My Story, Voice

Can’t You be White and Sing Gospel Music?…

Can’t You be White and Sing Gospel Music?…

“Can’t you be white and sing gospel music?” This was food for thought brought to me by a black friend after reading through my post ‘Braids, Gospel, and  Connection’. He really got me thinking. How would I answer this question? How would I honor both black and white people with my response? It felt like a loaded question with an answer that someone, somewhere would find fault with.

As I spent weeks, months even, thinking on this, I spun out different answers, but each of them fell short and cast a light on the complexity that such a question brings. I came to realize that I can’t answer this question for the vast majority of people. The only way to answer is to openly and honestly share my own thoughts on this. As I delved into what was behind my thoughts towards culturally or even stereotypically black things and the answers I came up with, I realized where I had errors in my own thinking, insecurities in my racial awareness, and how very scared I was to ‘open up a can of worms’ on this topic. 

The Fears Within…

If I let my fear win and never respond, how can I ever be a part of healthy racial discussions? I really want to be safely free to ask questions about black culture and be willing to answer questions about my own culture. I wrestle with the worry, ‘Will my curiosity and naivete be misconstrued as belittling or racial bias when I ask questions or will it be seen as trying to understand another culture, black or otherwise, with openness and a desire to truly see from another perspective? 

Out of Reach…

With that in mind – wanting racial & cultural understanding and my own self-exploration – I answer the initial question, ‘Can’t you be white and sing gospel music?’ The short answer is, ‘Yes.’ However, underneath this question seems to be, ‘Why did I perceive gospel music to be somewhat out of reach for me as a white person?’ As a child, I saw gospel music represented by mostly black choirs on CD covers, in movies, and in conversation. I felt like an outsider looking in because I wasn’t connected to a community that participated in this type of music. 

Moses Hogan, Composer

True, I sang along to the songs that I loved and I imitated the stylist effects that I heard in gospel music at home, but I didn’t have an external outlet for it. When I reached high school and college I got to know about more traditional gospel and spiritual music through choir. When we got to sing a Moses Hogan song I was elated! It felt so good to sing with the depth of feelings this music evoked inside of me. But, I was also aware that it wasn’t ‘my’ music to own. I couldn’t fully give in to the passion of the music because it wouldn’t ‘look right’ for me as a white person to be ‘acting black’ while performing. Would my enthusiasm be misunderstood as me trying to be something I’m not? Would I be offensive to the culture that created this music? Would I be judged or laughed at? At what point could I be comfortable being white but fully engaging in something from another racial culture and at what point would that be acceptable to said culture or become offensive? What I was missing was a sense of permission to enter into this cultural context.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery…

‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…’ is a well recognized quote. We see something we like and imitate it because we want to be like it, or in this case, that people group. But, I once heard it suggested that white people are trying to take things that belong to other cultures and make them their own. Whether this was said in seriousness or as a joke, it brought up a new worry.

This topic is even addressed in the popular musical, Hairspray, when the black group of kids come up with some really cool music and the white group takes that music and presents it as their own in a more palatable-to-whites way. However, there are a few white people in this musical (the main character) that recognizes how awesome the black culture’s way of doing music is and is warmly welcomed into this new group. She and her friends break cultural barriers (in the 60s) to create racial unity.

Racial Unity through Dancing in the musical ‘Hairspray’

More recently while watching an African American sitcom, one of the black characters said, ‘Katy Perry wearing cornrows? Seriously? Can’t we have anything of our own?” So, still in today’s society, I worry, ‘Will another race or culture think I’m trying to ‘steal’ or ‘change’ something that was created by them just by expressing myself similarly? In my heart, I’m just doing my best to enjoy the creation from that culture.

That Mediocrity Can Pay to Greatness”

Obviously, white people can sing and participate in gospel music. But for me, it really had to do with my fears of rejection, being misunderstood, and accidentally offending people. I needed to feel like I was permitted by this people group to do these things. These are big worries and concerns for a (recovering) people-pleaser like myself. If I’m really true to myself, then I say…bring on the gospel rooted music! Let it dive into my being and bring up the treasure of my soul. Let me try my best to imitate what’s been done even though it will have my own racial and cultural stylings too, because as the quote says in full…

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness

So, I’ve come to realize that some people will misunderstand me, others will critique me, and still others will cheer me on in this endeavor. But in the end, I need to decide how I will feel about me. I need to be true to myself and that means I need to freely sing gospel from time to time. It means that I will hold my head high, unashamed, as I respectfully engage more in this style of music. I can be white and sing gospel – and that’s not being dishonoring of my African American friends, but rather celebrating them and their cultural heritage!

God, My Story

The Shock and Shift of Life

The Perfect Life…

I literally thought I had the perfect life. Of course, I was eight years old and didn’t really think about what an ‘imperfect life’ would be. That is, with the exception of the commercials I saw of children in foreign countries with flies buzzing around their faces. That obviously wasn’t perfect. The child-like joy of life is not to worry about what could be, but to live in the moment. I lived in the moments with my family. 

My ‘Perfect’ Family

We played together, we ate together, we went to church together. One fun memory was the night when we rented a VCR from the video store and picked out a movie to watch together as a family. That was a highlight for sure! …But then something happened that shattered the innocence of my ideal world.

The Moment of Change…

I’m not alone in what I’m about to share. There are so many other people who have lived this story or variations of it, but when its happening to you, it feels like you’re the only one in the world experiencing the shock and shift of life. …My parents got divorced. I no longer had both parents at home to spend evenings and weekends with; both parents to eat a Sunday dinner together after a morning spent at church. I was now a child of a single father and a single mother. 

Half my Family

I had no way of knowing what this would do to my life. I barely even knew anyone who had divorced parents because my world was pretty small. What do you do with something like this when such a big change happens? It’s not something that eventually goes away, although I prayed nightly that my parents would get back together again. It’s not something I would hide since I’m an external processor and I needed to talk to people in my inner-circle, but not immediate family, about the changes in my life. 


There was so much self-shame I experienced because now I was a child in ‘one of those families’ through no fault of my own. I grew up being taught that ‘divorce is wrong’ and ‘God hates divorce’ and all of a sudden those same people who had taught me these principles and rules now broke covenant with each other and with me. I didn’t know what to do with it! I didn’t know how to reconcile what was happening in my life with the things I had been taught. I didn’t know how to mend and fix the brokenness. Where do I go? Who do I talk to? I was so filled with shame to be a child of a divorced family. 

Here to Stay…

But there was One. There was always One…The One, God, my Heavenly Father. I am so thankful that I believed in Jesus as my Savior from such a young age. When my heart hurt, I could pray to Him. When I didn’t understand what was happening, His arms surrounded me. When relationships, finances, housing, family, and school was just plain tough as a result, He was ready and waiting to listen. God was my anchor. He was my provider. He was my steady place. What I learned about God in this part of my life has carried with me. What was hard pressed and shaken in my life, resulted in new strength and fortitude. I discovered the truth of the verse below because of my connection to God through the hard time.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

2 Corinthians 4:8-12 (NIV)

 I was not alone. I could always turn to God. When things in my life weren’t perfect… He was. 

My friends wrote a song birthed out of their experiences of meeting the ‘God who stayed with them’ always and through everything. Be encouraged and lifted up by the One who is ‘Here to Stay.’

God, My Story

Finding Beethoven

Siamese Cats…

When I was young, my neighbor friend, Dana, had a few Siamese cats. I really liked her cats and thought that surely these were the best cats around since my friends’ family loved them so much. My soon-to-be sister-in-law’s family had a Siamese cat too and so, it seemed like everyone had one. 

I began asking my Mom if we could have another cat. Nevermind that we already had a cat, I wanted a Siamese cat. I wanted to be like my friend and own these stately cats that walked with their heads held high. They were beautiful to me with their light and dark brown fur and blue eyes. I dismissed the notion that Siamese cats were somehow cruel – what Lady and the Tramp would want us to believe. No, these cats were my kind of cats.

Not in the Cards…

Mom knew that we couldn’t just up and get a Siamese. They were expensive and who knew where you could find a breeder? This cat wasn’t the kind that we could regularly find at the Animal Shelter either. However, she could see the depth of desire I had for one of these pets. She desperately wanted to give me something that would make my heart soar.

Now, lest you think my Mom was indulgent, that wasn’t the case. My parents were going through a divorce and it was really hard on all of us as a family. Finding ‘the little things’ to brighten our days was important. And so, Mom prayed. She prayed that there would be a Siamese cat for our family.

Finding Beethoven…

Well, wouldn’t you know, Dana had just found a little kitten in her neighbor’s yard. The kitten had been hiding in a house corner when she noticed it’s little curled up body. She immediately took that kitten into her home to make sure it was safe from harm. This kitten was a Siamese! First they tried to find the owner, but no one came forward. Her mom told her that they already had enough cats and couldn’t keep this one too. So, they offered the cat to me!

I was so ecstatic and Mom said I could keep it! We took this little scrawny kitten home and gave it a bath, where my sister picked off a lot of fleas. We made up a little cardboard box and covered it with a soft blanket. The kitten immediately crawled in and made himself at home. I put a worn out stuffed animal next to him too, you know, because kittens like stuffed animals! Hey, it made sense in my child’s mind. We named him Beethoven, after my current favorite animal movie of the same name.

Beethoven getting comfy in his new home.

Good Gifts…

Little did I know that Mom had been praying for this gift. Years later, she shared with me that she always wondered if an angel had brought our cat to us. I wasn’t sure what to think. Did angels still help out humans? Would they do something as simple as leaving a new pet for a child? Why would they care? Well, it’s not so much just the angels, but God who sends them. God the Father loves His children and cares for them. He can send angels to do tasks as joy-giving as leaving a very specific Siamese kitten for a little child going through a painful time in her life.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Matthew 7:11 ESV
God, My Story

A Brother’s Love & Protection

Sibling Love/Sibling Rivalry

Most of the time I loved my siblings and enjoyed playing with them and running around with them while we were growing up. Then there were those times that I remember being angry with them and hurt by them and even confused. But hey, that’s what having brothers and sisters is all about – sibling love and sibling rivalry!

Not Pulling My Hair…

My brother, Jesse, is five years older than me and the sibling immediately older than me in our birth order. When I think about Jesse a few things stand out to me: Baseball, Video Games, Friends, and Hair Pulling. Even into our adulthood, my brother still pulled my hair! His favorite thing to say to me was, “I’m not pulling your hair you’re pulling your own hair”. Technically, he was right. He was ‘holding’ my hair and I was pulling to get away from his grasp. But that justification was just splitting hairs (pun intended). He WAS pulling my hair.

Jesse ‘not-pulling’ my hair

Almost Spitting…

We had the usual brother-sister spat… or should I say ‘spit’? That’s right, he liked to almost spit on me! He was a great wrestler and I wasn’t afraid to get in on the fight, but then he’d win. As he had me pinned to the floor he’d let a drop of saliva every so slowly begin to drip from his lips. I was sure it was going to fall right onto my face! But usually, he sucked it back up just in time. I was saved!

Teasing and Love

You see, even though these things could be seen as malicious and mean-spirited, he never actually hurt me. He was big on teasing – took after my dad and oldest brother on that! But he never hurt me. Case in point; one time he was looking after me and I wanted to play with him and his friend. They were playing catch with a baseball. Somehow I got in the cross fire and the ball hit me in the face. As I started to wail, Jesse immediately jumped into action. He quickly got some ice for my injury. Then he found me my favorite blanket and pillow and made up a bed for me on the porch swing. I thought it was great to have my big brother catering to me and I soaked up the attention and happily watched as he and his friend went back to playing catch. Either Jesse really cared about me or he  was really afraid of getting into trouble with Mom and Dad.

A Safe Place…

Whichever one it was, I found out his true heart as we got a little older. I actually don’t remember the memory very well, but the feelings of that memory are unforgettable. Jesse was left in charge of me again and I got very afraid of being left alone, without my parents. I don’t know why exactly. It was probably a step in my journey of growing up and maturing into independence. Jesse could tell how down I was feeling and he came to my room to talk to me. The words he said and his actions showed me that with him around, I never needed to be afraid. It anchored me so I could jump up and roam around again happily.

Jesse and me more recently

Jesse has proven his safety and care over and over again through the years. He has offered thoughtful advice at key moments in my growing up. He signed off on my then boyfriend – now husband, a very important opinion. And he still quietly shares his heart and reflections on current situations with truth and wisdom. I now see him caring for his own family in this same way.

Trickling Down…

There’s something very good that can be said for acting in such a way that those around you feel safe. When we challenge ourselves to be courageous and caring, it has a ripple effect to those around us. Not only do they feel safe, but they are empowered to be a safe place for those around them. Ultimately, we get our first safety from God the Father. His love trickles down to us directly and also through the people we find safety in and then on towards those who find safety with us.

Leadership, My Story, Praise and Worship, Voice

I am a Private Voice Teacher

I am a Private Voice Teacher…

Not many people know the ins and outs of the profession I chose. It’s not one that gets put on display often and it’s done in the privacy of my own home. Each day I get the excitement of partnering with people to improve their voices, specifically singing voices! I am a private voice teacher. Others might call me a vocal coach. Some say singing teacher. No matter the term, it all leads back to the same idea. I teach people how to use their voice in a way that it’ll last for a long time to come (health) and sound pleasing to the ear (tone). 

My Home Music Studio

I love it. It’s as simple as that. I. Love. It. When I began studying voice, it was because I loved to sing, but now it’s morphed to loving seeing my students sing. We rejoice together over an improvement, we problem solve together to get the voice to reach new heights and goals. We talk together when it’s just plain hard to sing due to emotions and we come out with a song on our voices and a smile on our faces. I’ve come to see how much of a wholistic art and process that voice teaching really is. It’s not solo, it’s a partnership. It’s not just the vocal mechanism, it’s the whole being – body, mind, and spirit/soul. 

Academic Plus More…

Me Teaching During a Voice Lesson

I began teaching with the model of academic musical goals due to my college experience. It’s been great to have the structure of classical music and style. However, teaching from a private studio has brought all sorts of singers to my door. I’ve had the classical singers, the rock band singers, the international singers, the musical singers, the church singers, etc. Each new student brings new goals into the studio and I’ve acted as a detective to tease out the best way to teach each person and help them with their goals. It’s often looked different from the requirements of an academic setting and it’s made me a more rounded teacher.

Teaching Voice and its Effects

I don’t think I can begin to explain quite fully what teaching gives to me and how it changes me on a regular basis. The highs and lows are there and each of them are connected to a person… a student… a partnership. We are on the mountain together and in the muck and mire together. We wade through the intense work and soar to new heights when we’ve had breakthroughs. Perhaps the most surprising thing has been the relational side of lessons. A student and teacher must be connected enough to be vulnerable in singing and teaching; in trying new things and new ways of doing things; in sharing why we’re not 100% focused during that days lesson. Because of this close connection to my students, I feel with them as they go through the non-singing parts of their lives too. 

Me and My Student of More thank Ten Years!

Try and Then Try Some More

But on the practical level… We sing! They sing their song and I suggest trying it this way or that. They sing again. I suggest a repeat or a different technique or trick to try. They sing again. The students who willingly try and try again, whether it’s two times or ten times, will succeed. They will strengthen their voices and become more self aware of their whole singing mechanism. They will listen with new ears and make minute adjustments that only they and I know about in order to change their sound, get out a note, or paint a phrase with tone color.

My Student Tuning the Guitar for Her Voice Lesson

These students of mine… they are awesome! I’ve had so many students that work hard and use their whole hearts to go at it again and again. I’m so impressed with the focus my students have shown me over the years and even when they’re not taking lessons, they keep at it! They keep practicing the things they’ve been taught. Teaching voice is seriously one of my top rewarding experiences. Not just one experience, but each lesson is a repeated joyful experience. Thank you, my students, for all that you’ve taught me and given me over the years. I’m so super blessed to have you as part of my life story.

One of the Many Triumphs…

With that, I’ll leave you with a song that two of my students co-wrote and then recorded live and then released as a new single this weekend! It’s a Praise & Worship song called To The One. The male lead singer and the female background vocalist in the video below are students that have touched my life and teaching experience.

‘To The One’ written & performed by Kyle Howard & Joanna Machen