Song & a Story: "She Used to Be Mine"

By William Wood

Erin* enrolled in Vocal Fundamentals with me this summer. As a vocalist myself, I was excited, and a little nervous, to finally be on the other side of a voice lesson! I had an ambitious first session planned, filled with warm ups to try and many ideas for ways to structure the course. When Erin showed up, all my ideas faded as she opened up to me about her anxiety. Most days it was so debilitating that even leaving the house was too much. It was huge that she even had the courage to come to school and meet with me that day!

As we talked, she started opening up and seemed really excited about the class. She had many years of voice lessons already, but wanted to gain some performance confidence back. At that time, she was even too nervous to sing in front of her parents.

After spending the class getting to know her and working on some goals, I wanted to wrap up by hearing her voice and going through some vocal exercises to hear her range. I played the warm up and Erin became so anxious she couldn’t bring herself to sing a single note. It really hit me just how crippling her anxiety was.

As the course went on, I was encouraging and reinforced that our classes were a safe space; there was no need to be embarrassed about your voice when we’re just practicing! As Erin became more comfortable, she began to sing more and more. It began only with warm ups, slowly evolved into parts of songs, and eventually she was singing full songs.

One day, I thought we should try recording one of the songs she was working on. The sheer idea of setting up with the professional studio microphone caused Erin to revert back to a state of anxiety that prevented her from singing. I was sad that after all her hard work, our semester might end without her being able to immortalize her incredible progress in a nice recording.

Our last few sessions arrived and we kept trying on the mic. Erin became more and more comfortable with it, but it really clicked when I told her to just “feel” the music. I encouraged her to not worry about all the technical aspects we’ve built all semester and to just embrace the emotion of the music.

Erin lost herself in the performance – a cover of Sara Bareilles’ “She Used to be Mine,” and the recording you hear here was all done in a single take! It was so moving. As I sat at the recording console, I began to tear up. I was so proud of how far Erin had come.

This was a huge milestone for her. To this day, Erin constantly struggles with how confident she used to be when she was younger, so to hear her sing this song so passionately was incredible. The lyrics are all about missing a part of yourself you once had. I think Erin was able to find the confidence she needed through her personal connection to this song.

It was a huge victory for her and a truly moving illustration of the power music can have.

*The student’s name has been changed to protect her identity.