The courage to choose back

Find yourself when life happens

Anna Cley
5 min readJan 11, 2021

“I think songwriting chose me, as far as I recall… And then I chose it. Cuz you know, you have to choose it back.” - Alicia Keys

I was watching Alicia Keys’ Masterclass this week, trying to find guidance for my new project of music creation. So much of what she said resonated with my own experience… “Songwriting chose me, and then I chose it back, because you have to choose it back.”

It is so true that life chooses things for us, and then we must make up our mind about what to do with them. Sometimes choices are easy and simple, and sometimes they just aren’t…

When I was a kid, I was constantly observing the world, trying to understand it. I couldn’t express questions or thoughts freely. My very existence was increasingly disruptive for my father, and a lot of expectations were projected on me by both my parents, leaving no space for self-expression. Therefore, I had many silent conversations with God and with the stars.

Singing came to me as far back as I can remember. In fact, my mother told me that after hearing my singing, she tried to find a singing class for me when I was four. But when she called a music school, they laughed at her because I was too young. She left it there…

Songs came to me as I sang them, soothing and uplifting ones. Looking back, I can see they were parts of my conversations with God and with the stars. Only they had no words, just melodies… Then, there were the songs I heard and repeated. Singing was my gate to self-expression when the other gates seemed closed to me. It was quite natural for me then to choose it back.

Source: Pixabay

At twelve, my mother tried again, and this time, I was allowed to audition despite my young age. That’s how I got discovered by my first voice teacher who instantly recognized my talent despite my only repeating the notes played by the pianist, as no one told me to prepare a song or explained to me what a vocalise was…

The first concerts happened quickly, and for a few years, I couldn’t open my eyes when singing. When applause came, I couldn’t wait to get off stage. When the audience came to congratulate me, I wanted to hide. In many ways, I didn’t feel my voice belonged to me. It was my voice, and yet, I was just a medium between the invisible and the visible. I was not ready to be seen.

It took me many years to own my presence. In other words, to choose back. Eventually, stage became a playground for my inner child, and embracing my presence is the greatest gift I ever gave myself.

When I was fourteen, my parents bought a keyboard on the insistent request of my second voice teacher, so that I could warm up my voice and learn my scores. One day, I sat at the keyboard, a virgin sheet of music standing in front of my eyes to attempt the writing of my first song. Fifteen minutes later, my father entered the room. In an angry and severe voice, he asked what I was doing. I had drafted a few measures on my music sheet and was searching for my melody on the keyboard. I replied timidly: “I’m trying to compose music”. In a voice that would make the walls of the building tremble, he threw at me: “Oh! So now you compose music? Now I’ve heard it all!!!”. He left on this, slamming the door behind him.

I aborted my attempt there, and never tried to compose anything ever again. I kept all my songs in me for what is my lifetime, in denial of their existence most of the time, because I could not choose them back. Occasionally, they’d come out anyway, like a few years ago, while on a production of Rubinstein’s The Demon. I was cast in the double role of the Angel and the nanny…

As the Angel, Cutler Majestic Theater, Boston, 2017

As the weekend started, I got a terrible toothache and needed to see a dentist in emergency. Of course, it was a Saturday, and we had rehearsals everyday… Thankfully, the production arranged an appointment the same day with an amazing dentist who interrupted his weekend to rescue me. The tooth couldn’t be saved and needed immediate removal. Needless to say, I was not prepared for this. Here I was, in the middle of a town I’ve never been in, not finding my words in English, my mouth open with the hands of a Russian dentist pulling on my tooth. A tooth that was definitely reluctant to leave my mouth, my body shaking like a plane through a storm… The assistant, who was lovely, and also Russian, told me I had to stop shaking now, because I was shaking so much I was making her shake too.

I did what I do when I am scared. I mentally asked God for help: “Please, help me. I must stop shaking now.” And instantly, I started singing a melody I’d never heard before, stopping the shaking right away. And so it went. The dentist was pulling on my tooth in all directions, the assistant holding my mouth open, and me, I was singing. A surreal moment for sure. Needless to say, it was a first in their office!

At age 36, I just signed an agreement to create music for a company. For the first time ever, I will create my own music, and I can’t hold back anymore, because I signed. I chose back, finally. Is it easy? No. Am I excited? Definitely.

There will always be things in the way, but when we finally allow, obstacles vanish.

In many ways, life happens, and our job is to let it happen.

Daring to be is, in full, about self-acceptance. It’s daring to remove the layers of self-judgement and criticism to embrace the unique existence you already are.

Source: Pixabay

So many people wonder what to do with their life, and what their passion is. My take is, it’s already right here.

We simply need to choose back what chose us.

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