had made many inroads into male-dominated professions. Now girls growing up in the West could go to school on an equal footing, and as friends with, boys. They could even average better grades, and now they tend to regard those struggles as ancient history, not realizing that a battle half- won could also easily be lost. Males in power might want to outlaw abortion, or in more extreme forms jail a Saudi woman for driving a car, or even as a Taliban, throwing acid in the face of a girl who dares to go to school.

In books and films we love to cheer the underdog. Hollywood is particularly fond of the story that anyone can live his or her dream, despite apparently insuperable odds and became a star or a president.

There’s a famous slogan; “if a man is disempowered it’s called oppression, when it’s a woman it’s called tradition.”

If half the world is female and therefore qualifies for a chance to be an underdog, the times are calling for a redress of this imbalance. How many of those women graduates who regard themselves as equal still have a knee-jerk impulse to say “sorry,” way more often than their male counterparts. How many who study law do the stats and notice that while 58% of Law graduates are women, 82% of barristers are men.

So women are looking for a voice. Gina may, by now quite possibly have done more voice lessons and developed her capacity for projection, felt her body vibrate with the power of her own voice, felt the tingle of freedom from taking the lid off her magnificence.

If you want to keep your voice in trim find a good choir. When we speak we use about 10% of our vocal capacity. When we sing we’re getting back touch with the original power of our voice. Have you noticed that kids can scream or shout for hours and yet they don’t need a voice warm up to go out to play?

No Comments

Leave a Comment