I remember a voice lesson back in chilly November 2019 when my instructor asked me a series of questions. They were simple, discussing basic techniques and exercises to practice them. I remember afterwards beginning to sing, then being cut off after two bars. She turned to me, red smeared lips puckering and shimmering acrylic nails clacking together — “Do you know what the balance of light and dark tones within your voice is called?” she asked. I shook my head. She grinned deviously before stretching her vowels, rolling her r's and waving her arms in grandeur, “Chiaroscuro. Have you heard of it?”
I hadn’t. But following that lesson, I began to hear it constantly, whether it be within a classroom setting, literature or even on the Internet. It wasn’t until I became accustomed to the word that I recognized it in my own life.
“Chiaroscuro” was always about more than just my voice. Though I did learn how to blend bright “chiaro” with dark “scuro” tones from a vocal perspective, this word encompassed a world I had yet to discover.
Life has been a constant tipping scale that merges the contrasting light and dark tones of my character and experiences. To clarify, when discussing “darkness,” I’m describing experiences that inevitably develop in inherently negative forms without warning. However, always pegged as the bubbly cheerleader-type — full of energy and dressed with a smile — I opted to never focus on the dark. However, darkness is omnipresent — even through the joys of childhood, the darkness of the unknown was sprawled out in front of me like a welcome mat, whether I was aware of it or not.
When I was five, I didn’t understand the complexities of adult relationships, nor could I fathom that my daddy wasn’t going to be living with us for a while. I don’t remember transitioning from the old house with the big backyard to my grandparents’ cramped two-bedroom that my mom and I suddenly occupied, where our relationship flourished on the green air mattress we shared. Though these were only fleeting moments in my underdeveloped kindergarten brain, this period marked the advent of the dark undertones that now swirl amidst the light in my life.
Growing up, I discovered the pain of real heartbreak, power of toxicity, intensity of anxiety and fear of disappointment, from both the aforementioned experiences and through many more throughout my life — the “scuro.” Unfortunately, the development of intense anxiety stemming from body-image struggles and high expectations, accompanied by unhealthy relationships, plagued my development — their lingering effects even following me to the University.
As difficult as those discoveries were, I realized that darkness is dark for a reason, and individual shadows are, in themselves, an anthology of negative experiences and flaws — they are inexplicably intertwined with your being. You must accept your shadow’s presence and work hard, blindly delving through unfamiliarity to find the well-deserved countermelody.
The concept of accepting my darkness wasn’t easy to grasp. It took much longer than anticipated for me to realize that extracting the radiance in others included coming to terms with the seemingly insurmountable gloom that lurks within our existence. I’d always been a black-and-white thinker, and gray areas, where intense black and welcoming white came together, seemed impossible.
At that same time, I journeyed through the expanses of pure elation, excitement of adventure and depth of genuine love — the “chiaro.” While the “scuro” is important, light has always held more prominence to me. Characterized as “little miss sunshine,” I have always strived to extract the radiance that exists within all of us.
My mind is flooded with memories of laughter, joy and exhilarating highs — from wind blowing my hair through open windows to getting my acceptance letter to the University and walking across the stage at my high school graduation. I made, and make everyday, the decision to live in the light — I choose to love others and bring light into their lives in whatever form needed, aspects of myself I will forever cherish.
That singular voice lesson transformed my perspective on life. Light and dark experiences surround me, taking my person from two-dimensional to a character of volume and depth. Chiaroscuro envelops my best qualities — my love of people, ambition to learn and desire to become the “better” the world needs. Similarly, I embrace my imperfections, for darkness cannot be ignored — my anxiety, occasional short-temper and tendency to overcare. Even “little miss sunshine” casts a shadow as her light grows — and that’s okay.
Not every day will be sunshine and rainbows. I feel as though that’s what most of us expect as we enter the University and begin the journey through adulthood. The reality, however, is our internal struggles and ability to overcome them is representative of the progress we’ve made since entering this world. Inner darkness is never a bad thing — it is simply another facet of this world that you and I get to experience and grow from, and I believe that is a beautiful gift. So, embrace it. See what kind of magic you can make with that darkness. After all, many great masterpieces are found between the lines and within the negative space.
I suppose you could say this process of discovery of the light and dark tones is the song of my life, representative of everything I’ve come to learn and be, just as it soon could be the song of yours. Or, as my flamboyant voice instructor would tell you, arms extended with a resounding voice — “Chiaroscuro.”