What’s on your wish list for the year? Learn a new skill? Take action? Deal with a fear? If you want to spice up your resolutions, Minneapolis-based Ariella Forstein has an idea: develop your voice through song.
It is often an act of vulnerability to sing in public, so Forstein works with people to develop self-confidence musically.
“This is the time in human history that you have to take that risk,” says Forstein. “I know it is scary sometimes … but I’ve learned that holding back is worse than feeling naked for a minute until you feel really good.”
When she was young, Forstein was influenced by the music in her synagogue and her public school. In college, she studied in Ghana and most recently has been working on her voice in Greece.
Forstein has gotten a broad perspective on the approach to voice in different cultures. From experiencing the Jewish tradition of Kol Isha — in which women cannot sing in front of men because the allure of their voices would distract men from their studies — to those of communities in Ghana, where people sing and dance freely in the streets, Forstein’s exposure has helped her to understand that culture often defines the way women speak.
In recent years, women’s voices also have undergone biological changes. According to Anne Karpf’s book “The Human Voice: The Story of a Remarkable Talent,” from 1945 to 1993 the average pitch of women aged 18 to 25 lowered by 23 hertz. Part of the change is specifically due to improved health and diet — as women grow larger from this improved diet, their vocal cords become longer, which creates a lower frequency or pitch. Surprisingly, this change might also be due to social factors.
Studies have shown that people have a tendency to speak in a higher register when talking with someone they consider more important, and that women with a lower voice pitch are thought of as more authoritive in the United States. These psychological aspects of tone can cause women to drop their register to increase their authority.
According to Stanford linguistics professor Penny Eckert, American women are also cautioned against “vocal fry” and “upspeak.” Vocal fry refers to speaking the end of sentence in a deeper and creakier voice. Upspeak is raising the end of a sentence, making a statement sound more like a question. Awareness of these factors may lead some women to police their voices, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Forstein helps women find and embrace their natural voice. “If you are not using your natural voice, there’s a part of yourself that you are not paying attention to.”
There are some cases in which altering the natural voice is desirable. Transgender women, for example, may want to actively change their register to match their transitioned identity. A surgery or illness may also cause one to purposely alter the voice. Regardless of the path, the goal is a voice that matches the concept of self, and once that voice is found, it is easier to use it for song.
If you are having trouble finding that voice, Forstein recommends getting out into nature — even if it’s on a lunch break. In tune with the natural harmonies and rhythms of the natural world, she says, it is easier to unearth the emotional, natural voice within. And even in these cold months, when nature can be tougher to enjoy, the act of singing can warm the body through its own vibration.
Forstein encourages women to find their voice even without a New Year’s resolution or coaching. “We’re living right now. So why wait?”
Go ahead and sing.