“Most people live their lives, most people go to their graves, with their music still inside them.”
As a master voice coach, author, speaker, singer and songwriter, Barbara McAfee describes her work of more than 25 years as “midwiving voices across thresholds.” Whether it is an individual seeking to express his/her deepest truth, or a group looking to embrace its own power, Barbara guides them on an intimate journey to find their unique voice, sound by primal sound.
As Barbara says, “Your voice is how you get the gift inside of you out. Nothing much happens in the world until someone gives it voice.” That’s why the words “voice” and “vocation” share a common Latin root (meaning to “call, invoke or name”), she says. Her work merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformative power of sound, aiming to foster awareness of unconscious vocal habits we carry that interfere with us doing our best work.
Barbara believes that the gifts uniquely expressed through our voices are not ours alone, but part of a shared destiny across humanity. So when individual voices are more fully and truthfully expressed, communities become stronger as well.
Barbara’s journey with voice began in her 20’s, when she found herself, while in a voice workshop, introduced to the full potential of her singing voice. As the range of her voice expanded, so did her life, and the stage fear that had permeated her identity up until that point as an amateur theater and musical performer gradually dissolved. Not only did Barbara feel her soul healing, it was as if the healing transcended the boundaries of time, reaching across past generations. Having experienced the healing power of a fully expressed voice, she went on to incorporate additional aspects of Jungian philosophy and yoga to develop a five-elemental approach to voice -- fire, air, metal, wood, water -- in order to help others experience the full range of their aliveness, too.
As an oral tradition song leader of many decades, Barbara uses chants and poems to open groups of people to the direct experience of mystery and wonder, as well as the power of human connection. She has witnessed how, when neither script nor leader is present, individual voices inevitably harmonize into a coherent whole. She demonstrated this in her TEDx talk where, in just under 10 minutes, Barbara catalysed the audience (numbering in the hundreds) to sing the words of the Sufi master Hafiz, discovering their innate collective wisdom.
Beyond the emergence of aliveness, Barbara also serves as a midwife to those on the edge of life. As the founder of Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities, Barbara and singers from all walks of life and professions sing songs of comfort and healing for those in the last few months, hours and minutes of their lives. Compassionately holding space for whatever is meant to unfold, Morning Star Singers offer the simple gift of presence, beauty, and meaning to those “who are often experiencing professionals and family members ‘doing things to them’.”
Her book Full Voice: The Art and Practice of Vocal Presence is based on her 25+ years as a voice coach supporting people from many professions to find their voice, whatever that means to them. Barbara invites readers to reflect on questions such as: Are you willing to be alive? For what did we trade our raw messy human voices? What is so frightening about the possibility of authentic expression? What might be more important and interesting than your fears? The book concludes with Barbara’s original song “Brain Rats” where, with healing humor, she speaks to the common human foible of ruminating on “wicked thoughts that prove my every flaw.”
Barbara has produced eight CDs of mostly original music. She lives up the street from the wild and scenic St Croix River in St Croix Falls, Wisconsin.
Please join us in conversation with this midwife of voices, and accept her invitation to find and express your own.
Being a "midwife for voices" - and witnessing the emergence of people's vitality, gifts, joy, and power through the vehicle of voice. I am now training others to do this sacred work and consistently learn a lot from them. Inviting people to sing together in the oral tradition - no music to read, no performance. It's always surprising, moving, beautiful. Bringing song to the bedsides of people facing health challenges or end of life.
In the late 1980's I attended a weekend voice workshop with members of the Roy Hart Centre. In that church basement in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I met Saule Ryan who supported me in opening my voice to ranges and colors I had never imagined possible. I continued studying with him and other members of the centre in the US, France, and Canada. Now Saule and I are dear friends and colleagues and have been teaching together for 20+ years.
When my mother was in home hospice several years ago, my beloved friend, Lia Falls, came to play folk harp for her. Mom loved the harp...and drifted into bliss every time Lia visited. As a trained Certified Nursing Assistant, Lia also helped out with caring for Mom in the physical sense. She noticed things the other staff were missing. Lia sat vigil with me during the last night of Mom's life...and helped me wash her body after she passed. We sang together through that sacred experience.... How can I ever thank her for such a profound gift?
To visit Colonsay, an island in the Scottish Hebrides where the McPhee clan originates. I was scheduled to go right before COVID-19 hit. When the trip got canceled, I learned several songs in Scots Gaelic. Someday I look forward to being on that small island that a friend tells me is "full of sheep and McAfee's."
Your voice matters -- and it's full of gifts just waiting to emerge.