Where Words Fail, Music Speaks

About a month ago, my youngest daughter asked me if I’d like to go away with her for a couple of days after Thanksgiving.

Having had some challenging conversations and disagreements during the past few months, we both decided it would be a good opportunity to go somewhere and just have fun.  It would be a reset.  Our question then became where and what could meet our goals. Ultimately, we wanted to go somewhere and learn something where we would be on equal footing. So…. we settled on a program at Kripalu called The Natural Singer, which neither of us felt like we were.

Little did we realize how rich and transformative it would be to spend a weekend learning and growing with Claude Stein.

Although we both went into the weekend thinking we’d each improve our singing skills (supposing that with a low baseline, up was the only way to go), we soon discovered the program was more about intention than it was about technique.  It was about vulnerability and authenticity, and song as a form of connection.

Claude told us about his work with trial attorneys and how he helped them find their authentic voice so that they could better convey their cases before juries.  That resonated with me. 

Claude is an acclaimed and talented professional musician, but that description doesn’t do him justice.  He’s a changemaker. A transformer. Someone who has the capacity to see both what’s before him and what’s hidden in plain sight. He can suss out vulnerability and harness it into strength.  Working with him is a bit of magic.

What does it mean to be heard? What does it mean to hide one’s voice? How do people claim space, or fear to claim space?  Those were the essential questions of the weekend.  Each of us sang a solo before the group, and all of us felt trepidation doing so.  The range of participants was wide, from novices like us to people looking to up their game for professional auditions. There were people who were so afraid of being heard that their songs sounded more like whispers than declarations. But no matter the ability, the barriers were similar, and tied up in various levels of fear, shame, and ego. By the end of the weekend, everyone had cried.   Not in a sad way, but in a joyful way of release and discovery. In a catharsis that broke through veneers, helping people reclaim parts of themselves long ago left living in shadows.

Although we did talk about diaphragmatic breathing and pitch, and about tone and timing, we talked more about dissociating our egos from our performance and recognizing that we are not our mistakes. We spent most of the time uncovering and giving voice to our deepest intentions, and the messages and emotions behind the songs we sing.  While Claude masterfully accompanied each of us on the piano, he was quick to interject, intentionally not giving us time to think or hesitate. Follow me:  Sing LOUD. Now move your body. What are you afraid of? I can’t hear you!  Louder.  Then after five minutes in the spotlight, he’d take a poll, asking audience members for feedback, saying something like “raise your hand if you thought that song was sung on key.” Seeing all the hands go up, he’d beam: Look at that: So many people think you sound great. That interchange always put a smile on the singer’s face. He’d then continue with great enthusiasm: Let’s do it again. Louder this time! Who are you singing to? What is the change you are trying to bring? Are you conveying your words the way you want to?

The breakthroughs achieved were notable. Singing enables personal expression. It insists on being heard. It invokes and evokes deep emotion.

As my daughter and I drove back from Stockbridge to Boston, we belted out Sweet Baby James.  Laughing and smiling, and almost always on key, we’d had a weekend of listening and learning, being heard and being vulnerable.

As families restructure, hurts, disappointment, and pain often make it difficult to listen, and to feel heard. However, without making space for dialogue, when instead of substance, posturing becomes the essence of a settlement, it is easy to understand why people are so often left feeling less than whole. 

The Consilium Process changes that paradigm. It focuses on envisioning and planning for the future rather than becoming mired in settling scores of the past.  Financial settlements matter, but they must be weighed in the context of emotional tradeoffs and the ability to move forward. And children, who matter most of all, should be attended to in meaningful ways.  Just today, I received a note from a client whose divorce was finalized yesterday. On the eve of her divorce, I wrote to her knowing that to avoid a trial and reach a settlement she’d made numerous financial concessions. 

In response to my email to her, she said: 

Your words helped me to see that although I have lost a lot, a lot financially, I have not lost the person that I was, that I am, that I have become through all of this.

It is heartening to know that someone recognizes what I’ve done and how difficult the journey has been.

Honestly, today was not the most difficult, I am really numb to it all at this point. I just went through the motions.

I needed to get to the other side so that I could embrace my new norm and move forward.

Embracing new norms and moving forward. Being authentic, singing your song, and being heard.

Meeting people at their most vulnerable, easing their pain, sharing their journey, and seeing them find their own voice is our great privilege as Consilium practitioners.

Photo credit:  Adam Singer, made with an AI visualizer

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