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Using My Outside Voice

By Kelly Jo Eldredge

I don’t even realize it most of the time, but when I get excited about something, or I believe strongly in what I’m trying to get across, or even when I find something really funny . . .

I use my outside voice.

My poor parents. They spent a lot of my childhood riding that fine line between encouraging me to develop a strong sense of self and letting me know that maybe I should take it down a few notches. It was a painful process for me to learn to use my inside voice more than my outside voice, but I did, and most of the time now I don’t inappropriately ring out. Most of the time.

On the other hand, my outside voice has taken me to some pretty awesome places. I will never forget the exhilaration that swept through me as I stood in the wings ready to make my first entrance as the lead on a Broadway tour. I had a fleeting, giddy thought at the exact moment those warm lights drew me on stage: nobody is shh-ing me now!

I cherish the opportunities I have had to use my outside voice. There is power there—a conviction and a joy. I wonder if it has a place in real-world arenas as well as the stage. I am curious about how we might use that kind of energy in everyday life.

I don’t sing on stage as much as I used to. Today, I get my kicks out of leading voice students to the dark side—encouraging them to use their outside voices. I love it when one of my voice students (often accidentally the first time) takes the dampers off and lets the vibrations sail through them uninhibited. Usually, they immediately clasp their hands over their mouth with a shocked expression. “Yikes! Where did that come from?”

“Deep inside,” I say. “And it’s uniquely, beautifully YOU. No one else can do that!”

This is, hands down, the best part of a voice lesson—the moment where the real jewel emerges underneath blankets of fear—fear of standing out, fear of embarrassment, fear of not doing it “right.” I live for the days when my students own up to their talents and use their outside voices. It’s exhilarating.

Lately, I’ve come to a new realization: maybe today my own outside voice is exactly what I need to harness again. Maybe I’ve taken quiet, proper, adult behavior a little too far. It might just be time to take the damper off this bell and let her ring again in a different way.

As I sit down to write this, our world is just starting to emerge from the devastation of a deadly pandemic. Vaccines are allowing us to step outside of our homes and into the fresh spring air. One would think this brush with death would make us kinder to one another, but that’s not exactly the way it’s playing out. This spring has also brought a new rash of mass shootings across the United States; political theatrics are still ugly as they’ve always been; Black lives don’t yet matter.

I’ve never been much of an activist, but for whatever reason—maybe pandemic hangover? I’m fired up now. I want to use my outside voice like I never have before. My body vibrates with the need to let it out. I want to cry against injustice; wail against loss; scream for change. I have been quiet for far too long, and I know it is time for me to let my sound out in the hopes that it will in some small way add to a flood of inspired dialogue, reflection, and change.

How do we use our outside voices in a way that also incorporates love and respect? How do we inspire and also deal openly with this messy world?

I don’t have a clear answer yet, but another thing I was born with (in addition to a powerful set of lungs) was creativity. We all have that gene, by the way. Creativity is pulsing inside each of us.

There is real hope in creativity, and it can be cultivated. It’s thrilling to imagine a world where we use our outside voices in our own unique and creative ways to communicate better, to share our experiences, and to find solutions to all sorts of challenges we face.

Do we have the guts to harness our individual creativity, listen to one another, use our outside voices without apology, and become vehicles to inspire change?

Let me warn you, using your outside voice might turn you into a bit of a rebel. I’ve gotten myself into trouble more than once when I let it out. Don’t be afraid. We all have a right to be heard. We also have a duty to listen to what other people are saying. If we are all talking at once, it defeats the whole purpose. We’re much more powerful in collaboration than we will ever be as lone mavericks.

What would happen if we stopped holding back and really unleashed the potential of our outside voices? What if we let our ideas run rampant and stopped worrying about what others thought of us? What if we gave a little consideration to seemingly crazy ideas other people come up with?

I think we desperately need to experience the world with fresh eyes, open hearts and ears, and full lungs. We have it in us to inspire a brighter future. We just have to let it out.

Kelly Jo Eldredge, Department Chair of the Theatre Arts & Dance Department at Red Rocks Community College in Denver, enjoys teaching a wide variety of theatre courses, as well as directing many theatrical productions. She received her master’s from New England Conservatory in Boston and began her professional career in opera.

Kelly Jo soon moved to New York to pursue a career in musical theatre and has performed lead roles on national Broadway tours and in regional theatre throughout the U.S. and Canada. After many years on the road, she decided to retire her suitcase and live closer to family in beautiful Colorado.

Kelly Jo is a member of NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing), ATHE (Association for Theatre in Higher Education), VASTA (Voice and Speech Trainers Association), ASTR (American Society for Theatre Research), and a board member of the Historic Elitch Theatre

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