In 1989, when I came to Bath, having retired from NATO in Brussels, I started exploring a number of different courses. The New Age was in full flow then, this was an alternative world which was new to me, and I embraced it with enthusiasm. I dipped a toe into the world of crystals, I learnt about the chakra system in our bodies. I studied Psychosynthesis, which is a therapy based on holistic principles. I went to writing classes and painting classes.
Then I discovered Chloe Goodchild through hearing her singing on a tape. In those days we had tape recorders! I found out that she was living in Bath and that she was giving singing lessons. I had always wanted to be able to sing. Even as a young girl at boarding school I had tried for the school choir and been rejected. I was too self conscious and was never able to produce more than a small, reedy singing voice. I immediately signed up for her class.
Chloe was a teacher like no other. Her aim was to awaken in you your own authentic voice, the voice of your soul. I shall never forget the first morning I sang with her. First she taught us how to ‘stand in mountain’, feet firmly planted on the ground, feeling the earth deep beneath us. Then we started to chant ‘AH’ over and over again. This we did for three hours at a stretch, without a break, no time for a cup of tea or coffee. By the end of the morning my body was like an empty column filled with sound, without a thought in my mind. When I went out for lunch, everything in my path seemed to part before me. Ordering my lunch I felt such empathy with the waitress, we were as one.
I decided to visit India with Chloe and her partner Roger, visiting spiritual centres in Southern India. We had some amazing experiences, notably in the ashram of the Indian saint Ramana Maharishi, which I will not relate here.
Chloe with Ramana Maharshi
Chloe was embarking on her first year long teaching of a group, and I decided to join it. Here I learnt to develop and ground my voice, gradually getting more confidence in hearing my own voice and following Chloe’s particular method of devotional singing.
After Chloe I went on to study raga singing with Gilles Petit, who had been Chloe’s teacher. He was a Frenchman who used to come over from Paris to Bristol and the West country. He was a man of huge stature and presence, and at first I was terrified of him! I learned to love the raga, and I also found that he had a heart of gold. A group of us would meet up every so often over a long weekend, we would limber up with some physical exercises, give each other massage, do some voice exercises, and finally we would learn the notes of a raga (of which there are many hundreds, and there are different ragas for each time of the day.) Then we had to learn how to improvise. I never became very proficient, I didn’t practise enough, but it taught me how to listen to the notes and how to recognise their different qualities. My musical appreciation vastly improved. As the days progressed I began to feel bathed in sound; again there was nothing but sound, which engendered a feeling of total bliss.
Gilles with his various instruments
Slowly I would begin to unwind, I felt happy, relaxed and secure in the sound of everyone’s voice, just as they too relaxed and softened under the healing power of the music. At the very best moments we became one.
We went to Greece, to the island of Cefalu, where we sang in the olive groves, with the mountains behind us and the sea in front of us. They were magical times.
With my friend
Now, after almost thirty years, I am back singing with Chloe again, following one of her online courses from America.
One of the exercises she has given us is to write our Vocal Self Portrait. I have done this and I have called it Lost and Found. Here it is.
“This is a story of lost and found. When I was very small with my mother I had plenty of voice. I chattered away to her, I was safe and secure in her love, her ample bosom. I was happy but then my mother left and I was surrounded by women in black, strange voices, strange sounds, stern faces, nothing did I understand. Why was I here? What was I doing here?
I began my search for my mother. Where was she? Gradually I lost my voice and it became a whisper inside of me, a lament, too dangerous now. I retreated deep inside myself.
My mother came back, but it was too late. My voice had gone. I could no longer speak, my wound was too deep, it was too big to express in words, so I shut it up and developed a small, tidy voice to conform to the outside world and what was expected of me. My inner voice lay dormant for years and years. I was able to manifest in the world, do what was necessary, but that voice lay hidden.
Things got bad, very bad, and then one day I discovered another voice, a voice outside of me that spoke to me. I began to listen to it, it said things that I could understand, that I could relate to and so gradually the voice inside of me began to emerge again. Was it safe? Could I let it be heard? From time to time I had come across other voices, in my readings, voices that spoke to me.
My mother died. Now I was on my own. I fell in love. That was new. Much heartache, much sorrow. I could not express my love.
Then I stopped working and I began to explore. That was the start of my journey to find my voice again, to reclaim it, own it, recognise it as my own and myself for who I was, much older now, beaten down by life, but not quite finished.
I discovered my voice, first through Chloe, then through Gilles, and many other things, writing, dancing, painting. I met congenial people and began to make a few friends. Slowly the world opened out, I still had depressions and black periods, but they became more manageable.
Then I discovered Julia McCutchen and ‘conscious writing’, which teaches you how to write from your authentic self and express the message of your soul. I found myself among amazing women. I felt I had found my tribe.
The questions I had tried to solve about my existence began to fade away as I began to express myself and who I was. So the dark clouds began to lighten and I began to emerge into the light.
I finally met up with Chloe once more, the circle had been completed and I had found my voice again.”
I have navigated the waters of life and find myself on the further shore.
I now have the intention of starting a new blog in which I will share lessons I have learnt from a long life. I look forward to meeting you there.