The Importance of Self-Expression


Several months ago, I watched a YouTube clip of an octogenarian dance the tango with a man at least half her age, complete with aerials, flips and spins.You may have seen this same video — it was an important example of pure self-expression.

It was inspiring and also frightening at times, as I was just a wee bit nervous that she might break a hip or something. But I was hooked.

I don’t know that a “regular” dancing video would have gone viral enough for me to see it, as I don’t seek out that sort of entertainment.

Why is that? What could be riveting about an elderly woman doing something that someone much younger could do better, faster, with more skill and precision?

For me, her age set her apart. And more impactful than her physical state was the communication of skill, investment, presence, and passion in her physical story.

It demonstrates the importance of pursuing beauty and creativity — to allow yourself to be heard and seen — no matter what.

The Cost of Not Expressing Your Art

Are you familiar with the filmed version from 1948 of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale The Red Shoes?

In it, a ballerina WAS forced to choose dance or family. Unable to do so, the shoes dance her nearly to death, only to be left paralyzed, unable to embrace either ends of her life’s spectrum.

Another, more stark example, is a story from the early life of Adolf Hitler as an artist — a brooding, passionate, difficult person.

He once sat on the steps of an art critic’s home with his own work in hand, never having the courage to knock on the door.

What can happen when a very disturbed and evocative person does not express their artistic side? Could artistic expression change the world, change history?

Now, I’m not suggesting we are all either Hitlers or Rembrandts in the making. But there is merit in the pursuit of art, and there is art in the process of discovery.

It reminds me of this quote (which has been attributed to many over the course of time): “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

The meaning is still poignant to me regardless of its origin. It suggests, accurately, that art must be expressed in order for one to live honestly.

Art must be expressed in order for one to live honestly. Click To Tweet


That isn’t to say that the way you express yourself will always be the same throughout your life.

Honest expression doesn’t equate to consistent expression.

I recently had a baby. A little over a year ago, through many complications and moments of fear and doubt, I became a mother.

I was faced with new questions: Will I be enough? Will I be able to continue my other life’s work as an opera singer if I fully embrace motherhood? Will my voice change?

I have had to adapt to a few physical surprises, including how different my voice and body feel. I have had to re-build my instrument from the ground up as my birth was such a harrowing experience and because there were habits that just needed to go, anyway.

It’s exciting to feel and hear the changes in my voice and to finally feel like I have actually found the sound I was born with.

Also, if you ever want to know what it’s like to open up the voice just using the soft palate, listen to a baby. They are pros. 🙂 My little one has taught me a thing or two.

The need to express myself is more immediate than ever as I see how much need there is for young generations to have access to quality musical experiences.

Plus, as a performer, I believe what I do is absolutely key to personal fulfillment as well as a teaching tool for my son. Nothing teaches a young person more than an example, and I want him to know that his mom has something to offer the world and a desire and drive to share it.

And someday, if his path leads him there, I hope he’ll look for a partner who has a drive to do some good in the world with their gifts, too.

Where Are You Willing to Fail?

People often throw around the phrase, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

Answering this question can be an eye-opening exercise. But recently, I discovered a more powerful question regarding success and artistic expression, “What would you do, even if you were to fail?”

Or in my estimation, what must you do at all costs? What is necessary? What are you willing to struggle for?

When we run from our art and don’t accept it as necessary, I imagine we are like the humans from Thoreau’s Walden, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Or from Holmes’ The Voiceless, “Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them.”

“Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them.” Holmes Click To Tweet

Pursue Something Beautiful

Me? I sing. And I encourage others, especially children, to find artistic expression because I believe it is a healing presence in this world.

I think of the motto of El Sistema, “if you put a violin in a child’s hand, he won’t pick up a gun.”

I keep working toward the fullest expression of my physical, emotional, and spiritual being, because that, for me, is my truth. What is yours?

Is there an area in your life where you’re holding back creatively? Are you wearing yourself down by pursuing excellence instead of self-expression?

Your voice matters! It’s important to sing, or play, or dance, or paint — to be the fullest versions of ourselves.

Rachel Payne Opera HeadshotRachel Payne is a native of San Jose California and her birth announcement actually read 8 lb, 1 oz soprano. The latter is still true. An exciting and excitable soprano­, her vocal quality reminds listeners of the golden age of singing.

Last Fall Rachel released a new collaborative classical album entitled Mourning which takes listeners through the process of wanting, having, losing, and keeping hope after the loss of a child. This album marks the second full vocal release for Rachel. Her first, Twisted Folk, is a solo recording featuring the work of contemporary composers fusing classical folk melodies in modern classical settings. Both albums are available on Amazon and iTunes.

Last year, Rachel and fellow soprano, Alisa Peterson, began a new venture in the world of blogging and podcasts with the start of The Transparent Singer: Daring Divas Keep it Real. This is a grassroots forum dedicated to aid singers in navigating the world of creating art that matters.

Another venture in the world of producing is for a musical called Anthem which was performed as a mentored production in The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival and featured in the New York Fringe Festival in 2014.

In August of 2015, Rachel produced and performed in a new musical oratorio entitled, Facebookatorio as part of the Southern California UnSUNg series.

In December, Rachel was the featured soloist in the Lompoc Pops holiday concert, and early 2016, Rachel organized and performed two concerts in Paris, one of which was a dedication to the victims and families of the attacks in November of 2015.

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