As the concert finished, I breathed a sigh of relief. Despite my nerves it had gone well, and I had even enjoyed it. Several people came to speak to me, thanking me and encouraging me, but I was unprepared for how many times I would hear one comment: “I didn’t know you could sing.”
I was surprised. I smiled politely and thanked them, but the response I wanted to give kept going round in my mind: “Then you can’t have been listening.”
I was 15 years old and I felt I had been singing my whole life- singing along with music around the house or on car journeys, singing in church, eight years as a pantomime chorus girl- and yet this was my first time singing solo. How was it that my voice had never been heard?
Probably because it was a quiet voice in a noisy world. I had very little confidence, I would never have pushed myself forward. There were others whose voices were louder, that people naturally tuned into and noticed. It was easy for the quiet voice to be overlooked.
And yet one lady heard, and I’m grateful for the way she listened to me and gave me the chance to sing. It made me feel valued and listened to in a way that I hadn’t felt before. Maybe I did have something to offer after all.
As I look back and reflect on this, there are two lessons I take from it: firstly, to listen for the quiet voice. The volume of a voice in no way correlates to its value yet often the loudest voice wins the day. Some voices are naturally easier to hear than others but often quiet, observant people have some of the greatest insights if we will just give them a chance to speak and listen to what they have to say.
Secondly, as someone with a quiet voice, sometimes you have to force yourself to speak up. Often people’s failure to listen is not intentional- they just operate in a different way. I am naturally a listener and a slow processor. I prefer to wait for a gap in the conversation, and then I may have something to say, but I’m learning that sometimes the gap doesn’t come. If I am going to wait for quiet before I speak, in certain settings that moment will never come, so if I have something to say, I may have to push for my voice to be heard.
I’ll finish with this clip from Sister Act The Musical as I think it illustrates the point well. I love how Delores listens to Sister Mary Robert and encourages her to sing out, but how Mary Robert also has to make the choice to raise her voice, to realise she has something to contribute and go for it.
And I love the looks on the other nuns’ faces, and the expressions which echo the words I heard as a teenager: “I didn’t know you could sing.”