Apr. 1, 2019.
While working on my master’s degree, my professor and I met each week after he observed me directing the choir. He was beloved by his students, and his mentorship was invaluable to me. One week, he quietly asked me if I ever made audio recordings of my rehearsals. I expressed that I had and that I listened dutifully each week to the choir’s tone on the playback to assess how to improve the group’s sound. My professor leaned back and cautiously asked if I had ever listened to myself on the track. I was sure that I had, I replied. He asked me to record the rehearsals for the next few weeks and write about what I heard. At first, I didn’t understand. I didn’t hear anything especially interesting (though, oh my gosh, is it humbling to listen to yourself singing warm-ups!) so I returned to my mentor confused. He encouraged me to go back to the recording one last time and listen deeply.
Later that week, I was driving in my car, listening to the same recording for about the fifth time, and my stomach dropped. In the car that afternoon, I heard a new voice: the voice of my father. Once I made this connection, it was as if I was hearing the recording for the first time. When I approached a topic or area that made me uncomfortable, I would puff up my voice. I would change my tone at the end of sentences to indicate that I was in the position of authority and I would make statements that implied that the learners should rise to my level of wisdom if they weren’t already there. I said things like, “You know what I mean” and “Right?” as if the choir members should already agree with me or understand. The number of condescending phrases far outweighed the humble ones and I realized my father had often used this tactic whenever he felt uncomfortable or out of his element. I was so embarrassed. Here I was attempting to teach them authenticity and my example was showing them the opposite.
Even simple phrases have impact. The way our voices rise or fall can have lasting effects on the self-esteem or sense of self-worth in others. I was crestfallen to think of how many youngsters – or adults for that matter – had been wounded by my voice, and yet my professor reminded me that we can’t change where we have been. My new responsibility was to work to heal a deep wound that had most likely existed in my family for generations. I will never forget this lesson, and Pippin Whitaker’s Mar. 24 sermon reminded me of the importance of uncovering the wounds that live in our bodies.
I have since pledged to work to have a voice of healing. I want to use the power of my voice to help others find theirs. I want to work to center those individuals who wouldn’t otherwise have a voice. What an amazing world it will be when we learn to use our collective talents to empower others, not to strip down or demean.
This month, I couldn’t be more proud of the collective of empowering voices in this community. Whether the voice is through fingers on instruments, songs in a choir or testimony through the visual arts, our program is living this vision. On Apr. 7, we will center women’s artistic voices on Empowering Women and Creativity Day. That Sunday, we welcome women from all over the DMV to share how art has shaped their spiritual practices, and after both worship services, these women will participate in a large arts sale in the Commons. On Apr. 27, we center UUs of color for our “Voices” concert series, centering racial justice in part to fulfill our pledge for the Promise and the Practice of Our Faith campaign for Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism. And on May 4, we raise money for victims of school gun violence as we sing Gabriel Fauré’s “Requiem” along with voices from All Souls, the Arlington UU choir and children from Temple Rodef Shalom. Lastly, we center LGBTQIA+ voices for Reston Pride on Jun. 1. I am proud to be part of this community and to participate in this amazing work.
How will you use your voice?