Heavenly Voice Lessons

December 23, 2019

The #MyWheaton blog shares first-person stories from Wheaton students and alumni.

Heavenly Voice Lessons

Kari Swanson ‘22 is a vocal performance major from Sioux City, Iowa. In this MyWheaton blog post, Kari shares the faith lessons God guided her through in voice and opera.

When I was seven years old, my image of a classical singer was a larger-than-life blonde woman wearing a severe metal breastplate with a horned Viking helmet atop her head. Little did I know that is who I’d strive to be thirteen years later, spending hours in the depths of Armerding’s practice rooms to mold my voice into the ultimate “Opera Viking Lady.”

Coming to Wheaton marked a distinct shift in how I viewed my voice and my dreams of pursuing a career in vocal performance. In the midst of working toward excellence in my field, God has been teaching me how to walk closer with Him. Discovering my voice has led me to learn about important aspects of my Heavenly Father and my relationship with him.

Life Comes from Him

Last year, the first thing I had to fix in my technique was breathing. I wasn’t getting the amount of air that would create a full, sustained sound. It turns out that my breath affected every aspect of my voice. When I realized my error and how drastic the difference a good breath made, it was hard to remember how I had ever breathed wrong before. It’s funny how parallel breath is to God and how easy it is to forget that breath comes from Him. When we don’t have good breath to support us, everything goes wrong. It is also so easy to take for granted, but good breath is precious and sweet. When we breathe in, we are inhaling the gift of life which sustains us. When I exhale and sing, I can give that give back in glory and honor to Him for His purposes.

How to Lament

In the world of auditioning and performance, the feelings of disappointment and loss are an unfortunate occurrence. Through the wisdom and guidance of teachers and faculty, I’m beginning to see how walking in the valley of disappointment allows me a unique opportunity to dwell with God. It’s a time to ask questions like, how can I honor you in this? Or how can I become more like Christ in this situation? Instead of asking why, dealing with disappointment, especially following failed expectations, is a humbling time of reflection.

It's Not About Me

“But it’s not about you Kari. This is about serving your audience.”

During the dress rehearsal for my sophomore voice recital, I sang a note that didn’t feel right. It sounded weak and shaky, not something you want to hear during the final dress rehearsal. To my surprise, my voice teacher announced that it sounded great in the audience. I was confused because that was the last way I would have described it. If I, the singer, thought it sounded weird, how could it sound good? She explained that because of the acoustics in our head, singers don’t always hear what the voice actually sounds like, but her following words hit me hard. In that moment, I was only thinking about me. This life is not our own and music-making is not a separate entity that God sees differently. They are beautifully and creatively entwined. Performance is about ministry. It’s about serving others through sound and storytelling.

Tender Mercies

I can’t count how many times God has put a certain song in my life that I didn’t know I needed to sing. Unconsciously, I began to process a situation or grasp an emotion I was afraid to grapple with. God tenderly led me through the music he put in front of me. When you spend hours practicing and interpreting a song, the words and music take a seat in the soul. In fact, they end up complexly knitted together by the end of the process. Inevitably, this soul-entwined song begins to feel like worship. This makes sense, as God’s tender love and mercies ultimately point to His worship and glory. It makes sense that we love to worship in song. If the earth and everything in it longs to sing, how much more should our souls be yearning to sing in praise! As the famous composer Claudio Monteverdi said, “The end of all good music is to affect the soul,” and our soul longs to worship and be close with God.

Learn more about Wheaton's opera performances here.