Building the Courage to Be Heard, Whether You’re In Tune or Out

by Tresca Weinstein

What happens when a Jew walks into an audition for A Christmas Carol and is asked to sing “Joy to the World” all on her own—and she’s never heard the song before? This is not a joke, it’s a true story—one that I lived through. And here’s what happens: That 10-year-old girl is permanently scarred, and she never sings in public again. Which doesn’t surprise Claude Stein.

“That kind of experience might direct you to be someone who decides they’re not going to do things that involve risk, where the stakes are high,” says Claude, a multi-platinum-award-winning voice coach who has been teaching regularly at Kripalu for more than 20 years. “You’re never going near something that risks embarrassment, humiliation, and possibly shame.”

There’s something about singing that is particularly scary and truly soul-revealing,, Claude confirms. “We’re showing our whole self, our deeper self,” he says. “It has to do with how much information is conveyed in the human voice. This information makes us very transparent and vulnerable. But it is also the place where we can flourish the most.”

So how does Claude help people like me—all us car and shower singers who avoid choruses and karaoke like the plague?

“I create a space where there is absolutely no failure and show you how to succeed really quickly,” he says. “We would start with something very, very simple, whether it’s finding the two notes of a streetcar vendor singing ‘Strawberries’ or ‘Blueberries,’ or a vendor at a ballgame calling ‘Get your popcorn,’ or your mom calling loudly out the back door, ‘Supper’s ready.’ And we’d work those two notes until you’ve got them, and from there we’d build easily to three notes, four, five, and on and on.” All this while everyone in the room is cheering you on. Even the few experienced singers who attend have incredible breakthroughs, Claude says.

The key, Claude says, is being in a 100 percent supportive environment, where there’s no judgment and no pressure to succeed, and everyone is there to achieve the same sense of freedom. People who attend his programs often write to tell him that the most impactful thing they took away wasn’t being able to sing better (though they can do that, too) but rather feeling more confident and comfortable in their lives.

“When you can sing in front of anybody and you get practice not paying attention to the inner critic, that rubs off onto the rest of your life,” Claude says. “Maybe you’re less afraid to return a dish to a restaurant if it’s too cold, or to invite someone out to have a cup of coffee, or to have a particularly difficult conversation. People get up the nerve to sing in a community chorus, or to start a band, or to start singing lead instead of backup.”

Claude understands the fear. As a young man, he had a flourishing singing and songwriting career, but he suffered from tremendous stage fright. It wasn’t until he took a singing workshop in 1980—which eventually inspired the Natural Singer programs he’s been teaching for 35 years—that he finally began to explore just how afraid and hidden he’d been. “I felt it was safe enough for me to feel my feelings, experience my fear and not be criticized, experience love and support, and not have to be under the gun to be perfect,” he recalls. “I needed to free myself from years of academic training.” That workshop launched him on a journey of self-discovery that encompassed transformational leadership programs, past-life regressions, crystal healing work, acting, and meditation.

“I had to get a lot of tools and do a lot of work on myself to get to a place of understanding and forgiveness,” Claude says. “And, in the process, I found out that I could help other people to reach deep and work with what was challenging them, and bring out something really beautiful. I believe I was meant to do this work—to support people to bring more of their soul and who they are, at a profound, honest level, into their voice—whether they’re in tune or not.”

Realizing that the Natural Singer approach could help people who weren’t performers to find their voice, Claude took the program into holistic health centers across the country, and then Fortune 100 corporations and organizations. Today, he works with lawyers who want to feel more at ease and project organic empathy with juries in high-stakes courtrooms; supervisors at teaching hospitals striving to be more empathetic, compelling speakers; and senior executives in high-profile companies like DuPont and New Balance, looking to be more authentic and realign their personal values with those of the organization—and to learn how to be vulnerable. Claude says he’s seen some amazing culture shifts occur simply by virtue of colleagues standing up in front of each other and letting their voices ring out.

“In my workshops, even when people are very nervous, once they’re standing there, willing to be looked at, to be truly seen as they are, with everyone rooting for them, all that fear starts to melt,” Claude says. “They get control over the notes, their body posture changes, and their energy and charisma changes.”

We feel so strongly about our favorite singers, Claude says, because they, like us, are facing obstacles. And, in their songs, they own all of their experience—the beauty, struggle, triumph, loss, confusion, and wisdom. Listening, we identify and gain solace and hope.

“What I know, after many years of coaching people at all levels of ability, is that, with supportive instruction and the right musical arrangement or groove, anyone can do the same for others,” Claude says. “We need only embrace and energize our true voice. This is not to say that we don’t need to practice: practice breathing and scales, practice some basic musical skills, and practice singing songs from new points of view to get the inner critic off our backs. In the Natural Singer program, we practice concentration skills so we can stay in the moment and not be self-conscious, but remain in a state of flow where the songs sing through us. By doing this, we not only free our voice, we also amplify our own abilities to touch and inspire others—just as others with their self-expression and courage have inspired and touched us.”

Ready to give it a try? Here are Claude’s suggestions for getting more comfortable with singing out loud.

  1. Create a safe practice space at first. That might mean driving down the highway singing louder than the sound system in your car.
  2. Sing along with your favorite performer on YouTube. Then try it with an instrumental karaoke track for the same song. Go back and forth between the two. Be a backup singer in Bruce Springsteen’s band, or chant with Krishna Das. Experiment with turning the volume down a little, so you can hear yourself more. Go slow and avoid self-criticism.
  3. Let a nonjudgmental person hear you sing. You might bring someone you trust into your practice space.
  4. Up the ante a little each time you practice. Invite a couple of friends to do karaoke with you, or walk a little closer to people in the park while you’re singing, or even humming at first. Take it one slow step at a time—you’ll get there.
  5. Make sure you’re having fun!

“Singing can give us the courage to communicate, the courage to explore our fear and not be run by it, the courage to free our inner voice and be more of our full, whole selves, to own our vulnerability and thereby become more powerful,” Claude says. “That’s what we’re all after, the courage and willingness to open our mouths and to be seen and heard as the wise, yet imperfect humans that we are, to be welcomed and appreciated, and not have our worthiness affected or invalidated.”

Learn more about Claude Stein’s Natural Singer programs at Kripalu.

Tresca Weinstein is Features Editor at Kripalu.

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