In 2003, semiconscious and unable to fight back, I was raped by a fellow undergraduate, a student athlete. It was the start of my freshman year, just a week before my 19th birthday, and I decided to stay silent about what happened to me. Ten years later, in 2013, I found myself nearly voiceless. Following a visit to a laryngologist, I was diagnosed with paresis—a form of bilateral nerve damage in the vocal cords. My shame and self-blame over the rape ten years ago now echoed my shame at my physical brokenness and injury— which endangered my singing career, where enormous stigma exists against (perceived) injuries. My research on the potential causes for this voice loss led me to two studies that mentioned that survivors of sexual assault who had not spoken up about their assault would experience a similar physical loss of voice. When I read this I immediately knew: this is me. The recommended therapy to gain back the voice? To speak up about what had happened. I joined RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) as a public speaker; I visited schools to talk about my experience; I gave several interviews on camera and in print about my experience. I did everything I could to physically improve my voice (therapy, massage, injections) and took on an intense schedule of psychotherapy, meeting to talk three times per week.
In early 2015, I discovered neuroscientist Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps the Score which looks at the neurological and physical effects of trauma and discusses alternatives to talk therapy, such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Neurofeedback, PBSP (Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor), Somatic Experiencing, and other body-based therapies. I dove into the exploration of these and several other methods that brought the body into the fore, and in a year’s time my PTSD symptoms— for the first time since 2003— went away. My singing voice also returned, strengthened.
The final step that brave will help me take is putting my experience into my singing voice. Empowered by a group of strong, creative women who will lend their own voices to this project, the process of making the piece—and, ideally, of viewing it (audience) and performing in it—will be a healing and empowering one. brave is not a recreation and re-living of trauma, but a look at the universal nature of trauma and the process of bringing together fragmented parts of the self. Questions that we are examining through this work are also:
- What can a musical work about trauma do that a documentary film, book, or lecture can’t? Why discuss this through the medium of music and live performance?
- What other words can we use for “healing”? Is the opposite of healing brokenness? How do we not elevate one over the other?
- Why do we throw away broken objects and broken people, rather than attempting small acts of repair?
- By desiring to be “healed” is one actually perpetuating the marginalization of trauma survivors? How can I most empower myself and others to pursue the path of their own greatest release?
brave explores these questions in a 45-minute, multi-composer song cycle. Five composers will create pieces of 5-8 minutes in length, for any combination of voice, percussion, violin, and electronics. The pieces will use body-based therapies as sonic jumping-off-points. For example, a composer might explore the alternating rhythm of EMDR or Breathwork, the spatial structures of PBSP, or the alpha- and theta-wave brain states of Neurofeedback. Electronic interludes weave each piece together and provide space for story-telling, statistics, and information. Panel discussions before or after the work are possible (and may be necessary) as is a discussion, when performed on college campuses, about rape culture and why it persists.
- April 1, 2018: deadline for compositions
- May 4-7, 2018: workshop in NYC at JACK
- May 8, 2018: Public performance with panel and talkback at BRIC’s Stoop Series
- May 10, 2018: Semi-public showing of the work at JACK with talkback
- September 4-8, 2018: Artist residency and workshop with public performance at Mount Tremper Arts in the Catskills
- September 11, 2018: public performance on the opening night of Resonant Bodies Festival at Roulette
- October and forward: performances of the work with panel discussions on college campuses around the US.