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How virtual choir rehearsal helped me clarify my writing voice

I became interested in knowing more about my writing voice when I received feedback on a draft of my first book chapter. My voice, my writing coach said, was not as clear as when I speak. Why not? I wondered. It seemed clear to me. This feedback and several discussions about my voice made me more attentive to my voice while drafting two book chapters over last summer and early fall. I asked myself how I sounded to my reader. I began practicing reading my drafts aloud to hear how I sounded, and I was pleased my writing voice was becoming more distinct. I was getting to know my writing voice, I thought.

“And how would you describe your writing voice right now?” my writing coach asked me one day. This turned out to be an important question. My immediate response, conversational, described my speaking voice more than my writing voice. With that realization, I resolved to do the work to hone and gain greater understanding of my writing voice.

During summer, I looked for something fun and energizing to help me cope with the isolation and fatigue I felt from working under pandemic conditions. I love choral singing, so I joined a virtual church choir. From late summer to fall, I sang in three virtual church choir projects, and attended a course on basic music theory and choral singing. Little did I know how useful this virtual choral singing experience would be for understanding my writing voice. In the process of rehearsing and recording my choral parts, I became more aware of my voice and brought this awareness into my writing.

Instead of hosting online rehearsals, the choir director emailed choristers a music score, a recording guide track, general rehearsal tips, and instructions for preparing a good quality voice recording to submit within a week. We would rehearse alone, the director acknowledged, and we were still part of a choir. Imagine your choirmates in the room, he encouraged, and your audience uplifted by your singing. Sounded like writing advice to me.

I developed a rehearsal routine. First, I listened to the pre-recorded tracks and sang along with the music score. Then, I rehearsed a different section of the song. During each rehearsal, I recorded myself singing, in a quiet room, and listened carefully for how well I sang my part. Did I sing the notes clearly? Were they distinct? Did I sing to the beat? Were my phrases connected? Did I sing expressively? I repeated this routine when I rehearsed the entire song. Finally, I made a couple of voice recordings, selected one I thought was good and submitted it.

The close and careful listening to my singing during the rehearsals helped me rediscover my natural voice and reconnect with it. I noticed my natural voice was clear in sections where my singing was relaxed. It was indistinct or distorted where my singing was strained, confused and contrived. I also noticed that my natural voice has a distinct quality. Even though my natural voice is warm, the way I express this warmth in an alto voice still differs from another alto singer. It has my distinct ‘personality.’ I learned this as I imagined myself singing with other voices. Now that I know my natural voice, making it clear and distinct is easier. I can select from the variety of vocal practice techniques those that help me learn more about it, develop it fully, and use it effectively to inspire my audience through music.

So, how did the virtual choral rehearsal help me know my writing voice? I found the close and careful listening I did during the rehearsals an important practice to bring to my writing. It has made me more aware of how my writing sounds. Singing my part several times affirmed the well-known advice to read drafts aloud after generating and editing. Listening closely to what I have drafted helps me know whether my natural voice is clear and distinct in the words and phrases I chose to express my points. There are a variety of writing strategies and practices that help writers make their voice clear in writing. Reconnecting with my natural voice helps me know which ones I can use to know my natural voice in writing and make it clear. Moreover, music gives me a rich vocabulary to understand and describe my writing voice more clearly.

Bertha Kadenyi Amisi is an assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University, Florida, whose areas of specialization include the social dimensions of armed conflict, war resistance and peacebuilding in postcolonial countries.