• Vanessa Papillon

Courage - Singing from the Heart

Updated: May 3



AS a kid, I played outside a lot. I found freedom and solace in the grass, the wind, the trees, and the tree roots. I remember visiting noisy goats with wiry hair that sucked on my fingers. Outdoor time meant garter snakes who had me recoiling and fascinated at the same time. I was quiet, observant, and played in sing-song under the sky.


At some point, I discovered "songs" by playing cassette tapes in our parked car, in the country lane driveway. I'd sing along in the solitary cavern of the car. I don't remember how I powered up the cassette player. Did I have a key? I'd sing the same tapes over and over and get lost in those stories, melodies, rhythms, instruments, and characters.


As a pre-teen, with Whitney Houston in my headphones, I'd lean against a tree in my beloved playground at the elementary school on weekends, facing the deserted baseball field. With no one there, I could belt out "I believe that children are our future..." for hours.

I felt alone, strong, and empowered, my heart big with inspiration. Her voice accompanied mine, strengthening me in ways I couldn't then understand. I wished someone could hear me, see me. I also loved my own solitude, free to voice without being heard or judged.


Around the same time, I found a new kind of home in the school choir. I felt easy belonging and an inkling that comfort and beauty could be found in singing with others. Tragically and unfairly, I know so many people who were turned away, mocked, silenced as children who couldn't find that same safe haven.


I kept singing, exploring all the edges of my voice into my twenties. My own courage came in fuller force then, when I listened to the deep truth of my body's voice, remembering and speaking the truth of my childhood trauma. I listened to this voice, trusted myself, and confided in healing professionals and my close circle. It was during this difficult time in my life that I began singing in women's circles with Moon Joyce and was inspired by the work of Siobhan Robinsong, Gina Sala, and Rhiannon. These incredible teachers were singing songs in the oral tradition (without sheet music) and improvising, inviting me to experience greater freedom in my voice. I began to sing more from my whole body and less from my head. I believe that singing in this way helped unlock the wisdom of my body's voice and helped me find my courage to keep healing, to keep moving forward, and to keep exploring my singing self in a circle of song that encouraged


Acceptance. Enough. Belonging.


My life's work sprang from other people's stories of musical wounding and the truth of my lived experience. I felt a fire within me to create a safe singing space where all of us could express our voices and find joy in singing with each other.


I became more and more of who I am in singing with others.

I more fully inhabited my voice and found my place of belonging in the "family of things" (Mary Oliver), for which I will be forever grateful.


It takes courage to dip your toe in and add your voice to the group sound.


It takes courage to follow your heart's calling when it says, "I want to sing..."


Like the woman who visited choir this week and checked out her range with me at the piano...

What a gift to sing with another person, in this spirit of tenderness and exploration. To see delight in their eyes as they hear their voice blend with mine, hear their notes come out tentatively at first, and then freely and (more easily than they thought!) traverse a wider range of notes (high, medium, low) than they imagined possible. When I sing through someone's range with them, I can see and hear them being brave, exploring notes that maybe they haven't sung alone (or in front of someone else!) maybe even ever. I am humbled and grateful to share this sacred space with someone. How vulnerable! How brave! Especially as so many of us have received messages (overt or implied) that our voices are somehow wrong. We step up and down the scale (neighbouring notes) and explore where the voice moves freely, feels most open, feels most familiar, what is maybe new territory, what maybe brings some tightness or anxiousness, what is maybe hard to hear and match.

All is shared with open curiosity and acceptance. A magical few minutes.


Singing by ourselves can be so pleasurable and bring joy, solace, comfort, release. It doesn't need to sound pretty or acceptable or even like music. Really. Human beings are sounding beings, like all other animals. Sounds emanate from us to express, to move, to play, to release pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow. The field of possibility and expression is so vast!


When we sing with others, we're invited to connect. And, oh, the joy when we feel we have a place to belong! That our voice contributes to something really beautiful, or messy (there's joy in that too!). We don't need to be perfect, there's no such thing. We do need to listen and enter the relationship: my listening needs to include my voice while listening to your voice, and listening to our voices together. It's so wild and beautiful and leaves me feeling freer and happier and lighter than when I sing by myself.


It can be so simple! Humming one long note in unison. Or two notes held in harmony, spinning out a vowel together, all these humans vibrating in sound. I am still amazed, every single time!


We are interconnected beings. We need each other in all our diversity, our challenges, and our courage.


To show up, be heard, and listen deeply is courageous.

And contagious.


"When one of us makes a brave and openhearted sound as we are singing, the very air expands, possibilities increase for everyone, and we understand our universal connection and how what one person gives moves the group exponentially." Rhiannon


Thank you for seeing me. I'd love to hear your stories about your voice.

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